A Better Brand For Kobe to Represent…Human Rights
BY ALLEN YEKIKAN
As the controversy surrounding Kobe Bryant’s endorsement deal with Turkey’s national airline carrier deepens, the NBA superstar faces a unique opportunity to stand by his loyal fans and become a global champion for human rights and genocide prevention.
Earlier this week Kobe signed a 2 year agreement to serve as the “global ambassador” of Turkish Airlines, effectively becoming the face and image of the company and its manager, the Turkish Republic.
“At this point, we are seeking to educate Kobe Bryant about the Armenian Genocide, Turkey’s denial and Turkey’s ongoing human rights abuses,” said Caspar Jivalegian of the Armenian Youth Federation. “Turkish Airlines is not like United or American–it was founded by the Turkish government, which still owns some 49% of the company. They are supporters of groups like the American Turkish Council who lobby against U.S. Affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.”
Kobe’s decision has caused uproar in the Armenian-American community in the United States and especially within Southern California, which boasts the largest population of Armenians outside of Armenia, ranging between 400,000-600,000. As victims of genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government from 1915-1923, Armenians are angered that Bryant would sign a contract with a country that denies justice to the victims and actively works to defend modern day perpetrators of the crime.
“Kobe is a champion on the basketball court, and we look to him to be a champion of human rights by speaking truthfully about the Armenian Genocide, supporting U.S. Congressional passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.252), and ultimately dropping this ill-advised endorsement deal,” Jivalegian added.
It wouldn’t be the first time Bryant stood in support of human rights and against genocide. In 2008 he issued a public service announcement through Los Angeles-based non-profit Aid Still Required calling for an end to the genocide in Darfur and urging his fans to unite in bringing aid to the troubled region.
“As 2010 comes to an end, Bryant is again in the headlines over the issue of Genocide. This time, however, not as the anti-genocide activist he was in 2008, but as an unknowing accomplice to the denial of the first genocide in the 21st century,” said Jivalegian. “Today, however, he has a unique opportunity to take a stand against genocide and speak out about Turkey’s support for the Sudanese government.”
Turkey denies the Darfur Genocide and provides arms to the Sudanese government, led by Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
In November 2009, Turkey, came under intense international criticism for agreeing to host al-Bashir. While Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, defended his ally, refusing to arrest the Sudaenese leader and denying the genocide in Darfur. According to Erdogan, there was no genocide raging, the international warrant for his arrest is a “mistake,” and Bashir may simply have only “mismanaged the situation.”
Since 2003, the Sudanese government has slaughtered half a million people in Darfur, while forcibly uprooting nearly 3 million more from their homes in February 2003. The Sudanese government, like Turkey, denies it is committing genocide.
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 support to Sudan and its ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide.