BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The head of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Argentina says he is proud, but definitely not surprised, that his friend Pope Francis recently called the 1915 mass killing of Armenians in Turkey "genocide."
Archbishop Kissag Mouradian says he developed a friendship with the pope when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the Roman Catholic archbishop of Buenos Aires in the 1990s. In private conversations and in public, Mouradian says, Bergoglio expressed support for the strong conviction of Armenians worldwide that the mass slayings constituted genocide, which Turkey denies.
Bergoglio often celebrated Mass "recognizing the martyrs (of the Armenian massacre), so we can say that we always knew what his stance was," Mouradian told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday at the Armenian Cathedral in Buenos Aires.
During a Mass this month commemorating the 100th anniversary of the bloodshed that many scholars estimate killed around 1.5 million Armenians, Francis called it "the first genocide of the 20th century."
"Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it," Francis said St. Peter's Basilica on April 12.
Turkey has long held that the death estimate is inflated and says that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest, not genocide. The Turkish government reacted strongly to the pope's comments, recalling its ambassador to the Vatican and accusing Francis of spreading hate and unfounded claims.
"I do not often say it in a loud voice, but in this case I really did feel a deep inner pride that my friend could do such a thing," Mouradian said of the pope's comments.
Mouradian said Bergoglio had a strong relationship with many Armenians in Argentina, which is estimated to be home to about 120,000 ethnic Armenians, many of whose ancestors fled Turkey after the killings.
"We are not just leaders of churches or religions, we are two friends," said Mouradian, who has a picture with the pope in his office.