LOS ANGELES–Lakers guard Kobe Bryant begun appearing this week in Turkish Airlines (THY) commercials as the national carrier’s “global brand ambassador,” despite overwhelming opposition to the deal from an Armenian-American community outraged with Bryant for representing a country guilty of genocide and human rights violations.
“I just want to say how proud I am to be Global Ambassador for Turkish Airlines,” Bryant said in his first televised THY commercial. “All of us here in LA are excited because we get an opportunity to now enjoy the beauty and rich cultural history of Turkey.”
The TV-spot is the first of many in a two-year deal that will involve Bryant starring in promotional commercials and films that will be aired on international television channels and in movie theaters in more than 80 countries next year to promote direct flights from Los Angeles to Istanbul via Turkish Airlines.
The commercials with Bryant will be shown globally, but the focus of the campaign will be on the US market and in the Far East and Middle East, where the player has a large global fan-base. Bryant also posted a video of the first commercial on his Facebook page.
Kobe’s decision to endorse Turkish Airlines has caused an 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.
“Bryant’s silence on the issue continually fuels the Armenian communities discontent,” said Caspar Jivalagian of the Armenian Youth Federation. “His decision to launch the campaign while knowing he has so many upset fans goes to show once again that he has chosen money over morality.”
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.
The AYF has urged Kobe Bryant to stay true to his loyal fan base and rescind his contract with Turkish Airlines, 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.
Background on the developing story here.