Thursday, September 27, 2007

What would Lemkin do?

By Khatchig Mouradian
The Jewish Advocate
Thursday September 27 2007

When dealing with ethnic cleansing and genocide, it would be useful to ask: What would Lemkin do? Had world leaders and human rights organizations asked that question and acted based on the answer over the past 50 years, several mass murders and genocides could have been prevented or stopped in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jew, coined the term “genocide” in 1944 based on the planned extermination of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 and the Jews during World War II. He worked tirelessly to have the United Nations pass a law on the prevention and punishment of that crime. Finally, on Dec. 9, 1948, the UN General Assembly ratified the Genocide Convention. Remembering that moment, Lemkin, who lost 49 relatives during the Holocaust, wrote: “Somebody requested a roll call. The first to vote was India. After her ‘yes’ there was an endless number of ‘yeses.’ A storm of applause followed. I felt on my face the flashlight of cameras. … The world was smiling and approving and I had only one word in answer to all that, ‘thanks.’”

Lemkin referred to the Armenian genocide on numerous occasions. In an article in the Hairenik Weekly (later the Armenian Weekly) on Jan. 1, 1959, he wrote that the suffering of the Armenians had paved the way to the ratification of the Genocide Convention: “The sufferings of the Armenian men, women, and children thrown into the Euphrates River or massacred on the way to [the Syrian desert of] Der-el-Zor have prepared the way for the adoption for the Genocide Convention by the United Nations. … This is the reason why the Armenians of the entire world were specifically interested in the Genocide Convention. They filled the galleries of the drafting committee at the third General Assembly of the United Nations in Paris when the Genocide Convention was discussed.”

At the end of the article, Lemkin asserted, “One million Armenians died, but a law against the murder of peoples was written with the ink of their blood and the spirit of their sufferings.”

Fast forward to 2007. The Anti-Defamation league, an organization that has tirelessly spoken out and acted against Holocaust denial, as well as more recent acts of genocide from Eastern Europe to Darfur, continues to speak with ambiguities about the Armenian genocide and oppose Congressional legislation affirming the historical record, considering it “counterproductive.”

Days after the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, was confronted on the issue, he wrote a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “to express our sorrow over what we have caused for the leadership and people of Turkey in the past few days.”

Countless Jewish organizations, scholars, journalists, bloggers and activists have come out fiercely to criticize the ADL’s hypocrisy. They have all asked the right question – What would Lemkin do? – and have come up with the right answer, thus honoring Lemkin’s legacy.
Perhaps rather than rushing to appease the Turkish government, the ADL would do well to ask the right question, too.

Khatchig Mouradian is an Armenian journalist, poet and translator based in Boston. He is the editor of the Armenian Weekly.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Newton Human Rights Commission Ceases Participation in NPFH

Town Refuses to be ‘In the Same Boat’ with ADL
By Khatchig Mouradian

NEWTON, Mass. (A.W.)—Generations of Americans converged at Newton City Hall on Sept. 11 to make their voices heard to the local Human Rights Commission (NHRC) meeting, which, after deliberations, unanimously voted to cut their ties with the ADL’s No Place for Hate (NPFH) program until the former unequivocally recognizes the Armenian genocide and supports H.R.106 in Congress, thereby affirming the historical record.

Commissioners and Advisory Council Members

In a letter dated Aug. 24, the NHRC had asked the ADL to recognize the Armenian genocide, actively support H.R.106 and rehire the ADL’s New England regional director Andrew Tarsy.
During the Sept. 11 meeting, commissioner Marianne Ferguson noted that although Tarsy has since been rehired, unequivocal recognition and support for the Genocide Resolution had not been achieved.

Advisory Council member Dianne Chilingerian expressed concern about the ADL’s position on the Genocide Resolution, which she considered inconsistent with its mission. She said that she is bothered by the ADL’s position as a human rights activist, and that this is not just an Armenian issue. Student Advisory council member David Fisher asked how we expect to end genocide campaigns today “when we still can’t recognize what happened 92 years ago.”

ADL Regional Board Members

Emphasizing that he was not speaking on behalf of the ADL, the organization’s NE Regional Board member Gerry Tishler said, “I have studied, thought and written about the Armenian genocide and it wasn’t ‘tantamount to genocide’ it was genocide. … I am also in favor of the U.S. government acknowledging and commemorating the Armenian genocide.” He noted that the meeting of the ADL’s national commissioners will discuss the issue in November, though said that continuing with the NPFH should not be based on that outcome. “If you make it conditional, you are making a bad mistake,” he said, noting how much the ADL has added to the town’s programs.

NE Regional Board member Beth Tishler also argued the importance of not dissociating from the NPFH, adding, “We have stood up and gone against our national leadership. We have heard you. The National ADL has heard you.”

