Wicked Local, MA
April 29 2012


Tarsy: Truth in the face of genocide

By Andrew Tarsy/Guest columnist
MetroWest Daily News


The Armenians of the Ottoman Empire were victims of genocide: the
deliberate extermination of a culture and people. This month
communities worldwide commemorate these events to remember what was
lost and illuminate with historical accuracy the events that took
place. On occasions like this one (and the world has too many), we
seek a way forward that both honors the dead and increases the safety
of the living. Five years ago, I was executive director of the
Anti-Defamation League of New England. With a series of events that
began in Watertown and came to include communities all over
Massachusetts and beyond, I learned a painful lesson about the power
of words. I spent months in 2007 struggling to understand my
employer's refusal to acknowledge directly and with candor the factual
historical events we mourn and commemorate as the Armenian genocide.
The details are not important. It is sufficient to say that given its
position on this issue, ADL's fitness to be a community partner was
questioned in a great number of cities and towns. After lots of
listening, reading and with the support of family,

friends and my regional board of directors, I broke with ADL and
stated publicly that I would no longer support the organization's
position. I told the community then and still believe that we must be
candid about history, or we dishonor the dead and endanger the living.

To withhold the use of the term genocide to describe the war on the
Armenian people in the Ottoman empire is a deliberate calculation that
values short term political stability over truth. Make that bargain
once or twice in a few extreme situations and maybe we will get by for
the moment; but before long it will undermine the foundation of
everything else we believe in. At that point, nothing important to us
will be safe.

The world knew what was happening to the Armenians at the time the
genocide took place. In 1915 alone, there were 145 articles in the
`New York Times' about policies and campaigns of deportation and mass
killing. The Ottoman Turkish regime intentionally and systematically
wiped out more than a million of its own citizens, shattered the
Armenian culture and scattered the survivors into diaspora, under the
cover of war. Years of effort by the Turkish government and the
willingness of its allies to play along produced doubt and confusion
about these events only after the fact.

The Armenians of the Ottoman Empire were victims of genocide: the
deliberate extermination of a culture and people. This month
communities worldwide commemorate these events to remember what was
lost and illuminate with historical accuracy the events that took
place. On occasions like this one (and the world has too many), we
seek a way forward that both honors the dead and increases the safety
of the living. Five years ago, I was executive director of the
Anti-Defamation League of New England. With a series of events that
began in Watertown and came to include communities all over
Massachusetts and beyond, I learned a painful lesson about the power
of words. I spent months in 2007 struggling to understand my
employer's refusal to acknowledge directly and with candor the factual
historical events we mourn and commemorate as the Armenian genocide.
The details are not important. It is sufficient to say that given its
position on this issue, ADL's fitness to be a community partner was
questioned in a great number of cities and towns. After lots of
listening, reading and with the support of family, friends and my
regional board of directors, I broke with ADL and stated publicly that
I would no longer support the organization's position. I told the
community then and still believe that we must be candid about history,
or we dishonor the dead and endanger the living.

To withhold the use of the term genocide to describe the war on the
Armenian people in the Ottoman empire is a deliberate calculation that
values short term political stability over truth. Make that bargain
once or twice in a few extreme situations and maybe we will get by for
the moment; but before long it will undermine the foundation of
everything else we believe in. At that point, nothing important to us
will be safe.

The world knew what was happening to the Armenians at the time the
genocide took place. In 1915 alone, there were 145 articles in the
`New York Times' about policies and campaigns of deportation and mass
killing. The Ottoman Turkish regime intentionally and systematically
wiped out more than a million of its own citizens, shattered the
Armenian culture and scattered the survivors into diaspora, under the
cover of war. Years of effort by the Turkish government and the
willingness of its allies to play along produced doubt and confusion
about these events only after the fact.

The spotlight on ADL gave me opportunities and privileges for which I
am deeply grateful. My understanding of why genocide happens is as
inadequate as anyone's. But my awareness of its lasting and
intergenerational impact has been magnified. Over the past five years
I have had the privilege to visit with Armenian communities around the
United States and in Canada and Israel. I have told my story and
participated in discussions about the power of words and the legacy of
the Armenian genocide on university campuses, in synagogues, in
teacher training programs and among family and friends. I met with the
Armenian Archbishop in Jerusalem and with his Holiness the Katholikos
of all Armenias when he visited Boston. I even had the opportunity to
share my experiences in the Hague at the International Criminal Court,
where I spent two months observing war crimes trials and listened to
lawyers and judges debate whether to apply this same word - genocide -
to the destruction of the people of Darfur in the Sudan.

This year the annual commemoration created an opportunity for me to
convey to the Armenian-American community of Massachusetts my deep
condolences and my respects for the losses and insults you have
suffered. Together, we call on our governments and our ethnic,
religious and cultural institutions at all levels to join us in a
clear voice to say that we know what happened and we know that our
work to address its intergenerational damage has hardly even started.

For more than 200 years the House chamber in the Massachusetts State
House has been a forge where democratic ideals have been formed into
actions that are taken in the name of the people of Massachusetts. We
are awed by its physical beauty and by the vastness of the issues
debated here and resolved more often than not for the betterment of
our society. I am grateful that the government of the Commonwealth
recognizes and commemorates the genocide together with its citizens in
such a fitting location.

We also need to remind ourselves that a proclamation or pronouncement
by government is one small part of the equation when it comes to
remembrance and prevention. I am reminded of what President Harry
Truman said: `the highest office in the land is that of citizen.' I
believe the measure of a healthy community, state, or nation is not
just whether painful or ugly events happen, but how we respond.

We have an obligation of vigilance and diligence to honor those we
have lost and to protect those among us and those yet to come.

Andrew H. Tarsy, former regional director of the New England ADL, is
president of the Alliance for Business Leadership. This piece is
adapted from prepared remarks delivered April 20 at the Armenian
Genocide Commemoration, in the Massachusetts State House.



http://www.wickedlocal.com/hudson/news/opinions/x677627603/Tarsy-Truth-in-the-face-of-genocide




From: A. Papazian