By Laura Boghosian
BOSTON—After years of equivocation, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Abraham Foxman this month publicly acknowledged that the Turkish massacres of the Armenian people constituted genocide.
This recognition came after a seven-year campaign in which the Armenian and Jewish communities, as well as human rights activists and local officials, demanded that the ADL affirm this historical truth.
In remarks delivered at Suffolk University Law School’s commencement on May 17, Foxman stated, “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.”
The announcement that Foxman would deliver the keynote address and receive an honorary degree unleashed widespread criticism that the university planned to honor a man who refused to issue a clear statement on the Armenian Genocide and who actively lobbied against its recognition.
Groups including the Suffolk chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, Suffolk student organizations, the Armenian Bar Association, Suffolk alumni, and others called on the university to rescind its invitation. When Suffolk refused, several faculty members carried small Armenian flags in silent protest onto the stage where Foxman spoke.
Foxman’s remarks at Suffolk stand in contrast to the ADL’s 2007 statement that the “consequences” of the Turkish government’s actions were “tantamount to genocide.” The Armenian community and its supporters rejected that statement as its qualifiers circumvented the “intent” required by the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention.
An ADL statement one year later alleging it had “referred to those massacres and atrocities as genocide” was likewise rebuffed as it only “referred” to the unacceptable 2007 statement. Recent claims by Foxman and the ADL that this 2008 release clearly and unequivocally acknowledged the Armenian Genocide are false.
Since that time, human rights activists have continued to press the ADL for an unequivocal acknowledgement, as well as an end to its lobbying for the Turkish government to prevent passage of a Congressional Resolution affirming the Armenian Genocide.
“Abe Foxman’s reference to the Armenian massacres as genocide, without any qualifiers, is a welcome change,” stated Herman Purutyan, Massachusetts chair of the Armenian Assembly of America. “Even though Foxman continues to assert that he had previously acknowledged the genocide, the basis for his claims are a chain of statements, at the root of which is the 2007 statement full of qualifications, intended to obfuscate the question. We expect that Foxman’s statement at Suffolk is not only his personal view, but that it also reflects ADL’s official position. ADL should confirm this by publishing an unequivocal statement on its website, and joining in the efforts to have the U. S. Congress recognize the Armenian Genocide by passing the resolution currently before it.”
Foxman’s remarks reflected growing support by Jewish organizations for recognition of the Armenian Genocide. In March, ADL New England Regional Director Robert Trestan was quoted as stating that the ADL “now fully recognizes the Armenian Genocide without reservation.”
The following month, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) issued a release that read, “We pause in mournful tribute to the memories of the estimated 1.5 million victims of the Meds Yeghern, the Genocide of Armenians, committed in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.” Describing the genocide as “an unspeakable crime against humanity,” the AJC called on the Turkish government to confront the truth.
The Israeli Knesset discussed recognition of the Armenian Genocide at a plenum on May 13. A motion by the left-wing Meretz Party to recognize the genocide before its 100th anniversary next year received support from across the political spectrum, including from the rightist coalition government.
“These reversals of position by major Jewish organizations are quite significant for all those committed to recognition of the genocides of the past century,” said Dikran Kaligian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Eastern Massachusetts. “No longer will Turkey be able to exploit the differences between the positions of these organizations’ leadership and their membership—the vast majority of whom want nothing to do with Turkey’s genocide denial campaign.”
Locally, 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. Its objectives include advocating for official recognition of the genocide by the United States government. Coalition members include representatives from the Armenian National Committee of America and the Armenian Assembly of America. The coalition facilitated contacts between Armenian activists and members of the ADL and created an online petition calling on Congress to recognize the Armenian Genocide; it has gathered over 21,000 signatures to date.