(JTA) – The Ottoman government’s massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in the early 20th century was “unequivocally genocide,” the head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said in the group’s strongest position on the subject.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the civil rights group’s CEO, also said in a blog post Friday that the ADL will support U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide – a move the group resisted for many years.
Greenblatt, writing ahead of the organization’s national convention that began Sunday in Washington, D.C., tied the 1915 events to the Holocaust less than three decades later.
Saying he wanted to be “crystal clear,” Greenblatt wrote: “What happened in the Ottoman Empire to the Armenians beginning in 1915 was genocide. We believe that remembering and educating people about any genocide – Armenian, the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda and others is a necessary tool to prevent future tragedies.”
Greenblatt said the Jewish community’s experience regarding the Holocaust is relevant to the discussion, pointing out that at the end of World War II, there was “widespread shame in the Western world at the realization that anti-Semitism was deeply embedded across cultures and countries and could produce such horror.”
He cautioned that the passage of time since the Holocaust has in some way eviscerated the sense of shame that has inhibited anti-Semitism and is allowing it to reemerge in full force, which shows that “we must educate each generation about the tragedies of the past.”
“Silence is not an option,” he wrote.
Until August 2007, the ADL, under the leadership of then-national director Abraham Foxman, did not use the term “genocide” to describe the massacre. It reversed course after an internal debate went public and a grassroots campaign by Armenian American activists targeted the ADL in Boston and other cities and towns with large Armenian populations.
Foxman has since used the term “Armenian genocide,” including in a 2014 speech. For many years the group opposed formal recognition by the U.S. Congress, citing concerns for the Turkish Jewish community and relationship among Turkey, Israel and the U.S.
New England’s ADL director, Robert Trestan, told the Boston Globe on Sunday that Greenblatt’s post was the “most unequivocal statement that we’ve ever issued.” Trestan took part in meetings between the ADL and local and national Armenian and Jewish groups, the Globe reported.
The statement does not go far enough, according to Andrew Tarsy, the former New England ADL director whose dispute over the issue with the national leadership in 2007 led to his temporary ouster by Foxman, who later reinstated Tarsy.
Tarsy, a noted civil rights attorney, told the Globe that the ADL ought to lead conversations about reparations for families.
“Everything that Holocaust reparations has represented should be on the table,” he said.
In recent years, a number of major Jewish groups have recognized the massacres as genocide.