08/30 Needham Times: Is Needham still No Place For Hate?

Is Needham still No Place For Hate?
Steven Ryan
Thu Aug 30, 2007, 12:00 AM EDT

Needham - Remembering the past
Gulnar Sahagian, who grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, remembered her grandmother’s stories of the Armenian Genocide, which saw the mass deportation and murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during the World War I era.

“She cried every single night in prayer,” the Hunting Road resident said, with her son, Luder Tavit Sahagian, by her side. “Her eyes witnessed so much horror. The way she described the stories every night, I was there.”

Gulnar Sahagian, who came to the United States in 1979, said her grandmother, Arusiak Hajinian, was on the cusp of adulthood when tragedy changed her life. At the time, she was married with a child, while pregnant with a second. Arusiak Hajinian died at 110.

Gulnar Sahagian said Turkish forces came to her grandmother’s home “collecting soldiers” and took away her husband, whom she never saw again. Her brothers-in-law were killed, and her sister-in-law was raped and brutalized, dying shortly thereafter.

In the chaos, her grandmother took the family’s gold and put as much as possible in a pillowcase before hiding the coins in the wall of a chicken coop. Hajinian, with others, was eventually captured and taken into the desert, where she had little food or water for her young child.

“She told me, ‘The baby is getting nothing from me,’” Gulnar Sahagian said. “The baby finally died, and she buried it. She did not even put a stone on top [of the grave], so nobody disturb it.”

Gulnar Sahagian said Hajinian also lost the unborn child when a Turkish soldier put a bayonet into her stomach. After the traumatic event, she woke up in a Turkish soldier’s house. She was recovering there before becoming a prisoner when she refused to become the man’s new wife. She was chained to the basement.

One day, the chains were improperly placed, and Hajinian was able to break free, climbing through a small window wrapped with metal wire. Years later, she returned to her home and found the gold she hid in the chicken coop. There, she connected with the man who became her second husband, Gulnar Sahagian’s grandfather.

“We’re here because my grandmother escaped through that window,” she said.

Seeking acknowledgement
The Anti-Defamation League’s stance on the Armenian Genocide, which some said was the outright denial of the tragedy, created a furor in nearby Watertown. The Watertown Town Council severed ties with the ADL and the No Place for Hate program — which was created through a partnership of the Massachusetts Municipal Association and the ADL — after a letter highlighting the ADL’s controversial stance was published in the Watertown TAB and Press. The government of Turkey rejects the characterization of events as genocide.

“My personal view is it needs to be identified as a genocide clearly,” Selectman Jerry Wasserman said, noting he is speaking for himself, not the board. “To do otherwise would be wrong.”

In Newton, members of the Human Rights Commission have postponed their decision to withdraw from the long-standing program in the city. The Arlington “No Place for Hate” program steering committee decided Monday night, in an emergency meeting, to suspend its involvement. Needham’s Human Rights Committee is holding a meeting Thursday, Aug. 30, to discuss the fallout.

“We’re having a special meeting to talk about the incidents of the past couple of weeks,” said Debbie Watters, chairwoman of the Needham Human Rights Committee.

Gulnar Sahagian plans to be at the Needham meeting.
“It would only be right for the Needham Human Rights Committee to do the right thing and cut ties with the ADL,” said Luder Tavit Sahagian, 27.

Needham’s main involvement with No Place for Hate revolves around student-led activities during the month of March. Superintendent Dan Gutekanst declined to comment on the controversy, saying he didn’t know enough about it. He did speak positively of the No Place for Hate event at the high school.

“At the high school level, it was very well done, well thought-out,” Gutekanst said. “It brought a new awareness of bigotry. It served its purpose.”

Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick believes the status of No Place for Hate in Needham “warrants thoughtful conversation.”

“No Place For Hate was founded … as a resource to address hate crimes and discrimination,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s something Needham hopes to do whether with No Place for Hate or not.”

There is legislation before the U.S. Congress which would formally recognize the deaths as genocide, but the ADL currently doesn’t support the legislation. Over the past two weeks, the ADL fired Regional Director Andrew Tarsey after he publicly acknowledged the Armenian Genocide. He was rehired on Monday, Aug. 27. In between the firing and rehiring, the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, issued a statement that the tragic events of more than 90 years ago were “tantamount to genocide.”

Describing Foxman’s statement as “wishy washy,” Gulnar Sahagian believes the ADL needs to take more significant steps.

“Apologize for the Armenian Genocide and support us in Washington, D.C.,” Gulnar Sahagian said. “Why can’t we go back on the right track? It’s the only way to have authentic human rights activists.”

Steven Ryan can be reached at sryan@cnc.com.

Source: http://www.wickedlocal.com/needham/news/x766806385