The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has formally recognized the genocide of Armenians at the hand of Turkey in a statement released on Tuesday, marking a dramatic U-turn over the organization's position on the issue.
Between 1915 and 1918, some 1.5 million Armenians died in Ottoman Turkey. Many of them perished during - or were shot after - forced marches across hundreds of miles, commonly known as death marches.
Just four days ago, the ADL sacked its New England Regional Director, Andrew H. Tarsy, who blasted the organization for failing to recognize the genocide. During a phone conversation with the ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, Tarsy said he found the ADL's position on the issue "morally indefensible".
Tarsy's sacking resulted in widespread condemnation across the American-Jewish community.
In a press statement released Tuesday, the ADL said: "In light of the heated controversy that has surrounded the Turkish-Armenian issue in recent weeks, and because of our concern for the unity of the Jewish community at a time of increased threats against the Jewish people, (the) ADL has decided to revisit the tragedy that befell the Armenians."
"We have never negated but have always described the painful events of 1915-1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians as massacres and atrocities. On reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr. that the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide," the ADL said.
In the statement, Foxman said, "I consulted with my friend and mentor Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and other respected historians who acknowledge this consensus. I hope that Turkey will understand that it is Turkey's friends who urge that nation to confront its past and work to reconcile with Armenians over this dark chapter in history."
The statement added, however, that the ADL would continue to be opposed to attempts by Armenian-Americans to pass a resolution in the US Congress aimed at garnering recognition of the genocide.
"We continue to firmly believe that a congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States," the statement said.
Speaking to Ynetnews, an ADL source said the organization had traditionally taken its lead over the issue from the Turkish Jewish community. The source also expressed concern for the welfare of the Jewish community in Turkey following the statement.
"How will this affect Turkish Jews? Who knows what repercussions will be," the source said. "We changed our position and we hope Turkish government doesn't take it out on the Jews," the source added.
"The ADL has always sought guidance from the Turkish Jewish community, which has told us to back the Turkish government on this. So we have always backed Turkey's stance," the source said.
The source added that the episode was sparked by an event held recently by the Armenian community in Boston, called 'No Place for Hate' - an event the ADL was supposed to take part in.
"We pulled out because they said we're hypocrites," the source said, adding: "The head of ADL in Boston came out in favor of changing our position... he was fired. This caused a lot of tension, and it caused a reexamination of our position. As a result, our position has changed."