In an unexpected about-face, John McCain, a U.S. senator and former Republican presidential nominee, has reportedly described the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
“I believe that genocide was committed against the Armenian people, and I think there is ample documentation of that,” Armenian-American newspapers quoted him as saying in a recent interview with the Georgian service of the Voice of America.
McCain passed judgment on the politically sensitive subject in the context of his assessment of the ongoing efforts to improve Turkish-Armenian relations. “We are witnessing significant progress in the relations between Turkey and Armenia,” he said. “For the first time, parties are making steps towards the same direction.” But he stressed that the Armenians “cannot forget the past” while seeking to mend ties with Turkey.
The remarks represent a marked change from McCain’s past public pronouncements on what is the number one issue of concern for the influential Armenian community in the United States. The Arizona senator refrained from calling the massacres a genocide during his long political career and the 2008 presidential race in particular.
In a September 2008 statement to the Armenian-American community, he spoke of “the brutal murder of as many as one and a half million Armenians under the rule of the Ottoman Empire,” describing it as “one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.”
“Senator McCain has, throughout his tenure in the Congress, largely opposed or remained indifferent to an array of Armenian American issues,” the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) said Wednesday in a special statement. “As recently as the last session of Congress, Senator McCain publicly opposed Congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”
By contrast, his Democratic challenger Barack Obama repeatedly recognized the genocide and promised to reaffirm that recognition once in office, a pledge he has yet to honor. Both the ANCA and other Armenian-American groups condemned Obama for avoiding using the word “genocide” in an April 2009 statement issued during the annual remembrance of massacre victims.
In his reported interview, McCain, who is running for reelection in the 2010 Senate race, did not say whether he supports the passage of a pro-Armenian draft resolution that was introduced in the Senate last month. The resolution calls on Obama to “accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide.”