US Armenian Community Boycotts Kobe Bryant over Promotion Deal with Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airline Kobe Bryant

Turkish Airlines has been adding sport stars to its commercials for a while now, the Manchester United ad with the stars playing football on the plane being quite popular. Therefore their choice of basketball star Kobe Bryant as their new brand ambassador, seeing as they planned to launch flights from LA to Istanbul this spring, made quite a lot of sense. But their being Turkish and choosing a state where the Armenian community is significant and strong, with representatives such as the Kardashians, proved to be misguided and caused a lot of grief to LA Lakers player Kobe Bryant.

Soon after agreeing to a two-year deal with Turkish Airlines, Bryant got caught in political crossfire.The “endorsement deal has enraged some Armenian Americans who are threatening to boycott the … basketball star if he doesn’t back out of the contract,” according to the Associated Press.

Armenian Americans – nearly 700,000 of whom live in California – have long been outraged at America’s refusal to consider the 1.5 million Armenian deaths in an early 20th century Ottoman Empire massacre a genocide. Turkey rejects the label, too,” explained online publication Business Insider.

Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, told Los Angeles Times that Armenians are especially concerned about the close ties between the airline and the Turkish government. Caspar Jivalagian of the Armenian Youth Federation’s Western region agrees and believes “Kobe is a champion of national basketball and should be a champion of human rights.

The Armenian community will not stop at press statements, they are considering taking action:
The Armenian Youth Federation says it’s considering protests at Staples Center (the Lakers’ home arena) if Bryant doesn’t back down or at least issue some type of statement recognizing the Armenian Genocide, when approximately 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were killed,” said Fox 11 of Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant hasn’t made any comments after the news about the Armenian community being bothered by the deal broke, but soon after agreeing to the deal he stated”
I’ve never been to Turkey. But all the guys on the team in the league who have been keep saying it’s one of the hottest places to go to.”

Not at all suprising, Bloomberg News reported that L.A.-born “Armenian-American socialite and reality television star Kim Kardashian urged her more than 5.5 million followers on Twitter earlier this week to call on U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to schedule a vote on House Resolution 252, which would recognize the Armenian deaths as genocide. And the criticism of Bryant comes even as one of his teammates — Lamar Odom — is married to Kardashian’s sister Khloe.”

I knew Kim Kardashian was Armenian, but I have to say I have not once heard her ever making any comments or taking a stand against Turkey and trying to get recognition of the Armenian genocide before.

As for Turkish Airlines and Turkey in general, they do run strong campaigns on internationally broadcast TV station, from Travel & Living to the CNN. I wonder when CNN will be kindly asked to stop their collaboration with the Turkish Tourism Ministry? I for one fail to see how boycotting a company’s ad campaigns just because they might have ties with the government will get the genocide recognized. Especially when Kim Kardashian and her sisters back it, as they don’t seem to be very aware of history and politics. I have to admit that after seeing Kim on E! being upset that her guests did not leave her house perfectly clean while partying there, I have a hard time picturing her as a down-to-earth, human rights activist!

I am sure Turkish Airlines will just find another star to promote them, choose a different state where the new capital will matter more and go about their business. Even if they go ahead with the March launch of their LA to Istanbul flights, the travelers they are targeting will decide based on price and services. The only one who stands to lose something is Kobe Bryant whose image is at risk right now and who won’t get all the money Turkish would have paid for their collaboration.

Golin Harris is the PR agency for Turkish Airlines.

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