By Alin K. Gregorian
BOSTON — The national director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Jonathan Greenblatt, made Friday, May 13, a lucky day for mending relations with the Armenian and non-Armenian activists who for years had asked the organization to recognize the Armenian Genocide and also throw its support behind its recognition by the US government.
On that day Greenblatt released a statement on the group’s website in which he stressed his support for both issues. (See the full statement of the ADL with the continuation.)
“What happened in the Ottoman Empire to the Armenians beginning in 1915 was genocide. The genocide began with the ruling government arresting and executing several hundred Armenian intellectuals. After that, Armenian families were removed from their homes and sent on death marches. The Armenian people were subjected to deportation, expropriation, abduction, torture, massacre and starvation.
“What happened to the Armenian people was unequivocally genocide.
“We believe that remembering and educating about any genocide – Armenian, the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, and others is a necessary tool to prevent future tragedies.”
He continued, “Our experience regarding the Holocaust is relevant. When the first pictures of Auschwitz appeared at the end of World War II, there was widespread shame in the Western world at the realization that anti-Semitism was deeply embedded across cultures and countries and could produce such horror. That collective shame helped to inhibit manifestations of anti-Semitism for decades. Now, as time moves on, as that sense of shame eviscerates, it is no accident that anti-Semitism has reemerged with full force. In other words, we must educate each generation about the tragedies of the past.
“That is why I am speaking out today and why we would support U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Silence is not an option.”
The statement was welcomed heartily by the Armenian community.
Peter Koutoujian, the sheriff of Middlesex County, said he had been in continuous talks with the local ADL throughout the years, with several other Boston area activists.
Koutoujian said that he remembered when the national ADL leader, Abe Foxman, spoke against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the New England chapter of the ADL as well as the local Jewish community remained steadfast in their support of the Armenian community.
“They stepped right up to do the right thing,” Koutoujian said. “The language is quite clear and they delivered on both.”
Koutoujian noted that during recent years, the ADL had been vocal about its recognition of the Armenian Genocide and in fact spoke out during the uproar over a billboard denying the Genocide in Boston, which had been erected at a site overlooking the Armenian Heritage Park. The billboard, which had been put up in early April, was taken down in less than a week.
“The Jewish community in New England has never waivered in their recognition of the Armenian Genocide,” he said.
He gave credit to the New England ADL chapter and its leader, Robert Trestan.
Trestan concurred, saying, “We have been working with the Boston Armenian community for many, many months. This is the culmination of a lot of discussions and a lot of dialogue.”
One particular event that helped push the issue along, Koutoujian said, was a trip that the members of the ADL took with Koutoujian to Israel a couple of years ago, part of the an ADL-sponsored trip focused on counterterrorism.
“I took the entire delegation to the Armenian Quarter and we sat with the Patriarch and it is still spoken about as one of the highlights of the trip,” Koutoujian said. “There were people from Israel that had never been to the Armenian Quarter. It was one of my proudest moments.”
Trestan concurred with Koutoujian, saying the trip to Israel forged many close relationships.
Trestan noted, “This is the result of a lot of healing and reconciliation and dialogue. There is also concession at the national level that this is the right thing to do. We felt this particular time, after the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust Remembrance [Yom HaShoah]” would be a good time to address the issue.
“It is of critical importance,” he said.
Koutoujian, in addition to his praise for Trestan and the local chapter, said that the ADL’s most recent director, Greenblatt, who came on board a year ago, is “forward thinking” and grew up in Los Angeles, where he had become familiar with the Armenian community and the issue of the Armenian Genocide.
The issue about the ADL’s lack of recognition for the Genocide came to a head in 2007, when activist David Boyajian pointed out in a letter published in the Watertown Tab that the ADL’s leadership was opposed to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the US. As a result, many activists, both Armenian and Jewish, worked together to get the ADL to acknowledge the Genocide and more importantly, stop working against its recognition. They also urged that municipalities around the state cut off ties with the ADL, and stop using its “No Place for Hate” program. The group got a lot of support, including from the New England ADL leader, Andrew Tarsy, who was fired from the organization for his opposition to the ADL’s stance.
Trestan said, “We’ve been working in Boston with the Armenian community over many, many months. This is the culmination of a lot of discussion and a lot of dialogue.”
“This is a result of a lot of healing and reconciliation. There is also concession on the national level that it was the right thing to do.”
As a result of the announcement, he said, he has gotten a lot of emails supporting the change from members and leadership of the Jewish community.
Dikran Kaligian, chair of the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts and a member for the board of the ANC Eastern US, is another person who had been in contact with the local ADL to resolve the issue. He expressed his satisfaction with the statement. He, like Koutoujian, praised Trestan for being present for the commemorations of the Armenian Genocide at the Armenian Heritage Park, as well as at the special mass in April for the Armenian Genocide organized by the Boston Roman Catholic Archdiocese at the Holy Cross Cathedral downtown.
Kaligian said that he and a group of concerned citizens had kept in touch with activist members of the Jewish community as part of a loose group that had emerged after the 2007 break, Coalition to Recognize the Armenian Genocide. About six to eight Armenians and Jewish activists, including two rabbis, worked together and Trestan was “encouraging us,” Kaligian said.
“He was working with us and the Newton events just brought it to a head,” he said.
He added, “Essentially it was a long time coming. It finally addresses what the ANC and all the activists had asked for, which was the unequivocal acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide and support for US recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”
He added that he was pleased that the “statement goes on to say that they will oppose denial of the Genocide.”
The change in the organization’[s stance will now free many municipalities, including Newton, which had stopped using No Place for Hate, to go back to it, in light of three acts of anti-Semitic vandalism in a middle school in town this March.
Another activist involved is Anthony Barsamian, the co-chair of the Armenian Assembly of America.
He said, “We are pleased that they have come to fully and unequivocally recognized the Genocide and support he US recognition of the Genocide.”
He also credited the Coalition to Recognize the Armenian Genocide, a group, including Laura Bogosian, Sona Petrossian, Herman Purutyan, Judy Norsigian and Kaligian. “They have worked for nine years,” he said.
A No Place for Denial activist, Laura Boghosian co-founded the Coalition to Recognize the Armenian Genocide, said, “When Boston-area Armenians united to protest the ADL’s genocide denial, human rights advocates and members of the Jewish community stood with us. Through the Coalition to Recognize the Armenian Genocide, the rabbis and members of Lexington’s Temple Isaiah and Boston’s Temple Israel worked with Armenians to educate the Jewish community about the Armenian Genocide and to advocate for US recognition, as well as press the ADL to reverse its denialist policies. The ADL’s announcement this week of unequivocal recognition and support for US affirmation demonstrates well the power of sustained activism.”
Barsamian also praised Trestan for participating in the activities of the local Armenian community marking the Genocide.
“We welcome the recognition,” Barsamian said.
Kaligian added that he hoped now the ADL would joint the diverse coalition working together in Washington in support of two resolutions in Congress, one in support of the Armenian Genocide recognition (House Resolution 154), and the second return of church properties in Turkey (House Resolution 4347).
Kaligian praised local rabbis, including the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, which in honor of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide last year issued a strong statement in support of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
With this new position, Koutoujian said, the community can now heal. “Our community as looking backwards and now it is looking forward.”
“I am hopeful for the future,” Trestan added. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished here. I am grateful for the support of the Armenian community and the willingness to work together. Ideally we look forward to doing some joint programming and to work on some educational initiatives jointly.”