10/21 Boston Globe: After split, town mulls own antibias effort

After split, town mulls own antibias effort

By Connie Paige, Globe Correspondent October 21, 2007

Sosse Beugekian says her family has not forgotten what happened to her great-grandparents a century ago.

A purge and mass slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks prompted the 18-year-old's great-grandparents to settle in Lebanon. Seven years ago, she said, she and her parents migrated from there to Lexington.

Last week, Beugekian, a Lexington High School senior, organized a student petition to selectmen asking them to sever ties to the Anti-Defamation League's No Place for Hate program because of ADL's stance on the atrocity against Armenians.

"We obviously want everyone to recognize the Armenian genocide," said Beugekian, who added that she helped persuade more than 250 fellow students to sign the petition.

At the urging of Armenian-Americans and others, Lexington and Arlington have joined the growing chorus of communities that have decided to break with the No Place for Hate program, despite the ADL's move to modify its stance on the Armenian genocide.

Now, Lexington selectmen are appointing an organizing committee to recommend how to carry on the work of No Place for Hate without the offending political ties and suggesting ways to carry its message of tolerance statewide. The recommendations are expected within six weeks or so, said Jeanne Krieger, board chairwoman.

The turmoil over No Place for Hate is occurring as Congress tries to come to grips with how to characterize the deportation and killing of as many as 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923 that many scholars call genocide. A resolution to that effect faces opposition from the Bush administration.

As debate rages in local, state, and national board rooms, Al Gordon, ADL's associate Northeast regional director, said the group regrets the most recent votes against No Place for Hate.

"We believe that No Place for Hate has been and continues to be a valuable tool for combating hate and promoting diversity in about 60 Massachusetts communities," Gordon said. "We think the towns have benefited greatly from the programs' capabilities and their access to the expertise that the Anti-Defamation League brings to the realm of bias and hate crimes."

Gordon added that many individuals within the ADL, including some members of the Northeast regional chapter, "have acknowledged the Armenian genocide."

Still, Sharistan Melkonian, chairwoman of the Armenian National Committee of Massachusetts, said communities are taking a stand because a statement by a national ADL officer about the genocide did not go far enough. She was referring to the statement in August by ADL executive director Abraham Foxman that the atrocities were "tantamount" to genocide.

The votes in Lexington and Arlington followed similar withdrawals in Belmont, Newton, and Watertown. Medford is also considering severing its ties with No Place for Hate, Melkonian said.

Before the selectmen's vote last week, Lexington had already experienced lengthy public and private debate among members of the local No Place for Hate Committee that sparked outrage earlier this month from the town's Armenian-American community.

Three Armenian-American residents complained after they were barred from an unannounced meeting that the local No Place for Hate committee held behind closed doors at Town Hall to help determine how they would approach selectmen about the controversy.

Laura Boghosian, one of those excluded, said she believes ADL holds contradictory positions - on the one hand supporting human rights, and, on the other, backing Turkey, as a close ally of Israel. Officials in Turkey have denied that the killings of Armenians constituted genocide.

"They have to make a choice what kind of organization they're going to be," Boghosian said last week of the ADL. "I don't think they can do both."

As part of its human rights mission, the ADL established the No Place for Hate program in 1999 to promote diversity and allow communities to take a stand against bias.

To earn the designation, cities and towns had to show the ADL that they had taken certain steps, including hosting at least three antibias events. Communities would then receive recertification each year, provided they held at least two more annual events.

But after the ADL fired its regional director in August for acknowledging the Armenian genocide, some towns began to withdraw from No Place for Hate. The regional director, Andrew Tarsy, has since been rehired.

Along with local communities, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is "monitoring the matter," said Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director.

The municipal association released a statement last month saying the slaughter of Armenians "must be recognized by all as a genocide."

Beckwith said the association has called on the national ADL to respond to the criticism during a November meeting of the group's national governing board.

"After that, we will certainly evaluate our official sponsorship," Beckwith said.

Meanwhile, Lexington's Krieger said she believes that a statewide coalition of local human rights commissions could be the vehicle for No Place for Hate's message.

Beugekian applauded the idea of having new local and statewide organizations as watchdogs against bias instead of No Place for Hate. "I think that's the best solution," she said. "They've done a lot of good work, and we've heard about them in school, too. We all appreciate their work."

Connie Paige can be reached at cpaige@globe.com.

Source: http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/10/21/after_split_town_mulls_own_antibias_effort/