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Pope Ends trip to Armenia, Kazakhstan - 2001-09-27


Pope John Paul wraps up a six day trip to the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Armenia Thursday. The Pope called on people of all religions to overcome their differences.

On his last day in Armenia, Pope John Paul paid tribute to the 1.5 million Armenian Christians who were killed in what Armenia refers to as genocide by their Turkish neighbors.

Armenia says the Christians were killed during a campaign to drive them out of eastern Turkey beginning in 1915 as the Ottoman Empire collapsed during World War I.

Many Armenians call it genocide and have demanded an apology from the Turkish government. Turkey denies the charge, saying the figures were inflated and those Armenians who were killed perished as a result of civil unrest in the Ottoman Empire.

The Pope shied away from using the politically charged word "genocide" when he visited a memorial to the Armenian victims on Wednesday and in his statement on Thursday. Instead, the Pope used an Armenian word to refer to the killings, which can be interpreted as meaning genocide or simply crime. In a statement on Thursday, he said the killings are generally referred to as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Reconciliation between religions was a major theme for the Pope on his trip to mostly Muslim Kazakhstan and to Armenia. He traveled to Armenia to take part in celebrations marking the 1,700th anniversary of the country's adoption of Christianity, making Armenia the oldest Christian nation.

During the almost week-long trip, the Pope kept up his rigorous schedule of early morning mass and numerous meetings. But the 81 year-old's health seemed frail at times. At one point, he had to stop reading a speech after five minutes. But Pope John Paul went ahead with the trip despite worries over his personal safety after terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11.

Although he did not mention the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York specifically, the pontiff did call Thursday on all people in the world to make a choice between good and evil and between humanity and inhumanity.

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