TORONTO, On.–Kobe Bryant faced demonstrations on Sunday as members of the Canadian-Armenian community took to the streets of Toronto ahead of a Lakers-Raptors game to protest the NBA star’s recent deal with Turkey’s national airline carrier, the Armenian Youth Federation of Toronto reported.
The protest began at 11 a.m. at the York Street entrance of The Air Canada Centre, with participants holding large banners reading the words “Kobe: Do the Right Thing,” as well as several other signs pointing to Turkey’s gross record on human rights.
“Kobe’s recent agreement with Turkish Airlines, 49% of which is owned by the Republic of Turkey, has tremendously upset Armenians and stands in stark contrast to public statements he has made calling for an end to the Genocide in Darfur,” said Rupen Janbazian of the Toronto AYF. “Turkey’s long list of human rights violations, including the ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide, restrictions of free speech and expression, and its continued support of the genocidal government of Sudan, prove that this deal seriously damages Kobe’s reputation.”
The AYF says that if Bryant follows through on his deal to serve as the “Global Brand Ambassador” for Turkish Airlines, he will always come to be associated with the violence, oppression, occupation and genocide denial of the Turkish government.
The deal with Turkish Airlines has caused an uproar in the Armenian community in North America, especially within Southern California, which boasts the largest population of Armenians outside of Armenia with 600,000 Armenians.
“Toronto’s large Armenian community is likewise upset and we kept the pressure on Bryant during his visit to Canada, asking him to rescind his contract and make a statement separating himself from the actions of the government of Turkey, especially when the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.252) is being put to vote by the United States Congress,” Janbazian said.
The demonstration comes after a week of growing grass-roots and media pressure on Bryant to reverse his deal and acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. ESPN.com, NBA.com, LATimes.com, Bloomberg.com, and CBS 2 News and ABC 7 News, are among the dozens of news outlets, blogs, television stations and websites reporting on the developing issue.
As the controversy continues to spread throughout, other Armenian communities across the continent are sure to become more vocal in demanding a public statement from Bryant, who told a reporter after a Lakers game against the Philadelphia 76ers that he was unaware of the issue altogether.
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.
“For Armenians in Canada and the United States, Kobe’s contract with Turkish Airlines is like jet fuel on the fire of Turkey’s genocide denial,” said Aram Hamparian, the Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America in a statement published on the ANCA website Friday.
“We are hopeful that Kobe, in selling his brand, hasn’t also sold his soul by agreeing to remain silent about Turkey’s human rights abuses,” Hamparian said. “He should reconsider his ill-advised endorsement of Turkish Airlines, and, at the very least, go on record condemning Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide and calling upon our Congress to pass of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.252).”
The Kobe controversy also comes as American and anti-genocide activists across the United States continue to mobilize in support of a possible vote on the Armenian Genocide Resolution, H.Res.252, in the final days of the Congressional session, the ANCA reported on its website.
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.
In a statement released on their website Tuesday, the Armenian Youth Federation urged Bryant “to stay true to his loyal fan base and rescind his contract with Turkish Airlines.” The AYF further asked Bryant “to put out an official statement affirming his commitment to ending human rights abuses and voicing his support for House Resolution 252, calling on the United States Congress to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide.”