ADL National commissioner David Apel said that ADL national director Abe Foxman “is not empowered” to support the Genocide Resolution, and that “your message will be brought forth to the national commissioners in November.” In response, members of the audience pointed out that while Foxman seems to be able to change his position daily on the Armenian issue, he needs the green light from the commissioners to properly acknowledge the truth about 1915.

“I reject the notion that we are misguided citizens,” continued Apel. He said the last few months had been a learning experience for him and many others, and that everyone in the room was in the same boat. “Give us time till November,” he added.

Members of the Audience

Newton residents, university professors, human rights activists, students, descendents of Armenian genocide and Holocaust survivors, spoke about the need to send the right message by severing ties with the ADL.

Newton resident David Boyajian, whose letter to the Watertown Tab sparked the ADL controversy, said that the “ADL’s [genocide] acknowledgement was thinly disguised denial,” and that its “verbal gymnastics show bad faith.” He stressed that the ADL will not change its position without pressure from the towns, and asked that Newton sever its ties immediately.
Newton resident Sonya Merian, whose mother was on one of the earliest Newton Human Rights commissions, read a letter by the ANC of Eastern Massachusetts addressed to the NHRC members and Newton mayor David Cohen. “Foxman apologized to the Prime Minister of Turkey for having put his government ‘in a difficult position,’ expressing his ‘sorrow over what we have caused for the leadership and people of Turkey.’ No apology to the heirs of Armenian Genocide survivors has been issued to date,” she said.

Prof. Jack Nusan Porter, treasurer of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), stressed the importance of severing ties with the ADL until Foxman resigns or changes course. “Turkey cannot harm a single hair of a single Jew,” he said, referring to Foxman’s stated concern that supporting the Genocide Resolution would harm the Turkish-Jewish community. “Is Israel, with its army, afraid of Turkey?” he asked.

Newton resident Nancy Akanian said she was startled that the NPFH has an annual re-certification process for all participating towns, and said the ADL was hardly in a position to grade anyone on their human rights performance.

“The ADL lacks the moral leadership and courage and any program sponsored by the ADL cannot be accepted,” said Newton resident Michael Mensoyan.

Newton resident and Armenian Youth federation (AYF) member Nora Kaleshian said, “My family and I are deeply hurt [by ADL’s practices],” expressing hope that it promotes the Human Rights of all people.

Prominent human rights activist and author of Our Bodies, Ourselves, Judy Norsigian, also from Newton, noted that “the time is ripe to make this a national issue.” She underlined the position and authority of Newton to send a strong message to the ADL by severing ties.

Newton resident Bethel Charkoudian introduced her father, a genocide survivor and thanked the NHRC for their stance. “My father survived the genocide and came here because he knew people understood his suffering,” she said.

Associate professor of philosophy at Worcester State College Henry Theriault said that while people were used to the denial of the Armenian genocide by Turkey, it was shocking to see a human rights organization engaging in the denial, adopting similar hate speech and lobbying against genocide recognition.

“There is no such thing as ‘degree of genocide,’” said Newton resident Salpi Sarafian. “The ADL has spoken in absolute clarity against Sudan, Bosnia and Afghanistan. They need to do the same regarding the Armenian genocide.”

In a poignant speech, activist Berge Jololian underscored the importance of realizing that recognizing the Armenian genocide is a moral issue and not a political one. “ADL was established in 1913, the Armenian genocide occured in 1915. ADL had 92 years to acknowledge this crime,” he said.

Activist Narini Badalian recounted her experience at a recent lecture by Foxman in New York. Badalian had confronted Foxman to say whether ADL’s position is consistent with that of a Human Rights organization. Foxman had responded, “It is up to you to decide.” Badalian urged, “It is time for us to decide.”

Activist Luder Sahagian made strong points about the failure of the ADL to “rigorously uphold settled history.” He said, “The ADL has yet to subscribe to the wisdom of the esteemed Rabbi Hillel, who many, many years ago advised, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor…That is the entire law. All the rest is commentary.’”

Visiting professor of Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University Dikran Kaligian said, “The ADL has made itself complicit in [Turkey’s] multi-million dollar denial campaign.” When the ADL controversy first broke, he explained, the ADL’s first reaction was not to approach the Armenian community but to hire a leading PR company. “Foxman does not see this as a moral issue, but a PR problem,” Kaligian said, adding, “We need to take the necessary steps for them to get the message.”

In an emotional speech, activist Alik Arzoumanian responded to the numerous calls on the NHRC and on Armenians to wait until the November meeting before deciding to sever ties. “We have been waiting all our lives,” she said, and explained how offended she was by Foxman’s claim that a Genocide Resolution was “counter-productive.” Foxman considers “our struggle to recover our dignity” to be counterproductive, she added. “I don’t want to give National ADL one more day.”

