31 08 2007 - Jewish, Armenian leaders strive for healing
|By April Simpson, Globe Staff | August 30, 2007
THE BOSTON GLOBE
Political and religious leaders from the Jewish and Armenian communities will launch a concerted effort today to heal rifts opened by complaints that the Anti-Defamation League did not recognize Armenian genocide.
Sign up for: Globe Headlines e-mail | Breaking News Alerts The leaders will join survivors of both the Jewish and Armenian genocides in a display of solidarity at the State House this afternoon. Organizers said they want to send a message that the slaughter of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915 is acknowledged by many Jews as genocide, despite decades of refusal to do so by the ADL.
"In our community we use the phrase, 'never again and never forget,' and that doesn't just refer to the Jewish community," said Councilor Michael P. Ross, a member of the Boston City Council who organized the event with state Representative Rachel Kaprielian of Watertown. "It refers to the acknowledgment
of all humanity and all genocide and all intolerance. So it's very important that we show the Armenian community that there's support."
It's an important step, organizers said. "The most significant way to stop genocide is to acknowledge it," said Representative Peter J. Koutoujian of Newton, a Democrat whose grandparents immigrated to the United States from Armenia to flee the massacres there.
The ADL found itself embroiled in controversy after the Town Council in Watertown -- home to one of the largest concentrations of Armenian-Americans in the United States, with about 8,000 -- voted this month to withdraw from the league's No Place for Hate program. Watertown officials cited the league's
refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide.
When the ADL's regional executive director, Andrew H. Tarsy, defied the national organization and publicly acknowledged the genocide, he was fired.
Then this week the ADL's national leader, Abraham H. Foxman, reinstated Tarsy and acknowledged that the mass killings were genocide.
Today's press conference at 5:30 on the State House steps is intended to soothe ongoing animosities. But Watertown officials, citing ongoing ADL resistance to an Armenian genocide resolution in Congress, said they are not prepared to rejoin No Place for Hate.
Clyde L. Younger, president of the Watertown Town Council, said that he will work to continue a similar program under a different name and that he plans tocontact local civic organizations and students for help.
So far, the Town Council does not intend to rejoin the ADL program, he said, because the league must do more to support the Armenian community, including encouraging Congress to pass a genocide resolution.
"That's one reason why we revoked our association with the ADL," Younger said.
"They've done some wonderful things in the past . . . but what has happened now is a very significant issue for this community."
Another council member, Angeline B. Kounelis, said Watertown will continue as a tolerant and diverse community without the ADL program.
"The town of Watertown, the councilors, have enough to do without having to delve into the national and international politics of the ADL," Kounelis said.
Foxman, the ADL national director, maintained this week that the genocide was an issue that Turkey and Armenia should address, not anyone else.
Kaprielian said her Watertown constituents are deeply troubled by the ADL's refusal to support the congressional resolution.
She said many people in her community know Armenian genocide survivors. The league's acknowledgement of the genocide is a step in the right direction, she said.
"To have that wholesale affirmation as we feel we've gotten has been a positive turn of events on an otherwise bleak subject," Kaprielian said.
Steve Grossman, a former ADL board member and a recognized leader in the Jewish community, said today's event will confirm ties between the groups.
"Both of our peoples have been through genocides in the 20th century," he said, "and those experiences bind us more closely than ever before."
April Simpson can be reached at email@example.com.
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