Reporter: M. Thang
The Anti-Defamation League’s previous stance of not acknowledging the the Armenian genocide — in addition to its current opposition of a pending resolution in the U.S. Congress to recognize the tragedy — has unleashed a torrent of controversy over the past several days in the Boston area.
Learn what four people — from the Armenian Weekly; the Jewish Advocate; the Jewish Journal; and Web-based Armenian-language TV and radio, at hairenik.com, have to say.
On Genocide and the ADL, With Four Members of Local Armenian and Jewish Media
by M. Thang
Over one million Armenians were murdered at the hands of the Turkish Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923. The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that fights anti-Semitism and bigotry, has upheld its longtime policy of not recognizing the mass killings as genocide.
In addition, the ADL does not support a resolution of the U.S. Congress that acknowledges the murders as genocide.
The ADL policy has unleashed a torrent of controversy in the Boston area over the past two weeks.
The town council of Watertown, Mass., home to over 8,000 Armenians, voted to pull out of the ADL’s anti-bigotry “No Place for Hate Program,” in protest against the ADL’s stance on the Armenian genocide. The pullout has prompted other Boston-area towns and cities to consider severing their ties, too, with the ADL program.
In the face of growing outrage of local Armenian and Jewish communities, the national ADL partially reversed its policy last week — officially declaring that the mass murders are “indeed tantamount to genocide.”
The ADL has not reversed its policy regarding the congressional resolution to acknowledge the genocide. To do so would be “counterproductive,” it says, adding that such a policy reversal could jeopardize the safety of Jews in Turkey, an important and rare Muslim ally to Israel.
However, the ADL’s New England regional office moved last week to support the resolution, putting it — as well as other Jewish organizations — sharply at odds with the ADL leadership under national director Abraham Foxman.
The Boston Globe has been reporting on the controversy almost every day, sometimes as page-one news, over the past several days.
On August 23, the ADL told New England Ethnic News that the matter of supporting the resolution will be on the agenda of the ADL’s policy-making panel when it convenes in November.
New England Ethnic News spoke to four people from Armenian and Jewish media in the Boston area about the ongoing ADL controversy:
· Khatchig Mouradian, editor of the Armenian Weekly
· Raphael Kohan, staff writer at the Jewish Advocate
· Jirayr Beugekian, manager of online radio and Web TV at Armenian-language Web site hairenik.com.
· Bette Keva, editor of the Jewish Journal.
The national ADL has decided now to use the word “genocide.” In addition, it will consider supporting Congress’ resolution that recognizes the Armenian genocide. Is that good enough?
KM: The wording of the ADL’s statement [that officially recognizes the Armenian genocide] may not be perfect, but it still constitutes recognition. However...it states that ADL does not support the Armenian genocide resolution in Congress, saying that that would be counterproductive. That is the main problem being underlined by the Armenian community, individuals interested in human rights in general, and the Jewish community....It is quite disturbing. It’s very upsetting for ADL to recognize the genocide but, at the same time, lobby against the genocide resolution in Congress.
RK: I think some of the Jewish organizations who had been pressing [the ADL] were very happy to hear that Abe Foxman shifted his stance on the term “genocide,” and they saw that as a big step. However, I think some of the members of the Armenian community see this merely as a ploy for Foxman to get everybody who has been hammering him on this issue to shut up about it, to sort of placate [them].
So I think the Armenian community really wants to hear him vocally support the resolution — or at least those who see him as opposing it..., to stop doing what they see him doing in opposition.
JB: Using the word “genocide” just to describe the genocide as “genocide” is not enough. Any genocide, any crime needs to have consequences. One of the consequences of the genocide is supporting the genocide resolution in Congress. That’s why just using the word “genocide” is not enough for us.
BK: The ADL is going to consider the resolution pending in Congress. [The ADL] was forced to do this, and [the ADL] is finally coming in line with the thinking of many, many people. This past week was an extraordinary week of Armenians, Jews, and the general public putting a great deal of pressure on the ADL....We [Jews and Armenians] would lose confidence in [the ADL] if [the ADL] were not to do this. Jews and Armenians would find their stance against bigotry rather hypocritical.
Should Jews in Turkey feel abandoned as a result of the push for the Congress’ resolution?
KM: Turkish officials have made several statements in the past saying that they have been insulted by statements that talk about the dangers against the Jewish community in Turkey. I believe ADL is actually using this [argument] as a scapegoat...just to distance itself from recognizing the Armenian genocide properly and supporting it in Congress.
