Genocide stance clouds future of 'No Place for Hate' program
Town Council may sever or suspend Watertown’s ties to the “No Place for Hate” program amid questions about the stance toward the Armenian Genocide of the program’s co-sponsor, the Anti-Defamation League.
According to Will Twombly, co-chairperson of Watertown’s “No Place for Hate” committee, all options are on the table, including removing its services from the town altogether.
Twombly said his committee would be meeting with members of the ADL soon to ask some “very serious questions.”
“We are certainly very disturbed with what we perceive to be the ADL’s stance on the [Armenian] genocide,” he said. “We do feel the need to take some decisive action. The question is what.”
Controversy began last month when the TAB & Press published a letter that highlighted statements from ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, that Congress should play no role in recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Some have classified his words as “genocide denial” regarding what most historians agree was a campaign waged against ethnic Armenians by the Ottoman government during and after World War I. As many as 1.5 million Armenians died from 1915 to 1923.
ADL representatives said the group has never denied the Armenian Genocide.
“ADL has never denied what happened at the close of the First World War,” read a statement from ADL Regional Director Andrew Tarsy and Regional Board Chairman James Rudolph. “There were massacres of Armenians and great suffering at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. We believe today’s Turkish government should do more than it has done to come to grips with the past and reconcile with Armenians. We have said that to Turkish officials and we have said it publicly. ADL continues to believe this is the best way to proceed.”
But there are many who are taking a stance against the ADL. A Web site — www.noplacefordenial.com — was created by an ad-hoc group of “Armenian-American activists” around town. The site has a petition for both “No Place for Hate” and Foxman to recognize the genocide publicly.
Sharistan Melkonian, chairperson of the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts, said Foxman’s statements on the Armenian Genocide are “disappointing and unconscionable.”
“For the national director of the ADL, an organization with a 94-year history of dedication to eradicating anti-Semitism, bigotry and extremism, to plead ignorance about the Armenian Genocide is unfathomable,” she wrote in an e-mail. “.…if ADL is unwilling to publicly and unequivocally renounce its agenda, the Watertown Town Council should insist that NPFH sever its ties with ADL in order that NPFH continue the good work that is mandated without the unworthy baggage of Foxman’s unfortunate position.”
State Rep. Rachel Kaprielian, D-Watertown, said she had a different opinion on the matter before hearing Foxman’s public statements.
“I was deeply disturbed,” she said in response to the recent controversy. “I am now taking a position that we should divorce ourselves from [ADL]. [The Armenian Genocide] is a major subject that strikes the heart of every Armenian in the world. It’s my lifeline and my heartstrings. This has affected my family.”
A spokesman for the ADL, who did not wish to be named, said it is “regrettable” that “No Place for Hate” has been caught up in the public uproar. He said that the ADL has been urging the Turkish government to do more to address its Ottoman past.
“‘No Place for Hate’ was a good program a month ago; it’s still a good program today,” he said. “That has not changed. People have only wanted to listen to part of what our position is.”
In 1999, the “No Place for Hate” program was created by the ADL New England Region, in partnership with the Massachusetts Municipal Association, to “provide communities with a solid framework for promoting an inclusive environment while fighting all forms of hate and bigotry,” according to its Web site.
The town welcomed the program more than two years ago, and in 2005, council members unanimously adopted a proclamation supporting the committee and its programs for “zero tolerance” toward bigotry.
In May, Town Council renewed its vote display a sign marking recertification as a “No Place for Hate” community. Fifty communities in Massachusetts participate in the program.
But the ADL controversy has pushed councilors to second-guess their support.
At-Large Councilor Marilyn Devaney said she is personally affected by the ADL’s position, or lack thereof, on the Armenian Genocide.
“I knew survivors, and it’s unbelievable to say that it never happened,” she said. “This is a public embarrassment. I think that we could adopt ‘No Place for Hate’ on our own. There’s got to be a better way.”
Devaney plans to present a proclamation on Aug. 14 to rescind the council’s vote to support a “No Place for Hate Committee” under the ADL, but maintain the program’s policies in the community.
Fellow At-Large Councilor John Donohue said it would be best to pull the committee aside for the time being.
“There needs to be a review of No Place for Hate in Watertown,” he said. “I think we should suspend the recognition of it until it can be properly defined. The idea [of the committee] makes a lot of sense. The connections and affiliations don’t.”
Council President Clyde Younger said he has been “baffled” by the entire situation.
“We [Town Council] have gone on record as opposing any genocide denial, and wanting the Turkish government to recognize it,” he said. “We have to just reinforce our previous position on that, as well as supporting Watertown as being ‘No Place for Hate’.”
District A Councilor Jonathan Hecht agreed.
“I think we should be very clear and strong in the community about demanding that the Armenian Genocide should be recognized,” he said. “The inconsistency [with what the No Place for Hate committee is all about] is so blatant. This is an opportunity for the community and the committee to look at this more closely.”
At-Large Councilor Steve Corbett said he would hate to have to drop the program.
“It would be an awful shame to have to back out of this,” he said. “Our program has nothing to do with any position [on the Armenian Genocide].”
As a councilor who represents the East End of town, Angie Kounelis said a majority of her constituents are of ethnic background, and said the concept of a “No Place for Hate” committee is “wonderful” for the town.
“I do not have time to get into national organizations and their behind-the-scenes agendas,” she said. “I’d like to see what the [No Place for Hate] committee is going to do.”
“We want to be able to return to serving the people of Watertown free and clear of any negative associations, any positions with Armenian genocide,” he said. “We want to be able to proceed knowing that the people in Watertown has confidence in what we are doing.”