by Vache Thomassian

Dec 15 2010

Kobe Bryant is one of the most recognizable and popular athletes in
the world. He is also not strapped for cash, considering his net worth
is estimated at $140 million. So the announcement this week that the
Lakers superstar signed a 2-year endorsement deal to lend his fame and
charisma to sell Turkish Airline tickets came as a bit of a surprise.

The Armenian Youth Federation was quick to respond to the deal by
releasing a statement calling for Bryant to take a moral stand and
rescind his contract. However, some community members have viewed
this ~Shard-lined~T approach as unwarranted~Wreferring to Bryant as a
businessman who is simply following the dollar signs, or pointing out
that Bryant isn~Rt an Armenian and therefore would not be interested
in the Armenian Genocide.

These perspectives raise concerns about the way we think about
ourselves, leading to two important points which have to be made
clear: 1) The denial of the Armenian Genocide is not an ~SArmenian
only~T issue; 2) We underestimate our true capacity to bring change.

We can look back in history to elaborate these points. From the 1940~Rs
to the 1990~Rs South Africa was ruled by one political party which
implemented a policy of legal racial segregation known as apartheid.

The minority white population held all the political power and
subjugated the black majority to dehumanizing conditions. In the
1970~Rs an international movement began that encouraged investors
to withdraw direct investment in South African companies and pushed
citizens to stop supporting US based companies which had business
interests in South Africa, as an act of protest against apartheid.

The movement grew as stockholders pressed their boards of directors,
and investors became weary. The movement grew as universities like
Berkeley, Stanford and Columbia organized their campuses to divest
billions in endowment and bond money from companies with South
African ties. This movement was lead by youth and fueled in part by
celebrities using their fame to raise awareness for the cause. The
billions of dollars that stopped flowing-in undoubtedly got the South
African government~Rs attention. US cities and states followed suit,
passing divestment legislation, all leading up to the ~SComprehensive
Anti-Apartheid Act~T in 1986 which banned new US investments and
military sales to South Africa.

The divestment campaign, coupled with the internal struggle of the
oppressed population, led to the dismemberment of the apartheid
government in South Africa in the early 1990~Rs. Divestment from
apartheid South Africa was lead by people like you: the consumer who
asked where their products came from, the student who organized her
campus, the union member who pressured her company, the religious
leader who encouraged their parish, the musician who wrote a song;
people who otherwise, individually, could never have made a difference.

Today we see another divestment movement which has taken shape. The
Genocide currently taking place in Darfur, Sudan has resulted
in the murder of almost half a million. Celebrities, like George
Clooney and Don Cheadle have given their time and support, not to
make a petty profit, but to raise awareness about the desperate
situation. The Al-Bashir government (which unsurprisingly has strong
ties with the government of Turkey), has ignored all international
humanitarian efforts and continues its genocidal policies. The move
to economically isolate the Sudan may be the last hope to stop a
catastrophic situation.

The mindset that led the divestment movement is the mindset that our
communities and youth should be driven by today.

Justice for the Armenian Genocide is an international human rights
issue that belongs on the minds of every single investor in the
Republic of Turkey, and every person~Wcelebrity, athlete, actor,
socialite~Wwho endorses or supports the government or trade with the
government. The moral difficulty of dealing with a company which does
business in Turkey should be enough of a factor to dissuade any deal,
for any amount of money.

Here, when I see a public figure like Kobe Bryant associate himself
with a Turkish company, my reaction is not a knee-jerk hate-inspired
reaction, it~Rs a confident reaction that says, ~SIf he knew the facts,
he would quickly change his mind.~T

Turkish Airlines is not only the national airlines of Turkey; the
government of Turkey owns 49.1% of the company. It~Rs also a prime
example of the public relations work the government is doing to try
to repair decades of negativity as a result of its human rights record.

Our choice is to either accept what we think is invincible, or connect
our cause, organize and have our concerns heard.

It may seem trivial for an activist youth organization to become
a thorn in the side of a multi-million dollar basketball icon, but
the fact of the matter remains that a principled stance must be taken
when it comes to supporting a genocide-denying regime like the current
Turkish government. Much like the South African example demonstrated,
decades of inhumanity can succumb to the power of the dollar, and to
the power of organization.

Unfortunately, this article is not a call for us to divest from
Turkey, because my honest opinion is that we aren~Rt ready for that
step~Eyet. We have a hard enough time convincing Armenian grocery
store owners and importers to stop selling Turkish tomato paste,
when the Armenian alternatives are readily available. We have a hard
enough time of convincing our new generation that an act of protest
is not a one day a year occurrence. And we have a hard enough time
convincing some people that our fight for genocide recognition has
nothing to do with hating the enemy, and has everything to do with
loving our own people.

This is just a first step that says our fight should be everyone~Rs
fight and our power does not yet even know it~Rs potential.

_____ Vaché Thomassian is a member of the Armenian Youth Federation
Central Executive and the Editor of Haytoug magazine.

From: A. Papazian