Armenian Genocide

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Kobe Bryant’s Turkish Airlines commercial — and controversy

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Kobe Bryant pretty much walks on water in Los Angeles, he has a helicopter shuttle him to work from his home and nobody bats an eyelash.

But he has angered one pretty large segment of the Los Angeles melting pot. (Well, L.A. is not so much a melting pot as a cobb salad, the individuality of ethnic divides and communities are still there, but everybody mingles together, too.)

The commercial below for Turkish Airlines, a company Kobe now endorses. The ad is fairly amusing, I guess (although do they really have a chef on board their flights handing out gourmet meals?). Mark Medina at the L.A. Times Lakers blog first found the ad and he notes there is a launch party coming up in Hollywood.

Where this gets controversial is there is large Armenian community in Los Angeles (hundreds of thousands) who have a big issue with Turkey. It all dates back nearly hundred years to the final days of the Ottoman Empire around World War I. We’re not going to get into politics here, but the worldwide Armenian community and most scholars called what happened over a three-year period when hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed a genocide. Turkey has always vehemently protested that label saying civil strife at the time caused deaths on both sides.

Kobe has some frustrated Armenian fans now in Southern California for taking on this endorsement, as we detailed before. There has been talk of a boycott. For him, this is clearly a business deal and he said that he has never even been to Turkey. Kobe’s not talking about any of the issues here. He’s the world’s most popular athlete right now and he is cashing in on that with a major international endorsement.

But he put his toe is some pretty hot water here.

Kobe Bryant endorses Turkish Airlines, Los Angeles Armenian community protests

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Turkish Airlines is going to start non-stop service from Los Angeles to Istanbul next March, and they wanted to raise their profile in America and abroad with an international star as an endorser.

Meet Kobe Bryant. He’s big worldwide and pretty much the king of Los Angeles, so the two sides inked an endorsement deal. Kobe will appear in a promotional film for the airline, make visits to Turkey and get paid for the use of his image to promote the primary airline of Turkey.

Which has enraged the sizeable Armenian community in Los Angeles (maybe half a million people). They have promised protests and maybe a boycott.

The Turkish/Armenian feud date back to World War I and the final days of the struggling Ottoman Empire. This is a basketball blog, we’re not going to play politics here. The Armenian community and most scholars called what happened over a three-year period when hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed a genocide; Turkey has always vehemently protested that label saying civil strife at the time caused deaths on both sides.

Armenians in Southern California are angry about Kobe’s endorsement and want him to drop it, as the Turkish Journal details.

“Armenian-Americans hope that Kobe would balance what clearly looks to be a profitable business deal with a strong moral statement against Turkey’s violations of human rights, including, of course, its ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide,” the Armenian Youth Federation said in a statement on its website.

Bryant should drop the endorsement or back the resolution (in the House of Representatives recognizing what happened as a genocide), Hamparian said. “This is not simply a private firm,” he said. “This is a firm that’s majority owned by the Turkish government.”

This is not going away in Los Angeles — the local Fox affiliate had it as part of their newscast last night including reactions from local Armenians. Maybe the most famous local Armenian family are the Kardashians — as in Khloe, Lamar Odom’s wife.

There could be more protests. It could get loud and it will be interesting to see how Kobe Bryant handles this.