Pope Francis will visit Armenia and Azerbaijan later this year, the Vatican announced Saturday, amid tensions in the region following a flare-up of violence over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region.
At the invitation of the Armenian Apostolic Church patriarch Karekin II, the pope will travel to Armenia from June 24 to 26. He will visit Georgia and Azerbaijan from September 30 to October 2, the Vatican said in a statement.
This month has seen the worst outbreak of violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabakh since the 1990s, with more than 90 people killed in four days of heavy fighting followed by sporadic clashes.
Armenia-backed separatists seized control of Nagorny Karabakh, an enclave within Azerbaijan’s territory populated mainly by Christian ethnic Armenians, in an early 1990s war that claimed some 30,000 lives.
The visit could also heighten tensions with Turkey, which is already unhappy with the pope’s use of the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire – the forerunner of the modern Turkish state – a century ago.
Like Armenia, Georgia is a predominantly Orthodox Christian country with a small Roman Catholic minority, while Azerbaijan is largely Muslim.
Between the two visits to the Caucasus region the pope will visit Poland from July 27-31 where he will attend the World Youth Day celebrations in Krakow.