If [the Jews in Turkey] are [threatened], the ADL should have campaigned against Turkey and should have a campaign of tolerance in Turkey — instead of actually denying the Armenian genocide and perpetuating this problem by not supporting the [resolution].
RK: I don’t really know that much about Jews in Turkey. The only thing that I’ve heard coming from them during this whole [controversy] is a letter that was drafted by the Jewish community in Turkey, that was then presented via the American Jewish Committee and Turkish Foreign Minister in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, to heads of national Jewish organizations. The letter asked those heads to please consider their well-being for this resolution, which was implying that they felt it was a bad move for their own safety.
I don’t know whether that letter was, in fact, drawn up of their own volition or if it was coerced out of them. I’ve had people suggest to me both. [The suggestion was that they were being coerced] by the Turkish government. That’s not anyone saying that for certain, just [that] the suggestion was that Turkey wanted to give the impression that this was another factor.
JB: No, they shouldn’t feel let down or anything like that because nobody is asking for that. Did the Germans feel let down or anything else when the Holocaust [was] recognized or when people remember the Holocaust? A crime was committed more than 90 years ago. What we’re asking for is the recognition of that crime and the appropriate compensation for that crime — [recognition] by the entire world, including and most basically by Turkey.
The compensation we expect is not from the world. The compensation we expect and demand is from Turkey, nobody else. The compensations we have in mind are financial compensation; moral compensations, which is the recognition; and territorial compensation.
BK: No, because I don’t think it is the ADL’s stance on this issue that is going to mean security or insecurity for the Jewish people in Turkey.
According to the Boston Globe, Abraham Foxman didn’t want to alienate Turkey, a rare Muslim ally, from its neighbor, Israel. What’s wrong with that?
KM: We have to acknowledge that Israel and Turkey are very good and strong allies. And it’s important for Israel to maintain this strategically-important alliance with Turkey. It is up to Israel to decide on the nature of its relationship with its neighbors, including Turkey. However, a human rights organization...functioning in the United States — which states as its principles fighting against bigotry, fighting for tolerance, and which carries the legacy of the victims of the Holocaust — is not allowed to deny the Armenian genocide, to belittle or trivialize the Armenian genocide or even say that it should not be recognized by this Congress...or this [or that] world body.
ADL should not act as a state thinking about its own interests. This is such a huge human rights issue when you argue...against the recognition of another people’s genocide. I cannot see anything worse than this, not recognizing the genocide....The ADL is still trying to balance between pleasing the Turkish government and actually doing the right thing.
RK: I think some people don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Most people understand — who are thinking about this from both the Jewish community and the Israeli perspective, they understand that it has to be taken under consideration. I think locally it’s such a huge issue because there is such a large Armenian American community whom the Jewish community in Boston has very close ties to. In addition to that, there is also the moral imperative, it seems, of calling a genocide, a genocide.
But at the same time, I think taking that into consideration is something that most Jewish organizations realize that they have to do. They have to consider the implications concerning Turkey. It seems that most of them realize that that is a reality of the Middle East. It is a consideration. At the same time, they may feel a moral imperative to recognize the genocide.
JB: We believe that is a really childish way of putting things. We have Armenian communities living in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, all these countries. Does that mean that as Armenians we have to decry the Holocaust or say the Holocaust did not happen? Or we do not support any kind of recognition or compensation of the Holocaust? That is really childish.
BK: (pauses) It’s really not his place [to be getting involved in this kind of foreign relations]. He is not a politician. He’s not making policy. It is sort of a non sequitur that he would be alienating Turkey, and there’s no reason why that should be an element in ADL’s decision on labeling these [Armenian] atrocities what they are.
Should towns and cities that are part of the ADL’s “No Place For Hate” Program continue to be a part of it?
KM: As long as the ADL has not come out to clearly recognize the genocide and support the congressional resolution — I’m not even talking about lobbying against it...I believe the “No Place for Hate” program...is inherently and illogically going against the “No Place for Hate” program. It is promoting hatred by not recognizing the genocide and by not recognizing the suffering of the victims and the [congressional] resolution [that]...recognizes the genocide.
RK: I think that’s up to them. It seems that a lot of what I’ve read, that a lot of towns that have been involved with “No Place for Hate” have really been inactive for many years. It’s sort of been a symbol on a street sign outside of the city hall somewhere. But if towns feel it’s hypocritical for them to have this program in their town, then that’s something that they have to reckon with.
But what it seems is that all the towns are happy to have a program like the ADL’s “No Place for Hate” in their community and feel it’s important to have it. Whether it is actually “No Place for Hate” or a program of their own construction, is something now being discussed.
