WATERTOWN, Mass.–In a wave of condemnation of the denial of the Armenian Genocide just days after the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide, the Boards of Selectmen of three Massachusetts towns — Arlington, Lexington and Westwood — voted on the same day, Monday, October 15, to break ties with the Anti Defamation League (ADL) and its No Place for Hate (NPFH) program, due to the ADL’s failure to unambiguously acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts.
In addition, just this evening, October 17, the Medford Human Rights Commission unanimously voted to suspend ties with the ADL. Details to follow.
“Arlington, Lexington, and Westwood reaffirmed a clear message," stated ANCEM chairperson Sharistan Melkonian. "Genocide denial, in any form, at any time, is unacceptable, no matter who engages in it."
The action in Lexington, Arlington, and Westwood follows action by Watertown, Belmont and Newton, which have also ended their involvement with the ADL-sponsored program due to the ADL’s policy on the Armenian Genocide.
Arlington’s Board of Selectmen met to discuss the future of ADL’s No Place for Hate program. The standing room only Selectmen’s chamber was packed with over 80 residents.
Prior to voting on the future of the town’s association with the ADL, Arlington’s Selectmen heard a report from the chair of the Human Rights Commission, Joseph Curro.
Curro presented a resolution–which had been voted on and passed at the September 19 meeting of the Human Rights Commission– recommending that the town sever its ties with the ADL’s NPFH program.
The resolution read (in part):
WHEREAS Arlington is home to many residents of Armenian descent and serves as the headquarters location of the Armenian Cultural Foundation; and
WHEREAS the national Anti-Defamation League has failed to recognize unambiguously the Armenian Genocide and has opposed efforts in Congress to do so; and
BE IT RESOLVED that the full recognition and honest discussion of past atrocities -such as the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust — are requisite to understanding and responding to contemporary genocidal crimes against humanity ‘s such as the atrocities in Darfur — and that legislative measures such as H. Res. 106 constitute an important part of this process; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Arlington Human Rights Commission does join in protest of any form of genocide denial and commits to facilitating educational activities related to genocide; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Arlington Human Rights Commission does hereby rescind its endorsement of the Town’s formal relationship with the Anti-Defamation League; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Arlington Human Rights Commission does reserve the right to review this decision should the Anti-Defamation League reconsider its position on the Armenian Genocide and H. Res. 106; and
Following Curro’s presentation, chairwoman Annie Lacourt put the matter to a vote and the Selectmen voted unanimously to sever ties with the ADL. Prior to the vote two selectwomen expressed their personal disappointment in the ADL’s current position on the Armenian Genocide and its opposition to HR 106, the Armenian Genocide Resolution.
During the open forum portion of the meeting, longtime Arlington resident and Armenian Genocide survivor Kevork Norian mesmerized those present with a stirring speech about his family. Clutching a copy of Peter Balakian’s The Burning Tigris and with his eyes closed he recounted his family’s escape from certain death from the Cilician city of Aintab in 1920–the 2nd stage of the Armenian Genocide. He spoke of the pain of denial and the need for recognition ‘s especially by the country that he and his family now called home. Norian concluded by calling for a round of applause to the United States and its people for having been so generous in welcoming Armenian refugees — survivors of the first genocide of the 20th century.
In front of a crowd of over 100 local residents, the Lexington Board of Selectmen also unanimously passed on October 15 a resolution presented by Selectmen Hank Menz rescinding its endorsement of the town’s formal relationship with the ADL’s No Place for Hate program.
Lexington Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Jeanne K. Krieger opened the meeting in historic Cary Hall, and acknowledged Lexington High School students Nairi Khachatourian and Sosse Beugekian who presented a petition, signed by almost 300 members of the Lexington High School Community, calling on the Board of Selectmen to immediate sever ties with the Anti Defamation League. The petition read:
“We the undersigned members of the Lexington High School community urge the Lexington Board of Selectmen to Immediately sever ties with the Anti-Defamation League because the ADL has failed to unambiguously acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and has lobbied against Congressional affirmation of the Armenian Genocide. The ADL has not only failed to live up to its own charter to “secure justice and fair treatment to all”, it has also failed to live up to our own town’s standards and the quality education that we deserve in our school by choosing politics over human rights and tolerance. The ADL has disqualified itself as an effective spokesman for tolerance education. We deserve better.”
