By Erik Davtyan (04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On April 9, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan paid an official visit to Italy and the Vatican City, which was remarkable not only in the context of Armenia-Italy or Armenia-EU relations, but also for Armenia’s policy towards the Armenian Genocide Centennial. During the visit, Sargsyan met with his counterpart Sergio Mattarella and discussed a wide range of issues concerning Armenian-Italian relations. Armenia’s President expressed confidence that his busy official visit will give new impetus to the friendly relationship between Armenia and Italy. The Presidents stressed that in recent years cooperation between the two countries has intensified, both bilaterally and in the frame of the EU, and underlined that the history of nearly 20 years of diplomatic relations have already resulted in more than 30 legal documents, signed at different levels. The Italian President welcomed the fact that “after joining the EEU, Armenia continues to take steps aimed at developing relations with the European Union and added that the membership also opens up new horizons for the development of Armenia-Italy relations”.
Sargsyan also met with Pietro Grasso, President of Italy’s Senate, and Laura Boldrini, President of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, as well as Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti. Sargsyan and Pinotti mentioned that Armenia and Italy successfully cooperate in the military field, especially in peacekeeping operations. In November 2014, more than 30 Armenian soldiers were engaged in the mission of maintaining the military base in Shama, Lebanon, which was carried out under the Italian command of the UN Peacekeeping Forces. Furthermore, the two states successfully collaborate in the area of military education. In his interview to Corriere Della Sera, President Sargsyan mentioned that Italian merchants have since the middle ages used Armenian commercial networks, therefore Armenia and Italy will currently seek to “re-operate that ancient habit,” and concluded that the bilateral trade turnover will definitely increase quickly.
At the end of the visit, Sargsyan visited the Vatican on April 12 and took part in a liturgy devoted to the Armenian Genocide Centennial, performed personally by Pope Francis at the Saint Peter’s Basilica. The ceremony was also attended by Garegin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, and Aram I, the Catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenians, as well as Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Nalbandian. During his speech, Pope Francis termed the Armenian Genocide the “first genocide of the XX century.” The Pope’s speech received considerable attention in Armenia, Turkey, and many other countries. In his interview to the Italian website Adnkronos.com, Foreign Minister Nalbandian stated that Pope Francis’ speech “was an important message of solidarity with the Armenian people, it was also a message of support to the efforts of the international community for the prevention of new crimes against humanity, new genocides.”
The Mass service in the Vatican and Pope Francis’ speech were widely commented both in Armenia and Turkey and in international media. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian said that “Turkey underestimates, at its own risk, the power of the Armenian worldwide movement – a profoundly moral movement inspired by truth and driven by shared hope for a fair and enduring peace based on a just international resolution of the Armenian Genocide.” As to the Turkish reaction, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated that “an evil front is being formed before Turkey … now the Pope has joined it and these plots.” Reacting to Davutoglu’s comment, Foreign Minister Nalbandian mentioned that Pope Francis is the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion people, so if Turkey does not agree with that approach, then it opposes the position of many countries. On April 12, immediately after the Mass service, Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Vatican for consultations.
The Pope’s speech served as a unique message to the entire world, and the event drew diverse reactions. On April 15, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide and urging Turkey to recognize it. A week later, on April 22, the Genocide was officially recognized by the Austrian Parliament. Above all, it can be inferred that President Sargsyan’s visit to Italy and especially the Holy See may serve as a new impetus for a wider recognition of the Armenian Genocide, one of Armenia’s most important foreign policy objectives.