09/20 Lexington Minuteman: No Place for Hate breaks its silence Friday

No Place for Hate breaks its silence Friday
By Ian B. Murphy/Staff Writer
Thu Sep 20, 2007, 05:43 AM EDT

To date, Lexington’s No Place for Hate committee has not formally addressed the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) partial acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks in the World War I era, or the ADL’s stance on a resolution in Congress to designate the genocide as such.

That will change Friday morning, when Lexington’s No Place for Hate committee meets for the first time since their summer adjournment in June. The committee, made of more than a dozen citizens and members from various community organizations, will hear from Armenian residents who want the committee to cut its ties with the ADL.

In the last month, several surrounding communities including Belmont, Arlington and Newton have either suspended or severed their ties with the ADL’s No Place for Hate program because of the ADL’s stance.

“Until the ADL advocates recognition for the Armenian genocide in the U.S. congress, I would advocate severing ties,” said Roger Hagopian, an Armenian-American resident who has lived in Lexington for 16 years. “This is something that should be acknowledged.”

Hagopian, an amateur filmmaker that has created several documentaries on the subject, is a member of a group of Armenian-Americans living in Lexington that feel the No Place for Hate program’s affiliation with the ADL are no longer appropriate. They recognize the great work that No Place for Hate has done in town, but cannot reconcile the ADL’s position on the genocide.

“They really have done great work over the years,” said Michael Kouchakdjian, another Armenian-American resident. “The problem is not with No Place For Hate. … It’s just that link [to the ADL] that has really given rise to the hypocrisy. I would have expected the No Place for Hate committee, once this issue came up, to quickly do an evaluation and see that the link with ADL is inappropriate considering the mission of the committee and do something about that.”

Jill Smilow, the committee’s chairman, said the group’s response has not been quick because it does not want to rush to judgment. According to Smilow, the committee has been communicating internally and gathering as much information as possible.

“There is a lot of conversation and questions going back and forth [between the committee],” said Smilow. “We’re trying to be deliberate to figure out how best to have dialogue [with community members], and how to respond, and to do what’s right for our community.”

Smilow is also on the regional board of directors for the ADL. She said people should look at the fact that the New England regional ADL has acknowledged the genocide, a move that got its director, Andrew Tarsay, fired (he was later reinstated after much public pressure on the ADL). She also said other communities, such as Duxbury, have reaffirmed their support for the No Place for Hate program.

Smilow doesn’t believe that ADL’s national policy needs to affect how Lexington’s No Place For Hate committee conducts its business.

“The idea that there is the sort of death grip on all of us from national ADL is false,” said Smilow. “I don’t feel it. What I do feel is the need to hear from our Armenian residents. I’m grateful for the Armenians in Watertown who brought this to the forefront. On the flip side, I’m so sad that there isn’t No Place For Hate in their community [anymore].”

Without speaking for the rest of the group, Smilow felt Lexington’s committee could provide a forum for community discussion and education about the Armenian genocide.

“At the heart of it is this incredible moral issue, and that to me the most important thing is that in Lexington our community understands why this is such an issue and why it hurts our Armenian-American neighbors,” she said.

Hagopian has tried to educate Lexington about the genocide through his films. Last April, he showed a documentary called “Memory Fragments from the Armenian Genocide” to a group of 500 students at Lexington High School.

Hagopian and Kouchakdjian both appreciate that the regional ADL has acknowledged the genocide, and that Tarsay is to be commended for his stand against the national position. However both still feel that any connection to a national organization that denies the genocide is unacceptable.

“I am very pleased with the support we have received from the Jewish community and beyond on this issue,” said Hagopian. “[But the ADL] is not willing to go far enough and put themselves on a line where the country of Turkey can see them as a supporter of recognition of this in front the Congress. Tarsay is a good man, but the regional group is tied to ADL, and the organization has not gone far enough.”

Kouchakdjian feels that No Place for Hate in Lexington can continue with its successes without its connection to the ADL.

“[Lexington has] got so many good people, and it’s such a progressive town,” he said. “I’m not sure what ADL supplies here. It’s not organizations, it’s people [that do the good work].”

The group will meet at 8 a.m. Friday, Sept. 21 in the Selectmen’s Meeting Room at Town Hall.

Source: http://www.wickedlocal.com/lexington/homepage/x428363108