The Jewish group Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reversed itself and called a World War I-era massacre of Armenians a genocide, a change that comes days after the league fired a regional director for taking the same stance.
League director Abraham Foxman's statement that the killings of Armenians by Muslim Turks "were indeed tantamount to genocide" came after weeks of controversy in which critics questioned whether an organization dedicated to remembering Holocaust victims could remain credible without acknowledging the Armenian killings as genocide.
The New York-based organization had called the deaths of up 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Muslim Turks between 1915 and 1923 an atrocity, but stopped short of saying it was genocide -- a planned extermination of the Christian Armenian minority.
Last week, the town of Watertown, home to a large Armenian population, withdrew from the ADL's "No Place for Hate" anti-bigotry program because of the organization's refusal to call the massacres genocide. The ADL also fired New England regional director Andrew Tarsy after he said he agreed the killings were genocide.
The towns of Acton and Newton were among those considering breaking ties with the ADL, and several Jewish organizations, led by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, signed a letter urging the ADL to acknowledge the killings as genocide.
In a statement on Tuesday, Foxman said he consulted with historians and his friend, Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel, after the controversy began and became convinced genocide had occurred.
In an interview, Foxman said the letter from the Jewish groups revealed divisions Jews cannot afford to have at a time of increased threats to them around the world.
But Foxman said his group would not support a pending Congressional resolution that calls the massacre a genocide, saying it was "a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians."
Foxman would not comment on whether Tarsy would be rehired.
Nurten Ural, president of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, said she was disappointed by the ADL's decision. Turks and Armenians both suffered during the war, and calling it genocide by the Turks is like being accused of a crime you did not commit, she said.
Ural said many historians do not believe a genocide occurred, and said if the Congressional resolution passes it would damage relations with Turkey, which is valued in the West as a friend of Israel in the hostile Middle East.