Armenians Decry Kobe Bryant’s Deal With Turkish Airlines.
ISTANBUL, Turkey — Kobe Bryant probably wishes he’d kept to the basketball court. Armenians in the U.S. and abroad are crying foul against the NBA superstar and want him to drop his deal with Turkey’s premier airline to serve as its new “global brand ambassador.” Bryant’s two-year contract with Turkish Airlines “is wrong because Turkey denies the Armenian genocide,” Karine Ter-Sahakian, an editor of the PanArmenian news agency, said in an interview with AOL News. “Bryant talks about Darfur and says nothing about the Armenian genocide.” The opposition to Bryant’s deal, which calls for him to make commercials and appear in public to promote the airline, comes as the U.S. House of Representatives prepares for a possible vote Tuesday on a measure that would classify as genocide the death of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks nearly a hundred years ago. Armenia, as well as numerous academics and historians, claims that the Turks systematically massacred some 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. Turkey claims that thousands of Turks and Armenians were killed in violence during World War I, but that the deaths did not constitute genocide.Bryant has not publicly responded to any of the criticism. The Los Angeles Lakers star’s appearance at Toronto’s Air Canada Center for a game Sunday was attended by about 30 people from the city’s Armenian community, some holding a sign that read, “Kobe: Do the Right Thing.” “Kobe has a proven track record of aiding various humanitarian efforts, and this is an opportunity for him to become a true ‘global ambassador’ of truth and publicly speak out about the Armenian genocide,” Casper Jivalagian, a member of the Armenian Youth Federation, said in a public statement.Turkish Airlines plans to begin flights from Los Angeles to Istanbul in March. “Turkey is a country rich in natural beauty and thousands of years of cultural history, and I’m proud to partner with Turkish Airlines to bring that majesty to people around the world,” Bryant said last week after signing the deal with the airline, according to CNN. Armenians have long pushed the U.S. Congress to go on record recognizing the killings as genocide, but the issue is complicated by Turkey’s longtime partnership with the U.S. and the country’s geopolitical importance. Turkey has made clear that its relationship with the U.S. would deteriorate if the genocide bill is passed.State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday the Obama administration opposes the House measure. “We continue to believe that the best way for Turkey and Armenia to address their shared past is through their efforts to normalize relations,” reported the Hurriyet Daily News, a Turkish newspaper. “In this moment, the U.S. can’t recognize the Armenian genocide, because the relationship between Turkey and the United States remains strong and is more important than ever,” Ter-Sahakian said. “The U.S. needs Turkey to transport troops and military equipment to Afghanistan. Maybe, when the war in Afghanistan ends, the House and U.S. government will recognize the Armenian genocide.” The pending resolution in the House calls “upon the president to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide, and for other purposes.”