08/29 Newburyport: Commission considers leaving over Armenian genocide view

Commission not tolerant of ADL stance; Commission considers leaving over Armenian genocide view

By Dan Atkinson , Staff Writer
Daily News of Newburyport

NEWBURYPORT - The city Commission for Diversity and Tolerance can only tolerate so much.

The commission will send a letter to the Anti-Defamation League stating that it is "seriously considering" withdrawing from the ADL-sponsored No Place For Hate program unless the league unambiguously acknowledges the Armenian genocide and lobbies Congress to do the same.

The approval to send the letter was made at yesterday's meeting after several speakers encouraged the commission to cut its ties with the ADL.

Police Lt. Richard Siemasko originally proposed suspending ties with No Place For Hate, but the commission decided to wait and see how the ADL continues to handle the controversy.

Chairwoman Beth Horne said the commission's next meeting on Sept. 11 is not an official deadline for the ADL, but the panel will take up withdrawal again at that time.

"We want to put some pressure on (the ADL)," Horne said.

Newburyport joins several other area communities in withdrawing or threatening to withdraw from No Place For Hate. Earlier in the month, Watertown withdrew from the tolerance-promoting program after a letter to the local paper pointed out that the ADL does not recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915 to 1924, in which Ottoman Turks killed more than 1.5 million Armenians.

The town's Armenian community protested and the director of the Boston ADL chapter was fired after agreeing that his organization should recognize the genocide.

After more outcry, national ADL director Abraham Foxman released a statement saying the consequences of the Turks' actions were "tantamount to genocide" and Boston director Andrew Tarsy was reinstated.

But many Americans of Armenian descent and their supporters say Foxman did not fully acknowledge the genocide. They demand that the ADL stop opposing legislation in Congress that would formally recognize the genocide.

Watertown resident David Boyajian, the man who wrote the original letter complaining of the ADL's policy, came to yesterday's meeting to urge the commission to withdraw and show dissatisfaction with the ADL.

"Your breaking ties with them would put pressure on them from the bottom up," he said.

Newburyport resident Judy Mouradian supported disassociating from No Place For Hate. She said the ADL only backtracked as far as it did because of public pressure, so Newburyport should keep the pressure on. And the denial of one genocide could only encourage further denials, she said.

"As an Armenian, I find it offensive," Mouradian said. "As an American citizen, I find it really horrifying and it could negate other atrocities."

Former City Councilor John Pramberg agreed and asked if the ADL would treat the Holocaust as it does the Armenian genocide. He said the commission does not need No Place For Hate to continue its own mission of promoting tolerance.

"We don't need this distraction," Pramberg said. "Your work can be done without association with this group."

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

Unlike other communities, Horne said, Newburyport is not entirely dependent on No Place For Hate for its tolerance efforts, although No Place For Hate does supply materials.

She and other commission members praised the program but were dismayed by the ADL's stance, a position Horne outlined in a letter to the organization last week. And although the commission rarely gets involved in politics, it would have to support the congressional resolution if it were going to call for the ADL to acknowledge the genocide, said member Sam Szabo.

"We can't debate one without the other," Szabo said.

Superintendent Kevin Lyons, the commission's incoming school liaison, did not vote on sending the letter but approved of its contents.

"We don't want to be associated with (the ADL) if they don't get their act together," Lyons said.
The commission's next meeting is Sept. 11 at 3 p.m. at the police station. The panel will hear comments from the public at the beginning of the meeting.

Source: http://www.newburyportnews.com/punews/local_story_241094012