08/22 Arlington Advocate: Arlington pulls out of No Place for Hate

Arlington pulls out of No Place for Hate
Shauna Staveley/Staff Writer
Wed Aug 22, 2007, 01:38 PM EDT

Arlington, Mass. - The Arlington No Place for Hate Program Steering Committee decided Monday night in an emergency meeting that they would suspend their involvement with the committee.

This decision was in lieu of recent controversy involving the program sponsor, the Anti-Defamation League, and their supposed inability on the National level to acknowledge the 1915-1917 murder of 1.5 Million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire a genocide, committee officials said.

“Everyone in the committee felt clearly as the Watertown (program ending), and following stories (about the controversy) were happening that we had to do something about this,” said Cindy Friedman, chairwoman of the Arlington No Place for Hate Committee. “We didn’t want to wait and not respond.”

Friedman said the committee analyzed and discussed a diverse array of information, including a written letter from the Armenian community and Arlington activists, as well as gathered information on the ADL.

Another influential occurrence was a reported divide in perspective between the Regional and National ADL leaders. According to the Boston Globe in an article on Aug. 19, two New England board members resigned after New England Regional Director Andrew Tarsy was fired over his push to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.

“At the very least, the ADL can acknowledge the New England Regional chapter and their stance — to call the genocide a genocide,” Friedman said. “And I think they should reinstate Andrew Tarsy. They should reinstate whom they fired, call it a genocide and support the position of the New England chapter. That’s what they could do.”

One piece of information was an advertisement by the ADL titled “An Open Letter to the New England Community.” That advertisement is scheduled to run all week in various newspapers according to the ADL website, and states the following:

“ADL has acknowledged and never denied the massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians—and by some accounts more than one million—at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1918…we cannot let a disagreement on how to proceed on one issue undermine all our joint good work.”

Many Arlington residents, both Armenian and non-Armenian, activist and non-activist, have increased their criticism after this advertisement was published. The issue has especially affected Armenians, however, who have relatives that directly experienced the horrors of 1915-1918.

Lucine Zadoiam-Kouchakdjian is a four-year Armenian resident of Arlington whose grandparent’s perished and parent’s escaped the genocide. She said her grandparent’s took refuge in an Armenian church in Bitlis (Turkey), and upon the church being filled with refugees; it was burnt to the ground.

“It is a known fact,” she said.
Her parents both took refuge in Romania, where they first met.
“My father’s side, he was a young man and went to Syria, and from there he tried to gather orphans to have orphanages. There was reluctance to talk about the subject, as would many people who go through tragedy, to their children. They would say bits and pieces, but wouldn’t have (the) heart to pour out their grief,” she said.

Zadoiam-Kouchakdjian’s story is far from unique, and that is precisely why this controversy is so hurtful to the Armenian people.

“There are all these stories,” she said. “Everyone outside of Armenia, or Western Armenia (now Eastern Turkey): why are they outside of lands? Because of the genocide. What business (do they have in being outside of their homeland)? Because of Survivors that took refuge in Middle Eastern countries or in Europe or the United States. Every Armenian would have story. That is why it’s ridiculous to support the denial of Turkey (about the genocide).”

Berge Ayvazian, an Armenian resident for 28 years that has raised three children in the area, is a member of the Armenian Assembly Board of Trustees. He said the Assembly is the is the “largest U.S. based advocacy organization regarding Armenian issues located in Washington. We have been backing legislation and working with congress to get it passed.”

Ayvazian said “in practice he was normally supportive” of the No Place for Hate Program in Arlington, but his view changed due to recent articles he has read on the controversy.

“I just think it’s extremely hypocritical to promote a program against hate bigotry and divisiveness and deny a genocide that was widely recognized,” Ayvazian said.

One piece of legislation the Assembly is working to pass in Congress is House Resolution 106, introduced on Jan. 30, 2007, which in the legislative documents states that the resolution is:

“Calling upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide, and for other purposes.”

The ADL responds
What is interesting about the resolution, in relation to the ADL, is their most recent press release titled “ADL Statement on the Armenian Genocide,” released Tuesday afternoon.

In the release, National Director Abraham H. Foxman said “on reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr., that the consequences of those actions (on 1915-1918) were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide.”

Bob Wolfson, the ADL Associate National Director for Regional Operations, said in a phone interview that he hoped that this would start the healing process of the Armenian Community.