JB: Being part of “No Place for Hate,” in terms of [its] connection with the ADL, if local towns and cities feel that they need to sever their ties with the ADL, but continue the program in another way, we fully support [those towns and cities]....We believe the cities are doing the correct thing by severing their ties with the ADL. The program, “No Place for Hate,” can be copied or repeated in all the cities in a myriad of manners without it being tied to the ADL specifically.
BK: I think they should definitely continue to be a part of the ADL’s “No Place for Hate,” especially now that the ADL and Foxman have relented [and because of] our showing a willingness to listen to the criticism and to act on it. Watertown got out [of the “No Place for Hate” program]. It was very painful for Watertown to do what they did. And they did so only after it was clear that Foxman was not [changing his] position. But now that Foxman has changed his position, I’m not sure what Watertown’s position at this point is. But I don’t think other towns should do the same thing, especially at this point.
The Armenian genocide happened over 85 years ago. Granted, the Boston area — Watertown in particular — has one of the largest Armenian populations in the country — but why now has this controversy had such a great impact?
KM: The people who are actually outraged, when they expressed their outrage, they did not imagine that this issue was going to be such a huge issue. It is the ADL that made it bigger and bigger. What happened first was that there was an Armenian writer, David Boyajian, who wrote a letter to the Watertown Tab, quoting a statement from Abraham Foxman denying the Armenian genocide. That’s how this controversy erupted. Armenians started writing other letters to the Watertown Tab. Before you know it, there was this outrage in the Armenian community in Watertown and beyond.
After that, statement after statement [from the ADL was issued]...denying the genocide and speaking against the congressional resolution, which made the issue even bigger....The entire issue [began with] outrage by Armenians because of a quote by Foxman. However, the ADL perpetuated this by their own statement.
BK: Because Israel is in a very vulnerable position. The MIddle East is more a powder keg than it usually is, and Foxman and the ADL are very sensitive to the safety of Jews there. But I think this is a case [in which] they need to relent and let the politicians work on this.
Why it’s become a problem now? It’s coming to the fore. There’s the [pending] legislation in Congress, and people want answers [about whether or not the Congress will pass the resolution]. It’s been an issue for a long, long time but possibly now because it is in Congress, and people have to go on record one way or the other. It’s become an issue.
JB: Because it’s very clear now what the ADL did and what Foxman did...[to the] community. It’s really weird when, [regarding] the Watertown Town Council..., we [Armenians] suddenly found ourselves in the middle of world politics. As Armenians, we’re unhappy that Watertown is in that situation. But we have been pushing for the recognition...for over 90 years now. What Foxman did, and the way that it was pursued, it blew over, and it is continuing to blow over....It’s not a matter of why now. This matter [has been] growing year after year after year.
The [Armenian genocide] survivors who came to the U.S. and...other countries in the world — they were dispersed — the survivors did not know the languages of the local countries, were not accustomed to the way local politics works....After all those years, the new generations [have grown] up and [are] taking over [through] activism, community organization....They are now American Armenians, or French Armenians, or Greek Armenians. They know the [local country’s] language, they are well versed in the local politics, they know how to play within the local political arena.
RK: From what I understand, it’s bubbling to the surface now because there seems to be a real shot for the congressional resolution to be heard and voted on in Congress, which has been sort of shuttled back and forth behind the scenes for many years now without getting much play.
There’s also, it seems, concern within the Armenian American community, that it is important for those few remaining survivors of the Armenian genocide to have this recognition while they’re still alive.
Briefly, is there anything else you’d like to say?
KM: Tens of thousands of Armenians, after the genocide, fled to the United States....We have few [survivors of the genocide] left. It is only right for the U.S. Congress to honor those survivors by recognizing the Armenian genocide....This issue has become such a huge and important issue nationwide. The ADL should reconsider its position and align itself with its own stated principles and recognize the Armenian genocide unambiguously and support the genocide resolution in the Congress.
RK: It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. I’m still learning as this goes along.
JB: The pursuit of the recognition of the genocide [within the Armenian community] is much better organized now than it was 40 or 45 years ago, or even 30 years ago when [Armenian] people used to get together and just remember the [genocide] victims....[through] commemorations at church. Now it’s not commemoration in the church anymore; it’s commemoration with political goals, with political activism. This is why the pursuit is gaining more and more momentum, especially now that we also have a free and independent republic of Armenia whose government also has the genocide as part of its foreign policy.
BK: I don’t think so.
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