*Responds to question from ANC-Central California member during Fresno State Town Hall meeting.
WASHINGTON–Responding to a question from the Armenian National Committee of Central California–Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain announced his opposition to the Armenian Genocide resolution before Congress–noting – incorrectly–that the measure is directed against the present day Turkish government. The exchange took place this afternoon at a McCain town hall meeting in the North Gym of Fresno State University.
Fresno ANC member Richard Sanikian prefaced his question to the Arizona Senator by noting that Armenian Americans had served proudly in the US armed services in the World Wars–Korea–and Vietnam. He then noted that–despite having received hundreds of thousands of postcards from Armenian Americans and having sent a letter on his views to the Armenian National Committee of America–Senator McCain had failed to make his position clear on the Armenian Genocide.
McCain responded to Sanikian’s question by stating that he opposed the Armenian Genocide resolution before Congress because it held the present day government of Turkey responsible for acts which occurred during the Ottoman Empire. While acknowledging that tragic events occurred–he kept to his past practice of not referring to the Armenian Genocide as a "genocide." McCain’s remarks were broadcast on state and local media.
The Armenian Genocide resolution (H.Res. 398)–introduced by Fresno Congressman George Radanovich (R-CA) and Minority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.)–establishes the US record on the Armenian Genocide and calls upon the President to 1) ensure that US diplomats dealing with human rights are educated about the Armenian Genocide and 2) to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide as a "genocide" in the President’s annual April 24th address.
"Senator McCain’s commen’s reflect either a profound failure of moral leadership or a troubling ignorance of the facts," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "For a self-described outsider and ‘straight-talker,’ his words seem remarkably similar to those of Turkey’s high-priced lobbyists–who dismiss and down-play genocide for the sake of political expediency. We can and should expect more of our presidential candidates."
Senator McCain’s pattern of opposing the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide dates back to his days as a US Representative. Through his years in the House–he worked against successive legislative initiatives to mark April 24th as a day of remembrance for the victims of the Armenian Genocide. In May of 1985–he wrote a letter to his House colleagues calling upon them to vote against the Armenian Genocide resolution–stressing concerns that Congressional commemoration of the Armenian Genocide would "unleash a universal outcry in Turkey," and encourage a "viscous terrorist campaign against Turkish diplomats."
As a US Senator–he voted in 1990 against Senator Bob Dole’s Armenian Genocide resolution and for lifting US aid restrictions placed on Azerbaijan because it blockades Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. In a September 1998 speech in the US Senate–McCain attacked a Congressionally approved–ten million dollar aid package to the American University of Armenia as an "objectionable program," and a "serious diversion of scarce resources otherwise needed for truly worthy programs."
Over the past four months–more than 200,000 postcards addressed to Senator McCain have highlighted his record of having voted "against the Armenian Genocide resolution and failing to speak out against Turkey’s denials." Armenia’s Americans from across the US asked the Senator to explain his vote in 1990 against Bob Dole’s Armenian Genocide resolution and his vote this past June to repeal the law imposing restrictions on US aid to Azerbaijan. Similar postcards were also sent to the other leading presidential candidates. In contrast to McCain–his Republican primary opponent–Texas Governor George Bush–has condemned the "genocidal campaign" against the Armenian people.
During a Fresno press conference Tuesday evening– McCain expanded on his response earlier in the day to a question on the Armenian Genocide–characterizing –for the first time– this crime against humanity as an act of "genocide," but again voicing his opposition to Congressional Armenian Genocide legislation–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
Speaking at a news conference following a rally at Fresno State University–McCain fielded questions from the media on the Armenian Genocide. His response–broadcast on the 11 p.m. newscast on KJEO Channel 47 in Fresno–was that:
It was not carried out by the present Turkish government. It was carried out by other people. And I am in deep sympathy for one of the greatest acts of genocide ever committed by a previous Turkish government against innocent people. It’s one of the most terrible tragedies in history. I will not support this resolution which is condemning the present Turkish government.
"While we remain troubled by Senator McCain’s misunderstanding of the Armenian Genocide bill currently before Congress as well as his past opposition to similar legislative initiatives–we welcome his support for Armenian Genocide reparations and his decision–after more than eighteen years in public service–to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide as a ‘genocide,’" said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
Following McCain’s commen’s–KJEO carried a statement from Steve Samuelian–the co-chair of Texas Governor George W. Bush’s campaign in Central California. Samuelian–who also serves as Congressman George Radanovich’s district office director–underscored the importance of Armenian Genocide commemoration–noting that "This is an issue for every single Armenian American. They can tell you a story in their personal life of how this has affected them."
Governor Bush had earlier issued a statement on the "genocidal campaign" committed against the Armenian people.
KJEO news anchor Molly McMillen–in a telephone conversation with McCain supporter–California Secretary of State Bill Jones–asked him to evaluate McCain’s response to questions on the Armenian Genocide. In responding–Jones endorsed McCain’s statement Tuesday calling for reparations for the Armenian Genocide–noting that:
With respect to the Armenian Genocide issue–I thought he was fairly clear that he finds abhorrent what went on and even at one part of his conversation about supporting reparations which I thought was appropriate too. How he’s voted in the past–speaking about the current Turkish government over the prior one–he–you know–he was just basically stating his vote on that in past Congresses. But–he has made it very clear that he is as sympathetic as anyone could possibly be to the plight in the early 1900’s of the Armenian Genocide and I think that is clearly something that all of us in the Valley feel very strongly about."