ISTANBUL — Pope Francis’s reference to the 1915 Armenian massacres in the Ottoman Empire as “the first genocide of the 20th century” was part of an international conspiracy against Turkey’s government, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed on Wednesday.

“Currently, an evil front is being formed against us. Now the pope has joined this conspiracy,” “Hurriyet Daily News” quoted him as telling members of the ruling AKP party who will run in Turkey’s general elections slated for June 7.

Davutoglu said the anti-AKP “front” consists of not only external powers but also Turkey’s two main opposition parties .

The AKP government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted angrily to the pope’s statement made at a Vatican Mass dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. It accused Pope Francis of distorting history and recalled Turkey’s ambassador to the Holy See in protest.

“We are ready to discuss historical issues, but we will not let people insult our nation through history,” said Davutoglu.

Erdogan similarly condemned the pontiff on Tuesday, warning him to not repeat the “mistake.”

In his statement, Erdogan said, “I saw a different politician during our meetings. I am not saying religious figure, I saw a different politician. But after these statements, I unfortunately saw the difference in both his political identity, and his stance as religious figure, entirely as the manifestation of a very, very different mentality, of a perception that throughout history has caused the slaughter of millions of people”.

“I would like to state that we will not allow historical events to be removed from their context and rendered tools of a campaign against our country” Erdogan continued, and forwarded the debate to historians with the words, “We open all our archives. If they have any, Armenia should open its own, too, and present its documents. We are also prepared to open the archives of our armed forces.” Erdogan said:

“But you are not willing to do that, you are trying to get results to the detriment of Turkey only through political lobbies, and with the very ugly relationship formed unfortunately the Armenian Diaspora. When politicians and religious figures assume the task of the historian, it produces not truth but delusion. I repeat my call for a commission, and want to underline that we are prepared to fully open our archives. And I condemn and warn the Esteemed Pope hoping he probably won’t make such mistakes again.”

Pope Francis defended his stance the day after the landmark liturgy in St. Peter’s basilica attended by Armenia’s top political religious leaders. Speaking at a morning Mass, he said the Catholic Church is right to spread a “message of frankness and Christian courage” around the world.

“We cannot keep silent [about] what we have seen and heard,” Francis said, according to Radio Vatican. He cited the examples of the apostles Peter and John, who he said defied threats to their life to preach the truth.

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