from From the Potomac to the Euphrates and Middle East Program

The King of the Arab Street vs. the Pope

April 22, 2015

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This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Wednesday, April 22, 2015.

As the world commemorates the centennial of the Armenian genocide this week, Turkey’s government once again finds itself fighting an old, losing battle. According to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the recent spate of calls to recognize the genocide is the work of an “evil gang” bent on slandering the country’s honor.

The old members of this gang are well known to Turkey-watchers. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its supporters routinely refer to them as Islamophobes, the “interest rate lobby,” and “provocateurs” — in other words, anyone who might raise a critical question about Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, Turkish leaders have added a new name to the list: Welcome to the haters’ party, Pope Francis.

Last week, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics described the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 as “the first genocide of the 20th century.” The Turkish leadership went into a collective frenzy of denunciations: Ankara recalled its representative to the Holy See and demanded an explanation from the Vatican’s ambassador in Turkey.

Erdogan led the charge, lashing out at the pontiff as if he was a cheap pol. “We will not allow historical incidents to be taken out of their genuine context and be used as a tool to campaign against our country,” Erdogan said. “When politicians and clerics take on the work of historians, it is not the truth that comes out but rather, like today, nonsense. I condemn the pope and would like to warn him not to make similar mistakes again.”

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