The Board of Selectmen then heard from the Lexington NPFH Committee, which had been asked by the Board to provide a recommendation on the future of NPFH in Lexington.
In its statement to the board, the NPFH Committee reaffirmed its “full and unequivocal recognition and acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide” adding that “by its very name and definition, the Armenian Genocide is one of the greatest atrocities of the early 20th Century, and we recognize the direct impact the Armenian Genocide has had on our Armenian-American neighbors and friends, both in Lexington and in the Armenian Diaspora.”
The Committee stopped short, however, of making a recommendation to the Board and instead deferred to “wisdom of the Board of Selectmen concerning the formation, functionality and future of Lexington’s “No Place For Hate” (LNPFH) Steering Committee.”
On behalf of Armenian-American residents of Lexington, Laura Boghosian also addressed the Board of Selectmen Monday pointing out that an organization that engages in genocide denial has no place in Lexington.
Boghosian proposed that Lexington continue an anti-discrimination/human rights campaign that is unaffiliated with any organization and encompasses the Genocide as part of its teachings.
"The ADL’s failure to recognize unambiguously the Armenian Genocide and its efforts, on behalf of Turkey’s denialist government, to oppose Congressional affirmation of this genocide is unconscionable," said Boghosian.
"As recently as three weeks ago, the ADL’s national director endorsed Turkey’s call for a joint commission to study the events of 1915, a proposal that the International Association of Genocide Scholars labeled a ‘red herring [that] would only serve the interests of Turkish genocide deniers,’" Boghosian pointed out.
"By voting to rescind its endorsement of the ADL’s No Place for Hate program, Lexington’s Board of Selectmen will uphold the human rights and dignity not only of its Armenian residents, but of all people everywhere. Human rights are universal and should never be subordinated to political interests, whether on the local, state, national, or international level," added Boghosian.
"Let us speak tonight of the annihilation of the Armenia’s and take a principled stand against the ADL’s denial of the Armenian Genocide. Lexington, Massachusetts has served as a symbol for justice and human rights since 1775. Let us honor that legacy now by ending our association with the Anti-Defamation League," concluded Boghosian.
Westwood’s Board of Selectmen also met on October 15 and, at the request of local residents, voted to suspend ties with the Anti Defamation League. The Board of Selectmen voted to send a letter to the ADL advising them of the decision.
The Board of Selectmen also voted to rename the No Place for Hate Committee and ordered the four No Place for Hate signs in Westwood removed.
“The issue of genocide denial is a moral issue that has affected many of us in town,” stated Gary Yessaillian, a long time resident of Westwood. “As such, we went to the Board of Selectmen in a grass roots effort to express our pain and hurt, and to recommend a solution that truly embodies human rights for all.”
"I am proud to be a resident of Westwood," stated another long time Westwood resident. "It was a gratifying experience working with the members of what is now the Westwood Human Rights Committee. They listened carefully and understood how important this was to maintaining an inclusive community. I never thought I would have the opportunity to fight for recognition of the injustices done to my grandparents and their families."
“Westwood, Lexington, and Arlington join other communities in Massachusetts in standing up for truth and human rights by refusing to allow the tolerance and anti hate programs in their communities to be tainted by the policy positions of the ADL– an organization which has, as we have said before, unfortunately disqualified itself as an effective spokesman for tolerance education through its position on the Armenian Genocide,” stated the ANCEM’s Melkonian. “We hope that the ADL-National will rethink its policies, properly and unambiguously recognize the Armenian Genocide, and put an end to its efforts to actively oppose its reaffirmation by Congress.”