Once A Voice to End Genocide in Darfur, Kobe Bryant Now Promotes Sudan’s Ally in Denial and 20th Century’s First Perpetrator of Genocide
BY ALLEN YEKIKAN
In 2008, Kobe Bryant was a strong voice calling for an end to the genocide in Darfur, but today, he has signed a deal to represent the Republic of Turkey, which denies any genocide in Darfur and is the infamous perpetrator of the first Genocide of the 20th century.
In May 27, 2008 Bryant made a public service announcement through the Los Angeles-based non-profit Aid Still Required, urging action to unite to end the Genocide in Darfur.
“In Darfur hundreds of thousands have been murdered, mutilated, families torn apart. Please take a stand with us. We have the power to save lives, to restore lives,” Bryant said in the PSA, published on Youtube. “If we can unite people, who are willing to take a stand, miracles can happen.”
Since 2003, the Sudanese government in Khartoum 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 the Republic of Turkey, denies it is committing genocide.
Turkey is among Sudan’s greatest allies, covering up its genocide and providing 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. Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even defended his ally, refusing to arrest al-Bashir and denying the genocide in Darfur. According to Erdogan, there was no genocide raging in Darfur, the international warrant for his arrest was a “mistake,” and Bashir may simply have only “mismanaged the situation.”
As 2010 comes to an end, Bryant finds himself again in the headlines over the issue of Genocide. This time, however, not as the anti-genocide activist he seemed to be in 2008, but as what appears to be an accomplice to the denial of at least two genocides.
Earlier this week Kobe signed a two-year agreement with Turkey’s national airline carrier to serve as its “global ambassador,” effectively becoming the face and image of the company and its manager, the Turkish Republic.
Kobe’s decision has caused uproar within 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 600,000 to 750,000.
Armenians are angered that Bryant would sign a contract with a country that not only denies that the Ottoman Turkish government committed genocide against 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 , but also actively works to defend modern day perpetrators of the crime.
“We don’t understand how Kobe could forget about Darfur and overlook Turkey’s gross record on human rights and its complicity and support for the genocide there,” said Caspar Jivalegian of the Armenian Youth Federation. “It is troubling that the very country that perpetrated the first genocide of the 20th century and actively supports the first genocide of the 21st century, is now contracting a strong opponent of the Darfur genocide to represent its global brand.”
For Jivalegian, Bryant’s decision and his complete silence on the matter sets a very bad example for young fans who “look up to Kobe both on and off the court.”
“Kobe is not just a basketball player, he is local, national, and global a role model with a responsibility to set a positive example to the millions of people who look up to him and support him,” Jivalegian said, adding that Bryant made a poor play by signing a deal with a Genocide perpetrator after making a video calling for an end to genocide in Darfur. “This shows a disconnect between Kobe and the many communities that make up Los Angeles and the Lakers fan base.”
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 its ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide.
“Turkish Airlines is not like United or American–it was founded by the Turkish government, which still owns some 49 percent of the company. They are supporters of groups like the American Turkish Council who lobby against U.S. Affirmation of the Armenian Genocide,” said Jivalegian.
“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.
More information about the issue can be found here.