Mayor Cohen

Newton mayor David Cohen spoke next, and said that “there is a tremendous amount of common ground here.” He called the ADL National’s failure to “make a forthright statement” recognizing the genocide and supporting the resolution as “an ongoing injustice.”

“The resolution that we have in the U.S. Congress is one of the best pieces of legislation that deserves passage,” he said, referring to H.R.106. “It is incumbent on the ADL” to support it, he added.

In the same boat?

ADL Regional Board members emphasized several times during the meeting that everyone in the room was “on the same boat,” though they went on to say that suspending ties with the NPFH and ADL was not the answer. Asked to comment near the end of the meeting, however, Student Advisory Council member Fisher said, “Hearing the voices of the Armenian community and my own Jewish conscience, I cannot be in the same boat with you.”

The NHRC voted unanimously to cease participation in the NPFH, pending the ADL’s unambiguous recognition of the Armenian genocide and support of HR106.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Bedford Violence Prevention Coalition Demands Explanation from ADL

By Khatchig Mouradian

The Armenian Weekly
September 4, 2007

BEDFORD, Mass. (A.W.)—On Sept. 4 at 7:30 a.m., the Bedford Violence Prevention Coalition (VPC) held its monthly meeting at the First Church of Christ Congregational with members of the Bedford Armenian community and activists from neighboring towns. The committee discussed the ADL’s ambiguous position on the Armenian genocide and decided to officially demand an explanation from the ADL. The committee agreed that it would then proceed accordingly, yet maintained that severing its ties with the ADL was still very much on the table.
During the meeting, members of the committee were briefed on the recent developments in the controversy surrounding the ADL. Armenian activists were then given the floor to speak.

Armenian Activists
Bedford resident Stephen Dulgarian spoke about the ADL’s opposition to the Armenian Genocide Resolution in the U.S. Congress and expressed his hope that Bedford would follow in the footsteps of Watertown, Newton and Newburyport by sending a strong message to the ADL. “We ask this committee to send a letter to the ADL demanding the unambiguous recognition for the Armenian genocide and support for the Genocide Resolution,” he said.

“I just lost a great uncle who was a survivor of the Armenian genocide,” said Bedford resident Mike Bahtiarian. He went on to criticize the ADL’s position on the genocide, underlining how its use of expressions like “tantamount to genocide” were deliberately unclear. Not supporting genocide recognition, he said, is “like not recognizing [the Holocaust during] World War II.”

“We would like to see this No Place for Hate committee continue its work independently of the ADL,” said activist Berge Jololian. “The ADL has lost its moral authority to lecture us on human rights. Denying any genocide is an act of hate and this community should have zero tolerance to it.” He noted that statement after statement, the ADL’s “hypocrisy is multiplying.” He rejected the ADL’s talk of a joint Turkish-Armenian commission to look into the history of 1915. “It is like saying that Elie Wiesel and David Irving should sit and discuss the history of the Holocaust. It’s outrageous!” he exclaimed.

Talking about ADL national director Abraham Foxman, Jololian said, “ADL has not apologized to the Armenian community or addressed any Armenian, however, Foxman offered an apology to the Turkish government for ADL’s statement recognizing the Armenian genocide.” Jololian was referring to a letter Foxman sent to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan in which he said, “I feel deeply sorry over discussions that erupted after the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) changed its stance on the incidents of 1915.”

Petitto Devaney
Watertown councilor-at-large Marilyn Petitto Devaney spoke about the proclamation she introduced at the Watertown Town Council meeting. “I look at the proclamation as an act of lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness,” she said. Pettito Devaney recounted how the ADL had asked the Watertown Town Council for 90 days before making a decision about severing ties with the No Place for Hate program. “I wouldn’t even give them 90 seconds,” she said. Underlining that the Armenian genocide is not merely an Armenian issue, Petitto Devaney called on Bedford to sever its ties with the NPFH.

Police Chief
Police chief James Hicks said that long before coming to Bedford, he had worked with the ADL on several programs. “This summer has been quite eye-opening,” he said. “I feel embarrassed.”
“If the facts are facts, the ADL should state the facts clearly and back its statement with words and actions,” Hicks noted. “I have some serious reservations with the ADL. They need to explain their position,” he added.

Hicks and other members of the VPC noted that their committee was functioning years before its association with the NPFH and that good work can be done with—and if need be without—that association.

“We have some serious concerns and I would like to have the ADL here before taking action,” Hicks said. “But I have to say,” he added, “the present state of affairs jeopardizes NPFH’s position.”