Category Archives: human rights

Some Writers Just Don’t Fit In

elifshafak.jpgMariane Pearl, wife of assassinated WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl, has written a story for Glamour magazine on novelist Elif Shafak, who is a lightning rod of controversy in Turkey. Pearl writes:

At the relatively young age of 36, Elif has written six novels. “I give a voice to the underbelly of society,” she says. Her first book, Pinhan—The Sufi, tells the story of a hermaphrodite mystic. Her most recent novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, published in 2006, was a best-seller…[and she is on] the hit list of writers targeted by far-right groups. Its offense? Tackling Turkey’s unspeakable World War I-era massacre of a million of its Armenian residents. Turkey does not officially acknowledge the slaughter, which is often called the first genocide of the twentieth century. Yet one of Elif’s characters, speaking on behalf of a young Armenian American, boldly says: “I am the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives in the hands of Turkish butchers in 1915, but I myself have been brainwashed to deny the genocide….”

Elif just wanted to “build a bridge between Turks and Armenians,” she says, but for the latter to forgive, the former must stop denying.(source)

In other fringe literary news, the Guardian reported this week that newly declassified files demonstrate that the British government feared that George Orwell was subversive because of his fashion-sense (hipster beware!):

A Sergeant Ewing of Special Branch, monitoring Orwell’s attempt to recruit Indians to work for the BBC’s India service in January 1942, noted: “This man has advanced communist views … He dresses in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours.” (source)

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Photograph at Armenian Genocide Protest Outside 92Y in Manhattan

Photo of Armenian Women from Trabizond all murdered except for second from left (seated), c.1915. The protesters are speaking up against ADL Executive Director Abraham Foxman’s speech tonight at the 92Y. Foxman and the ADL refuse to support the Armenian Genocide resolution in the US Congress, citing bogus excuses, including the “safety” of Jews in Turkey. For more photos from the protest visit here & here, and for background on the issue, visit here.  Jewschool has some great pics posted on Flickr.

The photo is a reproduction of an original image archived at the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan, Armenia.

ADL Gets Defensive

foxman.jpgI have to admit, I didn’t expect this blog to be political when I started, but on issues of social justice I make exceptions and the ADL issue is one of those rare cases.

The ADL is still embroiled in a PR disaster of their own making and today they released yet another proclamation from Foxman that “reiterates support for efforts to reconcile Turkey and Armenia” (source). That’s nice…but the problem is that the issue is about Armenian Americans demanding a stop to the industry of hate that Turkey is funding in the way of Armenian Genocide denial. ADL is still oblivious.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before some people stepped forward to support ADL’s byzantine and evolving (shall we say flip-flopping?) position on the Armenian Genocide. Alan Wolfe at The New Republic‘s Open University blog is the most blatant in his endorsement of ADL’s stupidity, though the editors at Foreign Policy also chime in with their own two cents.

Wolfe writes:

On this issue, the ADL’s stance is the correct one. At best, such a resolution is pure symbolism, and the last we thing we need is more symbolic politics. More likely, passage of the resolution would infringe on free speech, as hate crime legislation often does, and encourage defensive nationalism in Turkey when we in the United States should be supporting democratic movements in that country, even if those movements are religious. (source)

There are a few problems with Wolfe’s words:

  • If symbolism is meaningless, then why did the US build a Holocaust Museum fifty years after the fact? In my opinion, it is about educating people about history, not symbolism. Facts are facts and they teach us things.
  • Free speech? Hate crime legislation? Turks don’t have that luxury (ask assassinated Istanbul editor Hrant Dink) and the only way to oppose hate and ignorance is by strong words that reiterate facts. Hate crime legislation? I don’t think I’ve ever heard any Armenian American mention hate crime legislation in the States, the European Armenians have pushed for those in their own countries, not here though.
  • Why is there no discussion of the fact that ADL allows Turkish Jews to be pawns at the whim of Turkey? If Turkish Jews are equals in Turkey, then why must they be protected by lies? One “leading” Turkish Jewish businessman wrote a letter that was published today in the Turkish press (and the Jerusalem Post), in which he proclaims “…Turkish people, who deserve your praise for their centuries-long tradition of compassion and their culture of humanity and cohabitation that remains an example to the world.” How about asking Greeks, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians and Arabs if they think Turkey is a model of compassion?

Also, people talk about Armenians like we’re all foreign nationals. Most of us are proudly American, and there are over a million Armenian Americans in the country. So shouldn’t American interests come before Turkey’s interests in this case? Shouldn’t all Americans be offended that Turkey is falsely accusing its fellow citizens of lying and distorting the truth?

At the request of ADL’s New England Board (frankly, I’d like to hug each and every one of them) the issue of whether to support the Armenian Genocide resolution before Congress will go to the ADL National board on November 1–probably a move partially engineered by Foxman to defuse the criticism directed at him.

