Watertown Council President OK With ADL Position on Genocide

ADL Leader’s Letter Marks No
Change in Position

By Thomas C . Nash
Mirror-Spectator Staff

WATERTOWN, Mass. — As the controversy surrounding the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) stance on the Armenian Genocide continues, Watertown Town Council President Clyde L. Younger is receiving criticism for saying he is now satisfied with the organization’s position.

Younger received a letter on October 3 from ADL Director Abraham Foxman, which read in part, “The ADL has never denied the tragic and painful events perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians, and we have referred to those massacres and atrocities as genocide.”

In essence, the letter was a repetition of the ADL’s previous statements on the Genocide. This time, however, Younger said he was satisfied with the statement.

“They indicated in no unequivocal terms that it constituted genocide,” he said, adding, “The controversy is not over in that it is a national issue and the country is going to have to put diplomatic pressure on Turkey to recognize [the Genocide], and I think that’s what I would suggest as our next step.”

Herman Purutyan, Massachusetts state chair for the Armenian Assembly of America, said the ADL letter does not mark any change in the group’s position.

“It’s puzzling to see Clyde’s position change,” Purutyan said. “I don’t think there’s really anything new here. This statement basically just says ‘we referred to the events as genocide in an earlier statement.”

The letter was received after the council voted September 23 to ask Foxman for clarification on the organization’s position regarding the Armenian Genocide. The Council also requested that Blue Cross-Blue Shield withdraw funding from No Place for Hate (NPFH), an ADL-funded program.

The council’s action follows a unanimous 2007 decision to withdraw support for NPFH, after the revelation that the ADL does not recognize the Genocide and does not support the adoption of a Genocide resolution in Congress.

Twelve Massachusetts municipalities followed suit.

After the vote, Foxman released a statement: “We have never negated but have always described the painful events of 1915-1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against Armenians as massacres and atrocities,” adding, “the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide.”

The statement has been criticized for using wording that avoids the internationally recognized definition of genocide. David Boyajian, who originally brought the ADL’s position into the spotlight, said the statement effectively denies genocide occurred.

“The national ADL has never unequivocally recognized the Armenian Genocide,” he said. “Its statement, in which it used the word genocide, was actually a denial of the Armenian Genocide.”

On October 9, Blue Cross representative Fredi Shonkoff sent an e-mail to Armenian National Committee of America’s Sharistan Melkonian that read in part, “Our CEO asked the ADL leaders about the organization’s ‘official’ position. He was assured that the ADL unequivocally recognizes the killing of more than 1.5 million Armenians as genocide.”

Purutyan said non-public statements are not enough.

“I think the statement was not as unambiguous as we were hoping it would be,” Purutyan said. “Blue Cross said they were satisfied with private assurances, but there was no public assurance. That’s not fair to say they were privately satisfied.”

Watertown Town Council member Marilyn Devaney, who sponsored the recent ADL resolutions, said she received a similar e-mail from Shonkoff and that it did not answer her concerns.

“I said no statement would be acceptable unless the organization said they would support a Congressional resolution acknowledging the Genocide,” she said. “Why haven’t they said it publicly? They said it behind closed doors, but they won’t come out publicly and say it.

“The ADL fight is not over,” she said. “I respectfully disagree with Clyde Younger agreeing that the ADL recognizes the Armenian Genocide.”

While Younger accepts the ADL’s reassurance, he said his position on NPFH is unaffected.

“It doesn’t change the relationship with No Place for Hate, but [the ADL] did come out and state what we wanted them to state,” he said. “So I felt like we should move on to a different level. Whether or not we get the ADL to do it or not, it’s not going to make a difference until we take it to another level.”

Purutyan took issue with this assessment. “[The ADL] has really not met that requirement of an unambiguous statement,” he said. “I think the grassroots in our community is just as important as what happens nationally.

“For all the private assurances, the matter would go away if they could just do it publicly and put some power to their words. That would basically put the ADL on the right side of the issue.”

Meanwhile, Boyajian said Younger is being misled by the ADL.

“I think Mr. Younger, whom I respect, has become confused by the layers of deception Abraham Foxman has tried to foist on elected officials,” he said. “I believe that the actions of the Watertown Town Council and the past votes by Mr. Younger as recently as a few weeks say it all.

“Nothing has changed,” Boyajian said. “The campaign against the ADL’s Genocide denial and its effort to defeat US acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide continues.”

Melkonian agreed, saying Foxman’s recent statement is no different than the one the Town Council recently took issue with.

“The statement that the Watertown Council received was the exact same statement they discussed at the September 23 meeting,” Melkonian said. “It changes absolutely nothing.”

The ADL did not respond to a request for comment.