Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Who would have thought that Kim Kardashian would take off on Kobe Bryant for anything other than their shared sports and celebrity status? Kardashian in addition has carved out a growth industry in flesh baring, body ogling and sex titillation. But there’s Kardashian lambasting Bryant for his two year deal pitching the glories of riding the skies on Turk Hava Yollari AO, Turkish Airlines, the country’s state-run airlines.
Kardashian and a legion of Armenian organizations and leaders are ticked at Bryant for the deal which they say is tantamount to Bryant endorsing Turkey’s slaughter of 1 to 2 million Armenians in 1915. They want Bryant to do two things, scrub the deal and speak out against Turkey for its dogged refusal to admit its murderous crime against the Armenians.
Bryant does not put a PR sheen on that crime, and knocking him for the airlines deal does nothing to bring Turkey to heel for the genocide. It’s simply the pure symbolism on the protestor’s part in using Bryant as the foil for their legitimate campaign to get Turkey to admit the slaughter. The slaughter has been well-documented. Turkey’s near century refusal to admit, apologize, and atone for it for nearly a century is a galling blight on history, morality, and human rights. Armenian organizations are right to press the case against the Turkish government for the massacres. But that’s where it should begin and end. The fault and the blame for Turkey’s refusal to admit the killings lay with the Turkish government, the United Nations, Congress. Armenians have pushed for years the various world organizations and Congress to brand the massacres as genocide. The House Foreign Affairs Committee resolution was introduced in 2007. It stalled. The Obama administration has come under fire for refusing to support Congressional action on the genocide resolution. The resolution specifically calls on Obama to reflect “understanding and sensitivity” to Armenian genocide. The resolution puts the Obama administration in a virtual no win situation. If it endorses it, it risks a major breach with the Turkish government. The country is just too vital as an ally that provides crucial intelligence, military and logistical support for its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a counterbalance to l Iran and counter and radical Islamic groups in the region. Though France passed a resolution recognizing the genocide in 2001 and it had no effect on trade between the countries. France is not waging war in Afghanistan and does not need Turkey aid in protecting its regional interests. The Congressional resolution bumps up hard against Middle East geopolitics and security interests. Bryant’s airline deal will have absolutely no effect in influencing US and Turkish relations.
Then there’s the genocide. It is compared with the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews and Armenian activists say that German companies, and the German government were held accountable, apologized and paid reparations. There also the comparison to the US government’s apology and payments to Japanese-Americans for the seizure of their property, businesses, and internment during World War II, the US governments apologies and land concession to American Indians for the theft of their land. In each case, the actions were government sanctioned, condoned and encouraged. It was not the act of one individual doing business with a company decades after the historic crime. That’s the case with Bryant and Turkish Airlines.
In the past celebrities have been hammered by activist groups for shilling for controversial products or companies such as the Kruggerand sales during the Apartheid era or Nike accuse of sweat shop labor practices in Asia. The offending companies or products directly affected the lives of workers, and propped up a government that grossly violated human rights. In each case, the celebrity was lending their name to that exploitation and human rights abuses.
Bryant’s deal doesn’t fit that category. A spokesman for Turkish Airlines got it right in the statement defending the airlines deal with Bryant, “Kobe Bryant is a cultural figure, not a historian, and is in no way related to a sensitive and complex controversy over highly contested history.”Still, Armenian leaders hector Kobe as a hypocrite for denouncing the genocide in Darfur. But that is not a fair comparison. The genocide in Darfur did not happen a century ago. It’s recent and by some accounts still ongoing. That genocide has been universally condemned.
Kobe for his part has remained tight lipped about the deal. There is little reason to think or expect that he will cancel it. It is a straight business proposition made by a major corporation with one of the world’s best most recognizable celebrities. Armenian groups are right to press Congress and the Obama administration to press the issue of Turkey’s responsibility for its historic crime. Just don’t blame Kobe for it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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