BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
What’s worse than a Genocide denier? A smug Genocide denier!
What warms an Armenian heart? A smug Genocide denier reformed (even if only superficially).
Of course I’m referring to two time SpitRain Award (my irregularly bequeathed commendation for shamelessness) winner Abe Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. In his speech at Suffolk University Law School’s (Boston, Mass.), it seems he finally stopped denying the Armenian Genocide. He said, “Had there been people of courage to act in 1915 when the Armenian Genocide was taking place, had there been international intervention when massacres in Cambodia, Bosnia, and the genocide in Rwanda were happening, innocent lives in great numbers could have been saved.”
Of course, this is him speaking, and it is only a passing reference. The ADL, which he represents, has been just as duplicitous, so before I fully warm the cockles of my heart, I want to see a similar, unequivocal, acknowledgement by the organization. Hell, for that matter, I want to see something more substantive from Foxman, too. As a reminder, in 2007, they released a statement in which the “consequences” of Turkish actions in 1915 were described as “tantamount to genocide”— double-speak for “we’re supporting Turkish denialism” since consequences do not carry the intent required for killings to qualify as genocide (a nuance I had missed when first writing about this matter years ago).
I write all this in spite of the ADL’s statement released just before Foxman was to speak at Suffolk, in which all they do, really, is reference and re-release their 2008 statement (intended to “correct” the 2007 statement), which in turn refers to even older (unspecified, uncited) acknowledgements of the Armenian Genocide.
If they’re sincere, and if they’re not continuing their Orwellianism, why not simply say something like: “We want to clear up our stance on the Armenian Genocide once and for all. The mass murders and deportations of the 1915-1923 period constitute genocide and the denialism that has characterized official Turkish behavior is the final stage of that same genocide.” That should be it. No subsequent backpedaling language about how a Congressional resolution would be counterproductive. No other too-clever-by-a-half language to water down the statement. Just a clean acknowledgement.
If your head is spinning from all the self-referential statements that ultimately lead nowhere, I don’t blame you. So let’s move on to what we can learn from the last seven years.
Of course none of this would have happened if various factors hadn’t woven a web to catch the fly of denial. The first of these was pressure. We on the West Coast were not as impacted as our compatriots on the East Coast where many more jurisdictions were using the ADL’s “No Place for Hate” program that schools sometimes include in their curriculum. These jurisdictions provided opportunities to go after the program to expose the ADL’s hypocrisy when this issue first became big back in 2007. Ultimately, numerous governments chose to disaffiliate with it. More recently, a candidate for a judgeship in Massachusetts was ultimately denied appointment, in part because of his affiliation with the ADL and its two-faced Armenian Genocide policies. Finally, when it became known that Foxman was to be the commencement speaker at Suffolk, a petition initiated by some students, National Lawyers Guild chapter (in the Los Angeles area, you can hear their radio show on KPFK 90.7 FM, Thursdays at 3:00 pm), and alumni from Suffolk was also strongly supported by Armenian efforts.
Meanwhile, relations between Israel and Turkey continue to be strained. This eliminates, or reduces, some of the incentives for American Jewish organizations to be in bed with Turkey and engage in Armenian Genocide denial or opposition to a commemorative resolution passing in Congress. And boy-oh-boy was the ADL in bed with Turkey. Just review some of the Jewish media’s reporting and the organization’s own press releases. Foxman, along with others, has even met with Erdogan, Gul, and more of Turkey’s leaders. The coolness between the two countries has now existed for over half a decade in some form for one reason or another (e.g. Gaza, Mavi Marmara, leaders’ egos).
Throughout these seven years, the ADL/Foxman denial club has been on the receiving end of persistent, if not necessarily very strong, criticism for its denial, as evident from the examples above, including occasional articles in the media.
Finally, the pressure, politics, and persistence paid off in the form of Foxman’s May 17 remarks. Who knows, his upcoming July 20 retirement from the ADL may even have something to do with it. This carries a very important lesson. We have many cynics and pessimists among us who seem convinced that nothing we do matters because everything is controlled by omnipotent “powers that be” who are untouchable, impervious to any influence but their own mighty will. This teaches us the value of applying unrelenting pressure (much as has the progress in Turkey regarding awareness of the Genocide). The pressure must be persistent. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose credibility in the court of public opinion. Then, when the political conditions ripen, the desired result may be achieved. This is not unlike how Armenia regained its independence, or the changes triggered by the self-immolation of a street vendor in Tunisia that brought on the not-necessarily-very-sunny Arab Spring.
Now, it’s time for more pressure, polite, persistent, pragmatic… all to push the ADL, and others of its co-denialists, to fully, clearly, unquestionably, part company with Turkey’s government. The context of the 100th anniversary may provide the opportunity for these groups, and even governments, to be more forthcoming.
We’re not done yet. Get to work. Let your Jewish friends know you want and need their support.