Group’s Stance On Armenian Genocide Questio

lydia mulvany

Marshfield Mariner
July 8 2008

Marshfield – With help from the Anti-Defamation League, the Marshfield
community recently met on the Town Green to observe a vigil against
hate crime, alarmed and disgusted by the alleged beating and stabbing
of an African-American teenager by group of white people.

But Sharistan Melkonian, chairwoman of the Armenian National Committee
of Massachusetts, has called Marshfield’s resurrection of its No Place
for Hate committee "irresponsible." NPFH is a registered trademark
of the ADL, which the ANC calls a questionable ally.

The ANC has been working with towns to find alternatives to No Place
For Hate since last July because of the ADL’s stance on the Armenian
Genocide. During World War I, the Turkish government killed more than
1 million through massacres and forced marches, but today denies that
a genocide took place.

"(The ADL) has gone to great length to actively oppose Congressional
affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, and they have refused to
unambiguously acknowledge it," Melkonian said. "When you couple the
two together, it leaves concern as to whether or not they are an
appropriate partner for this kind of work. They’re engaging in what
they have identified as the ultimate form of hate speech: genocide

As part of statement he made Aug. 21, 2007, ADL National Director
Abraham H. Foxman said, "We have never negated but have always
described the painful events of 1915 to 1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman
Empire against the Armenians as massacres and atrocities. … If
the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it
genocide. … Having said that, we continue to firmly believe that
a Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive
diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and
Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the
important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the
United States."

Marshfield Town Administrator Rocco Longo said that although he
doesn’t take what the Armenians say lightly, the town has to look
at local needs and take a closer look at the issue — a complex,
international issue whose effects in Marshfield don’t translate easily.

"Clearly there was a genocide against the Armenians, but it’s such
a heavy-duty issue," he said. "We’re still going to fight hate in
Marshfield, and the ADL has been very supportive of our fight against
hate. We’ve got a lot more to learn, but it doesn’t mean locally that
we’re going to give up."

Jen Smith, the associate regional director for the Anti-Defamation
League, said the ADL does use the word genocide.

"It was certainly never denied, the historic suffering of the Armenian
people, and we now do use the term genocide to describe that tragic
period of history," she said.

Smith, who was named Person of the Week at the selectmen’s June 30
meeting, said that NPFH’s track record of providing support, strategies
and resources to unite is solid, and that the organization has been
serving communities in Massachusetts for nearly 10 years.

"There’s really no other program out there that’s quite like it,
and I’m proud to be a part of it, because you see what’s possible
when you all come together. We’re proud of what the communities have
been able to do," Smith said.

Smith said that the network of support, which Marshfield has now
joined, is one of the most valuable aspects of the program.

"I see scores of local communities who are committed to this work,
and have found that this program is the best way for them to be able
to get a network of support to do this work," Smith said. "In the
South Shore alone, which Marshfield is a welcomed member of, there
are 13 communities who implement this program and support one another,
so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time."

Marshfield’s NPFH program was reinvigorated with help from
Duxbury. Hingham, Randolph and Plymouth, Smith said.

However, Melkonian argued that it’s harder for No Place For Hate to do
human rights work because it is tainted by the national ADL’s actions.

"In Lexington, a woman who was a victim of a hate crime stood up at a
board of selectmen meeting, during a discussion of whether to maintain
No Place for Hate," Melkonian said. "The woman said the No Place for
Hate committee was very helpful and helped her understand, personally
respond to and come away from that crime in a positive way. She said
it would have been difficult to get through it without them. But had
she been an Armenian-American, she would not have been able to go
to them. It was very powerful for me to hear that from someone who
benefited from the good that No Place for Hate can do. But there are
genocide survivors or descendants of survivors that would go to them,
and now cannot."

Lexington no longer has a No Place For Hate committee, along with 12
other towns in the state that have withdrawn. Some of those towns
have merely dropped the NPFH name, and continue the work in their
own human rights committees or diversity task forces.

Scituate selectmen voted last year to send a letter of disappointment
to the ADL regarding its statements about the Armenian Genocide,
but never got around to it. Scituate Selectman John Danehey, whose
wife is Armenian, wanted to terminate the town’s No Place For Hate
committee, but it had already been inactive.

"No matter what, the issue of hate needs to be addressed, whether
through the ADL or not," Danehey said. "But the Armenian Genocide
also needs to be addressed."

While praising the work done by NPFH, the Massachusetts Municipal
Association, previously an official sponsor of NPFH, severed ties with
the program in April because of its affiliation with the national
ADL. It now recommends the National League of Cities Inclusive
Communities program, which can be accessed via

"Many towns have moved beyond NPFH because it’s just not possible,"
Melkonian said. "We know they have done good work and there are good,
committed people behind those programs. Unfortunately they’re now
tainted with this hypocrisy and leaves them unable to do their job
in the manner they would like to do it."

David Boyajian, a freelance journalist and activist, has been asking
towns simply to change the name of their former NPFH programs. He
said his campaign has been "very well received."

"There are other human rights programs," he said. "It’s not as if
we’re against anti-bias programs. It’s just that if you’re an anti-bias
program, you can’t engage in genocide denial and discriminate against
Armenians. It contradicts NPFH’s entire mission."

You may also like