08/27 Newburyport News: City Could Have Impact on Genocide Controversy

Local leader: City could have impact on genocide controversy
By Dan Atkinson , Staff Writer
Daily News of Newburyport

NEWBURYPORT - The Commission for Diversity and Tolerance will take a closer look this week at the city's involvement in No Place For Hate, a tolerance-promoting program that has come under fire because its sponsor, the Anti-Defamation League, has refused to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.

And while the program is useful, according to a local Armenian leader, the commission should consider withdrawing.

"They should rattle their swords," said the Rev. Aram Marashlian, a member of the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of the Merrimack Valley. "They should keep making noise."

Commission member Beth Horne said No Place For Hate is a "fabulous" program, but she said anyone with concerns about it should come to the meeting.

"It's certainly an item on our agenda," Horne said.

The commission, formed by city ordinance in 2005, reports to the City Council and the mayor. Its goals include raising awareness of diversity, providing anti-bias education and promoting a welcoming community.

The controversy began several weeks ago in Watertown, which is home to more than 8,000 Armenians, when a letter to the local paper criticized the ADL for not acknowledging the 1915 genocide, in which Ottoman Turks killed more than 1.5 million Armenians. The city council voted to stop participating in the program; Arlington followed suit.

When the director of the local ADL chapter agreed that the organization should recognize the genocide, he was fired.

Last week, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said the slaughter of Armenians was "tantamount to genocide," but would not support a Congressional resolution to label it as such and never expressly stated it was genocide. And the Turkish ambassador to Israel cut short his vacation, returning to Israel to try to "correct" the ADL's statement, according to reports.

Pearl Teague, co-chairwoman of the Armenian National Committee's Merrimack Valley chapter, said both Armenian and Jewish leaders in the area are upset that the ADL is not supporting the resolution. She said the national committee would continue to push for the ADL and Congress to fully recognize the genocide.

"This is not acceptable for a mid-stance, to say 'Yes, it's a fact but no, we won't further recognize it,'" Teague said. "It's appeasement for political reasons, when these organizations should be making a stand on the moral high ground."

Teague said many Armenians came to the Merrimack Valley when fleeing the genocide and stayed to work in the mills and factories. She estimated that at least 5,000 Armenians still live in the region.

Marashlian said Armenians and Jews have a connection because they have faced similar persecutions, but he could understand that the ADL has political reasons to deny the genocide. Turkey is one of the few Mideast countries to recognize Israel, and Marashlian said the ADL probably does not want to strain relations between the countries, or possibly make life difficult for thousands of Turkish Jews.

"Foxman is one of those Jews for Jews only - I can't fault him for that," Marashlian said.

But Marashlian still thinks cities and towns should pressure the ADL into fully acknowledging the genocide. If cities stop participating in No Place for Hate, the ADL would lose many potential donors, he said.

"Money is what talks," Marashlian said. "If you can hurt their pocketbook, they might consider it."

The Commission for Diversity and Tolerance meets tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. in the police station.

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Source: http://www.newburyportnews.com/punews/local_story_239093942