Monday, August 20, 2007

The Armenian Genocide and “No Place for Hate”

The 20th century has often been described as a particularly bloody period of world history. R.J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii estimates that around 250 million people were killed in acts of democide, the murder of innocent people by governments. This figure does not include military combatants, but does include the sum of all mass murders, whether meeting the definition of genocide or not.

The Armenian Genocide was the opening act of this century of murder. During the first world war, between 1915-1917, somewhere between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians, a Christian minority in the Muslim Ottoman Empire, were killed by the “Young Turks” regime then in power. Many of these deaths occurred on forced death marches across the eastern part of Turkey into the Syrian desert. Death squads attacked the hundreds of thousands of defenseless deportees all along the route, leaving a bloody trail of dead. The small numbers who arrived in their desert destination died from starvation and thirst in large numbers.

What had a decade before been an ethnic group of 2 million people within modern day Turkey, and with a 2000+ year history in the region, was gone. Most were murdered, the remainder part of a diaspora population now found in numerous countries around the world.

Just as with the Holocaust, there are those who deny the genocide. Unlike the Holocaust, these deniers include the nation who perpetrated it, and a few well credentialed and generally respected historians. Armenians have fought for decades for the proper recognition of the fate which befell them. Almost a century removed from the event, this recognition is spreading. Today, 21 countries have passed resolutions declaring the mass murder to be a genocide. In the United States, 40 of the 50 states, including Massachusetts, have so declared. And today, a bill in the United States House seeks to have the United States give its recognition.

The obstacle to speaking truth on this matter involves “Realpolitik”. President Bush fears retribution by Turkey, viewed as the only secular, somewhat democratic Muslim nation in the region. Similar concerns motivate the ADL and its Executive Director Abe Foxman. The ADL is one of the sponsoring agencies behind the important and successful “No Place for Hate” program. The ADL, founded as an organization to combat anti-semitism, fears that Turkish Jews would be targeted for retribution and that Turkey’s alliance with Israel would be threatened in the event the ADL supported US recognition of the genocide.

The ADL’s position prompted the town of Watertown to withdraw from the “No Place for Hate” program. Over 8000 residents of Watertown are of Armenian ethnicity and town leaders felt obligated to protest the ADL’s views on this issue.

What about “No Place for Hate” in Milton? This organization has been an invaluable resource for a diverse and rapidly changing community. It has contributed significantly to fostering an atmosphere of openness, tolerance and inclusion. It is inevitable however, as this issue gains traction with the firing of the regional ADL leader and the resignations of regional board members, that Milton and other chapters of “No Place for Hate” will have to face this issue. They should face this issue.

The action in Watertown is understandable. But I don’t think withdrawing from an organization which has done so much good because of a single, albeit significant, error in judgment is the right thing to do. The ADL’s position is barely defensible. An organization founded to combat hatred and the violence that can emanate from it cannot fence sit an issue of genocide, and the rationales provided by Abe Foxman have been embarrassing. For an organization like the ADL, principle must trump practical politics.

I urge the Milton No Place for Hate organization to work from the inside to change the ADL’s position. Pressure must be placed on the national organization to rethink its views. There are 58 Massachusetts communities participating in the program. A petition signed by all chapters forwarded to Foxman and individual board members, and released to the press, would be a good start. An organized campaign of support for the genocide recognition bill in Washington directed to our government representatives would also help. I suspect similar efforts will start elsewhere.

The ADL’s intransigence on this matter threatens the credibility and moral capital of an important organization. Working for change has the added benefit of serving as an example of the very beliefs which underpin both organizations.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Phil,
I agree with everything you've said and several of us from the South Shore NPFH programs have made our feelings known to the local New England Region. Now that Andy Tarsy has been fired, we are expecting to hear from the Boston ADL people this week on where things stand and "what's next." Personally, I think national ADL will have to come around and acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as a genocide. If the national director is unwilling, I think he will need to resign, willingly or unwillingly. Meanwhile, No Place for Hate is a truly excellent program in Massachusetts, from which Milton and many other communities benefit. It has provided us with a structure and identity for very positive work around issues of diversity and community. The ADL people are always supportive of what we do and the Annual NPFH Awards & Workshops event provides an opportunity to network with peers from other towns (mayors, selectmen, police leaders, clergy, residents, etc.) and an incentive to do the required activities to get recertified. Plus they provide a project matching grant of up to $1000 which we have taken full advantage of each year.

Again, I think ADL will have to change its position. It is untenable for a group like ADL to refuse to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. I have made my feelings known on this "internally" within ADL.

Thank you for taking the lead and stating it well.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly it is not the ADL alone. I became aware of this issue when the Wiesenthal center Museum of Tolerance which had long recognized the Aremnian genocide abubtelty removed all reference in it own materials in 1997.

That is when this sad and frankly disgusting push to ally our Jewish American groups with the genocide deniers began.

It seems to have arisen from threat sin Turkey to the small Jewish community there combined with a decision to slavishly support Turkey in various lobbying efforts around the world. In that sense Foxman is just following Marvin Hier's rather sick logic.

I have a Turkish Jewish uncle by marriage. He just has a perverse hatred of the Armenians. I could never put a finger on it until I read up on the Ottoman Empire. The idea of tolerance of minorities is often pitched but that is a veneer covering the actual policies which were more about fostering of ethnic rivalries. Place everyone not Moslem in a dhimmi status and then have them distrust each other.

My son has worked on the Hill for over ten years now. He relates observing an increasing amount of work against the Armenian American and Greek American lobbies by our side. (We are also fooling around supporting Ankara against the Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul). Those lobbies are now getting quite alienated and that is troubling.

2:36 AM  

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