08/16 Watertown Tab: Will 'Hate' debate spread?

By Jillian Fennimore, Staff Writer
GateHouse News Service
Thu Aug 16, 2007, 12:21 PM EDT

The sign is down. Watertown has cut its ties to the Anti Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” anti-bigotry program over the ADL’s stance on the Armenian Genocide.
So what does the future hold, and will Watertown’s decision prompt a national “No Place for Hate” controversy?

At-Large Councilor Marilyn Devaney — after pushing forward a unanimous vote for a proclamation to rescind the relationship with the ADL — said she would lobby the other 50-plus “No Place for Hate” communities in the state to do the same.

State Rep. Rachel Kaprielian, D-Watertown, is also on board. She plans to gain support from scholars on the subject of the Armenian Genocide and rally supporters of all backgrounds to urge other “No Place for Hate” towns to sever their ADL ties.

“This isn’t a bunch of Armenians saying ‘stand up for us’,” she said. “This is the fact of the matter. It really is an outrage … we need to yield some results.”

Controversy began last month when the TAB & Press published a letter that highlighted statements from ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, that Congress should play no role in recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Some have classified his words as “genocide denial” regarding what most historians agree was a campaign waged against ethnic Armenians by the Ottoman government during and after World War I.

From 1915 to 1923, as many as 1.5 million Armenians died.

On Tuesday night, there was no denying the intense emotion and aggravation inside the Council Chambers.

Close to 100 Armenian-Americans packed the room and spilled into the hallway, some speaking passionately to council members in anticipation of their decision.

“Armenian-Americans have never asked the ADL to be the arbiter of Armenian history,” said Arman Baghdoyan. “What concerns me seriously is the injection of a sectarian agenda in the political life of the peaceful town of Watertown in the form of a ‘No Place for Hate’ campaign by the ADL.”

Narini Badalian, a 25-year-old Watertown resident, silenced the crowd with her words and left the podium to applause.

“I’ve learned not to be bullied by politics and stand up against hatred, to stand up against bigotry, to stand up against racism,” she said. “ADL does not have a monopoly on battling intolerance.”

David Boyajian of Newton, who wrote the letter that sparked the controversy, labeled the ADL as an “unfair sponsor.”

“There is no reason why you can’t be independent and function just fine,” he said.

And that’s what Watertown plans to do, said Will Twombly, co-chairperson of the “No Place for Hate” committee. For now, at least.

In an amendment to the Town Council proclamation, Twombly asked for 90 days for the 13-member committee to continue to pressure the ADL to change its stance, create new alliances within the community and seek program funding to continue its anti-bigotry agenda and public education work.

“We find the ADL’s decision unacceptable,” he said. “Such atrocities should not be ignored or passed off as someone else’s problem.”

To a reaction of “boos” and taunts of “liar” from the crowd, ADL Regional Director Andrew Tarsy stood at the podium and pleaded to keep “No Place for Hate” in Watertown.

“ADL’s mission and duty is to protect and defend Jewish communities and seek justice for all people,” he said. “Look at the record. It’s not just the pain and emotion this is certainly causing to have this discussion.”

Tarsy said the ADL has never denied what happened at the close of the First World War. Their mission now is to urge the Turkish government to reconcile with Armenians.

Discuss the decision and its impact
On Tuesday night, that did not sit well with the crowd, as shouts of “genocide,” “baloney” and “denial” filled the room and stirred tension.

“Some statements are plain untrue about the organization,” Tarsy added.

But others spoke to the council with inclinations that the ADL’s stance on the genocide will remain.

“Ninety days or 90 years, it wouldn’t make the ADL change their decision,” said John DiMascio, who writes a column for the TAB & Press. “Tear down that silly [No Place for Hate] sign and send it back to the ADL postage due.”

By 10 p.m. Tuesday, it was taken down by the Department of Public Works.

“No Place for Hate” aims to be a community-based campaign established by the ADL and geared to bring awareness to and fight against anti-Semitism, racism and all other forms of bigotry. Some 50 cities throughout Massachusetts are termed “No Place for Hate” zones, and participation is growing throughout the United States.

Grace Kulegian, representing theArmenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts, said the controversy was not invited by Watertown, but there is plan to see a solution through.

“We are confident that the just resolution of this matter will deepen Watertown’s commitment to tolerance, strengthen “No Place for Hate’s” ability to speak with real moral clarity, and for the sake of its members and its own future as an organization, end the ADL’s truly unfortunate affiliation with genocide denial,” she said.

At-Large Councilor Mark Sideris said Watertown is in a spot now that could affect politics throughout the country.

“We are sending a message across the nation,” he said.
As the sole Armenian on the now-rescinded “No Place for Hate” committee, Ruth Tomasian said there are many people who are on board in creating a new future for the community.

“Watertown is at the center of this controversy,” she said. “It’s about where we are going from here.”