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ADL reinstates regional leader

Another reversal of course by national rights group

The national Anti-Defamation League rehired its New England regional director yesterday, less than two weeks after firing him for publicly breaking with the national leadership and acknowledging the Armenian genocide that began in 1915.

The move to rehire Andrew H. Tarsy as regional director marked the second time in a week that the human rights organization reversed course under pressure from the Jewish and Armenian-American communities.

But Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL's national director, said he did not rehire Tarsy to appease critics. What mattered, Foxman said, was that the two men now "see eye to eye."

Tarsy's reinstatement was effective immediately, and both men said they were happy to be moving forward together.

"Andy's back," Foxman said, sitting next to Tarsy yesterday in a waterfront office in Boston. "Andy and I talked, and, after our conversation, I decided to take him back, to reinstate him. And I'm delighted he's back."

A key factor in Tarsy's decision to return was Foxman's acknowledgement last week --after decades of refusal -- of the genocide of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923. Tarsy, 38, said Foxman's acknowledgment of the genocide made him proud and helped pave the way for his return.

"The ADL has confronted the moral issue and acknowledged the genocide, and I think that is something that speaks for itself," Tarsy said. "I'm ready to move on. I'm glad to be back."

The decision to rehire Tarsy pleased members of both the local Jewish and Armenian-American communities, which had expressed outrage when Tarsy was fired.

Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said Tarsy's stand helped turn the corner on an issue that has been lingering for years.

"I was hopeful that this would happen and am delighted that Andy will be back as director of the regional office," Kaufman said. "He's a terrific professional who took an important position on a difficult issue, and I give him enormous credit."

But Armenian-Americans hope that rehiring Tarsy is not the end of the debate. In recent days, they have questioned the sincerity of Foxman's change in position, given his refusal to support a congressional resolution acknowledging the genocide.

They also criticized a second ADL statement, issued Thursday, saying there was room for "further dispassionate scholarly examination" of the genocide.

"It's inconsistent to say a genocide has been committed -- the worst crime that international law has ever defined -- but, no, we shouldn't talk about it; no, it shouldn't be part of the public discourse," said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America in Washington, D.C.

The rift between Foxman and Tarsy has its origins in Watertown, home to roughly 8,000 Armenian-Americans. In July, some residents became upset when they learned that the ADL was the sponsor of the town's antibigotry program, No Place For Hate. Earlier this month, the Watertown Town Council voted to pull out of the program.

At issue was the ADL's refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide or support a congressional resolution to do the same. Between 1915 and 1923, Ottoman Turks massacred as many as 1.5 million Armenians in what the US ambassador at the time called "a campaign of race extermination." Historians have acknowledged these massacres as genocide. But the Turkish government has refused to accept that label; and until recently, so did the ADL.

The ADL, founded in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism, has long worried that acknowledging the genocide would put Jews at risk in Turkey or damage Israel's relations with Turkey, a rare Muslim ally.

But since the Watertown controversy, regional ADL members challenged that position.

The local board called on the national ADL to both acknowledge the genocide and support the congressional resolution, and Tarsy spoke out publicly, saying he strongly disagreed with the national position.

Within hours, Foxman fired Tarsy. But as board members, Jewish leaders, and Armenian-Americans rallied to support Tarsy last week, Foxman reversed course. Last Tuesday, he conceded that the Armenian massacres "were indeed tantamount to genocide."

Then, granting the request of the local board, Foxman yesterday reinstated Tarsy.

"I'm thrilled to be back, and I love my job," Tarsy said. "We had great conversations -- that are just between us -- and I'm ready to get back to my job. We've got a lot of work to do."

One task, observers say, is to reach out to Watertown and other communities that have considered pulling out of the ADL's No Place For Hate program.

"We know there are challenges," said Steve Grossman, a former regional ADL board member. "We know there are people not yet satisfied with the ADL's position and looking for the ADL to move further."

However, Grossman said he hoped the Jewish and Armenian-American communities would see that the ADL is moving in the right direction.

Yesterday, Foxman maintained that the genocide was an issue that Turkey and Armenia should address, not anyone else. But he said the recent pressure the ADL has received from the Turkish government will not stop the organization from reconsidering its position on the congressional resolution in November.

In the meantime, James Rudolph, the ADL's regional board chairman, said board members were thrilled to have Tarsy back.

Armenian-Americans celebrated his return as well.

"We need the type of voice that Andy Tarsy brings to the question of genocide," Hamparian said. "The ADL -- and all people who care about fighting genocide -- need the type of principled stand that Andy Tarsy has proven he's willing to take in defense of human rights."

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