2008-05-07 15:32:09 -
VATICAN CITY (AP) - The head of Armenia's Orthodox Church took part in Pope Benedict XVI's public audience on Wednesday and urged all countries to recognize that Turks committed genocide against Armenians early last century.
Karekin II sat at Benedict's side during the traditional weekly audience in St. Peter's Square _ part of a visit to the Vatican that is the latest high-level contact between Catholic and Orthodox leaders.
Addressing a crowd of faithful assembled in the square, Karekin appealed «to all nations and lands to universally condemn all genocides that have occurred throughout history.«Denial of these crimes is an injustice that equals the commission of the same,» he said. «Many countries of the world recognize and condemn the genocide committed against the Armenian people by Ottoman Turkey.
Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, visited Armenia in 2001 and paid his respects to the Armenians killed in the last days of the Ottoman Empire.During Wednesday's audience, Benedict recalled «the severe persecutions suffered by Armenian Christians, especially during the last century.
Armenia says an estimated 1.5 million of its people were victims of genocide in a 1915-23 campaign to force them out of eastern Turkey.
Ankara denies that Turks committed genocide, saying Armenians were killed in internal fighting among ethnic groups as the empire collapsed.
Many countries have been careful in treating the issue, because any recognition of the killings as genocide is likely to rattle a nation's ties with Turkey. Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives stopped short of voting on a resolution that would have called the killings genocide after Turkey threatened grave consequences to relations.
Benedict is due to meet again with Karekin in a private audience on Friday. Karekin, the leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, met with the Vatican No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, when the prelate traveled to Armenia in March.
On Wednesday the pope reiterated his desire for closer relations with Orthodox Christians, saying that «we are certain that the Lord never abandons us in the search for unity.
In his own speech, Karekin said that «in spite of different historical experiences and paths we have traversed ... we are all children of the one God.