“The Watertown action was based on the notion that we were denying the genocide, which we never did,” Wolfson said. “The use of that term was problematic for very complicated political reasons, so we decided to change our policy and use the term. And I believe and hope the Armenian community will applaud it and I hope the good work with the program in places like Arlington will continue.”

The problem for residents, however, is the bottom paragraph of the “ADL Statement on the Armenian Genocide,” where Foxman stated the following about congressional resolutions such as 106:

“We continue to firmly believe that a congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel, and the United States.”

Upon reading this statement, Ayvazian, member of the Armenian Board of Assembly, said “Certainly they don’t support the resolution (106). They think it’s counterproductive. It appears they value reconciliation as a higher objective than recognition (of the genocide). It’s hard for me to see how you’d achieve reconciliation until you receive recognition.”

“It’s unfortunate that a valuable program such as No Place For Hate has been put at risk by the ADL’s unwillingness to step forward and recognize that it’s not tantamount to genocide, but it is genocide — and it’s important that recognition come before reconciliation,” he said. “None of us want to put the Jewish/Turkish community at risk. But if they’re at risk, that puts into perspective even more the importance of recognition.”

Other complaints against the ADL
Elaine Hagopian, a retired professor from Arlington who studied the Middle East for more than 45 years, earning two Fulbright grants for research, said the problem with Anti-Defamation League’s association with a program like No Place For Hate runs much deeper than the Armenian Genocide issue. She said the problem was merely a “trigger to expose the ADL for its’ duplicity.”

She discussed an incident in 1993, where a the District Attorney of San Francisco had 700 pages of documents in which he claimed the ADL was spying, and had files compiled over 30 years on over 10,000 individuals and 950 groups of “all political stripes, including Arab and Palestinian groups, and anti-apartheid activists before South Africa became independent.”

The DA dropped the accusations a few months later, but a class-action lawsuit was filed, and according to published reports, the Anti-Defamation League settled out of court in 1999.

Hagopian also said the Middle East Studies Association once condemned the ADL because they “inhibited academic freedom.”

Knowing of these incidents, and others in which Hagopian said the ADL tried to “suppress dissent,” Hagopian and other Arlington residents tried to prevent the No Place For Hate Program from being created months ago, but the attempt failed.

“The issue of having these programs (such as No Place For Hate) is it gives the Anti-Defamation League credibility,” she said. “It keeps in the public mind that they are somehow a civil and human rights group, when really they are doing other things in the background — one of those being an advocate for Israel, which makes it impossible to be a human rights group. It opens opportunity to see the other faces.”

“No one would argue that the ADL has no right to advocate for Israel,” she said. “On the other hand, they cannot say that they are promoting diversity and respect for others and so forth when they target people and groups that they see as critics of Israel — or people who, like Arabs who represent a different point of view…. So if you exclude certain groups from being covered by the ADL because of an Israeli agenda, then ADL really needs to choose whether it is really a human rights group equal to all, or an advocate to Israel.”

However, Heather Steckel, a Social Worker at Peabody High School, said her experience with the ADL during a workshop was overwhelmingly positive.

“Through grant money they came in to do teacher work shops and did really well…they’ve been fabulous,” Steckel said. “I’ve had nothing but good experiences with them and their workers.”

Steckel said they asked her the following spring if she would like to use a $20,000 donation they received from an anonymous donor. According to Steckel, the ADL is going to use all of the money on training kids, faculty, and technical support for two years.

“So the fact that they came to me, because I did a workshop I think was wonderful,” she said. “I don’t agree with their policy, absolutely not, but as an organization they’ve done very well by us. So much so that I thought about going to work with them before this happened.”

Arlington No Place For Hate Program Steering Committee Chairwoman Friedman said that the program has brought great things to Arlington that have nothing to do with the ADL or its’ sponsorship.

“The idea that a community stands up, from the board of selectmen down says we are committed to making this a welcoming place to live, and we are committed to activities that encourage that, its an incredibly positive thing,” Friedman said. “We had organized the start of capturing oral histories of people in Arlington, how they got here, why they stay, and were starting to have dialogue between people how we’re different and how we’re the same. All of that is incredibly positive.”

“We were just starting to do all of that stuff,” she said. “We had our proclamation and were organizing the Town Day. It was great and brought together all the different groups, who all have some piece in making Arlington a safe and welcoming place. So, we are saddened by this. We think there are great things about the program, but we just cannot continue under these circumstances.”