Today’s Jerusalem Post points out that the Nov. 1 outcome is far from certain:

Steven Grossman, former chairman of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and a former ADL board member, said he believed the issue of a congressional resolution would receive a fair hearing at the national meeting in November, but it would be up to the New England leadership to make a convincing case to move forward.

“If the only ones supporting it are from New England, it won’t pass, but it’s up to the New England region to make a case that the moral high-ground and the effectiveness of ADL would be enhanced by changing their policy,” said Grossman. (source)

Now is the time to voice any and all concerns directly to ADL and its leaders (ADL contact form).

The issue is certainly not over…the Massachusetts town of Arlington has pulled out of the ADL program, neighboring Belmont is considering it, and other towns may follow.

Also, controversies like this always have a way of airing other dirty laundry about an organization and it’s leaders. One writer at Bay Windows, New England’s largest LGBT newspaper, says that he’s not surprised with the Armenian Genocide controversy since ADL’s relationship with the gay & lesbian community has long been contentious and rocky.

Stay tuned…

Foxman Issue Is Still Raising Eyebrows

cartoonandrewsullivan.jpgThe ADL issue has now hit the A-list bloggers, as The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan points out that Foxman’s under fire for his Armenian Genocide sidestep and things may get hotter for the ADL honcho.

I should mention one thing though…Sullivan points to a blog (Mideast Youth) which gives a great context for the controversy but inserts a non sequitur that clouds the issue:

Now here is where it gets interesting: the first strong voice of dissent regarding No Place For Hate came from a Watertown native named Mark Charalambous who wrote vitriolic letters to the Watertown Tab asking that he be granted the right to hate homosexuals. No Place For Hate, he argued, interfered with the First Amendment which gives us the inalienable right to hate whoever we choose. (source)

The fact is that Watertown did not discontinue the No Place for Hate program, it simply disassociated itself from the ADL.

Also, since we’re clarifying the timeline, it was David Boyajian’s letter to the Watertown Tab on July 6, 2007 which really started the outcry over ADL’s hypocrisy–though let’s not forget Jewcy.com, the Watertown Tab, the Boston Globe and bloggers all contributed in their own way.

ADL Takes First Step to Full “Armenian Genocide” Recognition

The ADL has finally accepted the fact of the Armenian Genocide, which was transmitted to the world via an awkward statement released today. By the way, why say “tantamount to genocide” and not just say it was genocide?

Unfortunately, the ADL fell short of giving its support to the Armenian Genocide resolution before the US Congress. The legislation will ensure that the historical fact will be part of US foreign policy thinking and put pressure on Turkey to face its demons.

Interestingly, the Jerusalem Post today reports:

Neither Jerusalem nor Ankara had any official comment on the matter, with the foreign ministries in both capitals taken completely by surprise by the [ADL] statement. (source)

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ADL Continues to Deny Armenian Genocide

adlwebdenial.jpg

My past posts on the topic:

Here’s what the ADL line I’ve pointed to above hyperlinked to–the text of the ADL’s fancy worded ad that will appear in two Boston-area papers this week & the PDF of the ad. They still don’t say genocide, but try to make us feel like they do…no chance!

And the go-to site for current news on the ADL’s continued adherence to the Turkish government’s policy of genocide denial: NO PLACE FOR DENIAL.

Vietnam’s Indelible Mark on America

photo3n.jpgAs an Armenian Canadian, who is slowly becoming an American, the impact of the Vietnam war is difficult to understand. The only Vietnam War affiliated people I encountered in Toronto were draft dodgers, Vietnamese refugees, and parents who moved to Toronto with their young kids to ensure when they reached draft age they wouldn’t end up in southeast Asia.

Veken took time out of our Sunday schedule to show me the Vietnam Memorial in Holmdel, New Jersey, near his parent’s home–it reminded me of the power of memorials.

wardogs.jpgUnfortunately, most people in Holmdel (Veken found it one day roller blading near his parent’s home) probably don’t know about this serene monument. Along side the more conventional Vietnam memorial with the names of soldier’s engraved on its walls is a smaller monument to the war dogs that died serving in the US military (built only last year). Also on the grounds is an education center which was closed when we visited, I can only imagine the stories it tells.

What makes the site particularly poignant is the older cemetery at the heart of the complex. Dating from the early 19th C., the Crawford family cemetery suggests this little patch has a symbolic significance, one that Vietnam vets & Holmdel chose to acknowledge. For over two hundred years this rather hidden place has served as a place for mourning and memory, today it is great to see it continue in that role.

It is only unfortunate that the minimalistic sculpture of the memorials are impeded by the more conventional bronze sculptures that strain to “narrate” the monuments. If only the powers that be overcame the crutch of populism to find another more creative way to show the loss and soul-searching triggered by Vietnam, but like the soldiers (and canines) commemorated here, I guess they were only human and prone to mistakes.

Complete photos from my little tour here.