BY RUPEN JANBAZIAN
From The Armenian Weekly
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s Op-Ed Welcomed by Armenian Community, Activists
NEW YORK—The Anti-Defamation League, the U.S. non-governmental organization self-described as “the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency,” has finally officially referred to what happened to the Armenian people of the Ottoman Empire in the beginning of the 20th century as “unequivocally genocide” and condemned its denial, putting an end to a nearly decade-long controversy that had marred the organization.
“What happened in the Ottoman Empire to the Armenians beginning in 1915 was genocide. The genocide began with the ruling government arresting and executing several hundred Armenian intellectuals. After that, Armenian families were removed from their homes and sent on death marches. The Armenian people were subjected to deportation, expropriation, abduction, torture, massacre and starvation,” wrote ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt, in an op-ed entitled, “ADL on the Armenian Genocide,” published on May 13 on the agency’s website. The statement stood in stark contrast to the ADL’s 2007 statement, which caused uproar not only among Armenian communities in the United States and around the world, but also within the organization itself.
Greenblatt also said that his organization would support U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. “Silence is not an option,” he wrote, noting the significance of educating each generation about the “tragedies of the past.”
Dikran Kaligian, a member of the Armenian National Committee of America-Eastern Region board called Greenblatt’s op-ed and the ADL’s official affirmation of the genocide an important statement, which “clearly responds to the long-standing demand of the ANCA that the ADL unequivocally affirm the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide and support formal U.S. recognition.”
“Coming from the National Director of the ADL, who succeeded Abe Foxman, the statement helps erase the stain on the reputation of the ADL caused by Foxman’s denialist statements and lobbying against genocide resolutions,” added Kaligian, who also urged the ADL to join the growing coalition of organizations advocating for congressional resolutions for justice for the Armenian Genocide and the return of confiscated Armenian properties.
In a statement penned by then-ADL national director Abraham H. Foxman in August 2007, the organization said that it believed that “the consequences of those actions [of the Ottoman Empire] were indeed tantamount to genocide,” a stance that many felt fell short of full recognition. Moreover, it was revealed that the ADL—which, in 1913, was established to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all”—notoriously lobbied against passage of a Congressional resolution affirming the Armenian Genocide.
At the time, it was clear that the ADL shared the Turkish government’s opposition to U.S. Congress discussing and voting on a non-binding resolution affirming the Armenian Genocide.
Andrew H. Tarsy, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League New England office at the time, announced his resignation in December 2007, after months of dispute with the national organization’s stance on the Armenian Genocide.
In light of Greenblatt’s statement, Tarsy told the Boston Globe that recognition was not enough. “I think they ought to lead the conversation about reparations for these families,” he was quoted as saying. “The recovery of assets, land, money, items, family heirlooms. Everything that Holocaust reparations… has represented should be on the table.”
At the time of the ADL’s 2007 statement, the ANCA asked the organization to remain true to its mission and fully acknowledge the genocide, refrain from advocating for Turkish calls for a “historical commission,” and express support for U.S. recognition of the crime. The ANCA also demanded an apology from Foxman for the damage and pain the ADL’s actions and statements caused.
Since the release of the 2007 statement and similar statements in the coming years, human rights activists have continuously pressed the ADL for a full acknowledgement of the genocide. Speaking to the Armenian Weekly, No Place for Denial activist and co-founder of the Coalition to Recognize the Armenian Genocide Laura Boghosian said that when Boston-area Armenians united in the No Place for Denial campaign to fight the ADL’s genocide denial in 2007, they were supported by members of the Jewish community who were disturbed by the ADL’s actions.
“Notably, the rabbis and members of Lexington’s Temple Isaiah and Boston’s Temple Israel joined with us to create the Coalition to Recognize the Armenian Genocide, whose goals were to reverse ADL policy, educate the Jewish community about the Armenian Genocide, and pursue U.S. affirmation of the genocide,” she said. “Nine years later, we are still working together and proving that grassroots activism does make a difference.”
The Coalition to Recognize the Armenian Genocide was established in 2008 to foster communication between the Armenian and Jewish communities and to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide within the Jewish community. The organization advocates for official recognition of the genocide by the United States government. Coalition members include representatives from the ANCA and the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA).
During the initial controversy in 2007, the coalition helped facilitate contacts between Armenian activists and ADL members and created an online petition calling on the U.S. Congress to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Nearly seven years after his initial statement, Foxman publicly recognized that the Ottoman atrocities of the Armenian people constituted genocide, during his remarks delivered at Suffolk University Law School’s commencement in 2014, though a statement was never published by the ADL confirming that this was the organization’s stance.
Aram Hamparian, the executive director of the ANCA told the Boston Globe that Greenblatt’s statement was the first time the ADL was very “explicit” in its breaking with Turkish government’s denial of the genocide. Commenting on what he called an “historic statement”, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian said that he was proud to be a part of a “lengthy, open dialogue” with the ADL, along with the ANCA and the AAA over the years. In his statement, Koutoujian also thanked all parties who took part in the discussions with the ADL, including ADL New England regional director Robert Trestan, who he called “a true friend and partner to all Armenians.”