08/21 Worcester Telegram: ADL’s ax sharpened genocide dispute

Tuesday, August 21, 2007
ADL’s ax sharpened genocide dispute

Armenians laud effort of ex-director


WORCESTER— Local Armenian-Americans are rallying around the former New England director of the Anti-Defamation League, who was fired last week after he said the prominent human rights organization should acknowledge the slaughter by Ottoman Turks of up to 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923 as a “genocide.”

Andrew H. Tarsy, who served over the past two years as the ADL’s regional chief, was axed after he told national director Abraham H. Foxman that the organization should rethink its position on the killings.

Armenians, academics and many countries have recognized the systematic massacre as genocide.

The Turkish government, however, refuses to do so, and the ADL’s national leadership has also avoided labeling the purge as such, fearing reprisals against Turkish Jews and not wanting to upset relations between Israel and Turkey, one of the few Muslim nations with warm diplomatic ties to the Jewish state.

“He (Tarsy) deserves our full support,” said George Aghjayan, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of Central Massachusetts.

The issue began simmering a few weeks ago when elected officials in Watertown decided to pull out of an antibigotry program after they learned that it was sponsored by the ADL.

Watertown is home to about 8,000 Armenian-Americans.

The ADL’s stance has upset Armenians for years and tensions ratcheted up when the organization’s leadership decided not to support pending congressional legislation that would acknowledge the deaths as genocide.

Mr. Tarsy reportedly had been struggling with the ADL’s position for weeks and told Mr. Foxman last Thursday that the organization’s view was “morally indefensible.”

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, said the legislation, House Resolution 106, has been proposed every congressional session since he was elected.

However, he said some lawmakers and the Bush administration are blocking the resolution out of fear of upsetting Turkey, a key strategic ally of the United States.

“I find it shameful that the U.S. won’t take a position on this issue,” said Mr. McGovern, one of 226 co-sponsors of the legislation. “Everybody who cares about human rights should sign on. Truth is truth and it has to be acknowledged, no matter how painful.”

Todd Gutnick, a spokesman for the national ADL, said advertisements outlining the organization’s position will appear this week in the Boston Globe, the Boston Jewish Advocate, and smaller daily and weekly newspapers in Waltham, Newton, Somerville and other eastern Massachusetts communities.

An “Open Letter to the New England Community” has also been posted on the ADL Web site ( www.adl.org).

Critics of the ADL warned the organization stands to lose thousands of dollars in donations if it does not change its mind on the issue. They noted that several prominent Jewish leaders in the Boston area have come out against the ADL because of its stance.

In the message posted on the Internet, the ADL said it has acknowledged and never denied the “massacre” and added that it has urged the Turkish government to “confront its history.”

But it said that it views legislative efforts outside of Turkey to be counterproductive to having that nation come to grips with its past

“The Jewish community in Turkey has clearly expressed to us and other major Jewish American organizations its concerns about the impact of congressional action on them and we cannot ignore those concerns,” the posting said. “We are also keenly aware that Turkey is a key strategic ally and friend of the United States and a staunch friend of Israel and that, in the struggle between Islamic extremists and moderate Islam, Turkey is the most critical country in the world.”

Mr. Aghjayan, however, said it’s important that the massacre be labeled as a genocide so that similar atrocities won’t occur in the future.

Mr. Tarsy could not be reached yesterday for comment.

About 5,000 Armenian-Americans live in Central Massachusetts. Many who survived the Ottoman assault settled in Worcester.