09/01 Needham Times: Local Armenians ask Needham to sever ties with ADL program

Local Armenians ask Needham to sever ties with ADL program
Steven Ryan
Fri Aug 31, 2007, 03:47 PM EDT
Needham -

Needham - Almost 100 years of Armenian history took center stage in Needham Thursday, Aug. 30, as Armenian Americans from Needham and other nearby communities implored the town – with exasperation and almost tears – to sever ties with the Anti-Defamation League for failing to back Congressional legislation recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
“Truth is the first step toward reconciliation,” said David Sahagian of Hunting Road. “We strongly request the Needham [Human Rights Committee] to support the Congressional resolutions and that the town and its No Place for Hate end its association with the ADL.”
Ultimately, the Human Rights Committee proposed crafting a letter to the local ADL rejecting the organization’s position on Armenian Genocide legislation and expressing the desire of many in the community to sever ties with the organization. A meeting will be held Wednesday, Sept. 5, at the police station to discuss the letter.
“We want to give the ADL a heads up, this is what happened,” said Debbie Watters, chairwoman of the Human Rights Committee.
The Armenian Genocide saw the mass deportation and murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during the World War I era. The Turkish government rejects the characterization of events as genocide.
“We want the town to take a stand on this issue and create a letter to the ADL demanding support of the [Congressional] resolutions,” said David Sahagian of Hunting Road. “Anything short of that falls short. The ADL is working to keep this bill off the floor.”
The Human Rights Committee, which usually holds its meetings in the small conference room of the Needham Police Station, had to move their meeting to the much larger Training Room, as more than a dozen Armenian-Americans, mostly from Needham, came to ask the committee to distance themselves from the Anti-Defamation League and the No Place for Hate program it co-sponsors with the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
“Genocide denial is the worst hate crime,” said Berge Jololian of Cambridge. “The ADL has lost its moral authority to lecture on human rights. They have actively campaigned against the Armenian Genocide. This is no joke. You have to have zero tolerance for hate.”
Newton lawyer David Boyajian, who attended the meeting, sparked local debate about the Anti-Defamation League with a letter he sent to the Watertown TAB detailing the ADL’s alleged denial of the genocide. The letter created a furor in Watertown, which has a significant Armenian-American population. The Watertown Town Council eventually severed ties with the ADL and the No Place For Hate program.
“When you deny one [genocide], you can kiss the others goodbye,” said Laura Terzian of Meetinghouse Circle. “We teach our children when you see an inconsistency, you need to stand up and say its wrong.”
Dziadzan Sahagian, a sophomore at Simmons College, described going to school in Needham and being stung by the lack of education about the Armenian Genocide, eventually leading her to educate her own teacher about it.
“Nothing was said about it,” said Dziadzan Sahagian, who was fighting back tears. “I would have liked to hear about it. It hurts.”
Needham’s main involvement with No Place For Hate revolves around student-led activities at the high school during the month of March. Josh Goldman, a senior at Needham High School, was at the meeting and backed the value of No Place For Hate, asking for a resolution to the controversy.
“I agree the Aremnian Genocide needs to be accepted and that No Place For Hate month is awesome,” said Goldman, who will head No Place For Hate activities at the high school this year.
Committee member Mark Smith also expressed the ADL’s value in Needham, while noting ADL involvment has been limited to a couple of public speakers and some funding through grants. Committee secretary John Buehrens explained the importance of the ADL in dealing with hate speech, helping the town not to unintentionally give hate groups a “megaphone” while not ignoring the issue.
“Our most significant advice has come from staff at the ADL,” Buehrens said. “I find it difficult to take action that would cut off activities with the ADL. But we can petition the ADL to do what the regional board is doing.”
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.”
“Being ambiguously against genocide is not good enough,” said Luder Tavit Sahagian of Hunting Road. “They’ve been doing this many, many years. It has to stop.”
Boyajian was disappointed with the Human Rights Committee’s response to what was said at the meeting.
“I think they could’ve been more sensitive to the issue,” he said. “We’re not trying to destroy No Place For Hate. It can continue under a different name. But the Human Rights Committee seemed overprotective of their turf – more interested in their turf than in human rights.”

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

Source: http://www.wickedlocal.com/needham/news/x942959694