By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Three years ago, on the eve of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, Americana shopping mall officials in Glendale, illegally and in an arrogant manner, banned the sale of Armenian Genocide-related T-shirts by three young Armenians who had signed a contract, disclosed their merchandise in advance, and paid the rent for a cart on the property.
Afterwards, ominously, Doris Nesheiwat, Senior Director of Specialty Leasing at Americana, in an email, warned the young Armenians: “Anything genocide themed, sweat shirts, t-shirts, phone covers and anything that has a genocide theme needs to come off the cart completely please.”
After I exposed Americana’s scandalous and unwarranted behavior in a column, and complaints from the local Armenian community, Americana issued a half-hearted apology by describing the ugly incident as a “misunderstanding,” and allowed the young Armenians to sell their T-shirts.
The Armenian community which numbers close to 100,000 -- half of Glendale’s population -- and a big portion of Americana’s shoppers, needs to know in a definitive way what is causing Americana executives to repeatedly take positions against publicizing the Armenian Genocide. Being smart businessmen, they must realize that it is counter-productive to antagonize the majority of their customers by taking offensive positions on the Armenian Genocide.
In recent weeks, Americana executives once again took a hostile position by refusing to provide advertising space on their billboard for an Armenian Genocide documentary, “Architects of Denial,” produced by Hollywood celebrities Dean Cain and Montel Williams.
This time again, Americana officials came up with a nonsensical and offensive reason for rejecting the paid ad. Americana’s outdoor media agency, Outfront Media, told the documentary producers that Americana executives feel, without having seen the documentary, it is "too political.” This is outrageous! A documentary on the Armenian Genocide cannot be labelled as “too political.” This is a human rights issue which has nothing to do with politics!
When I learned that Julie Jauregui, Americana's General Manager, was the one who used the term “too political" in rejecting the ad, I called her asking for an explanation. In response, I received an e-mail from Emily Davis, responsible for Americana’s Public Relations and Communications, stating: "We have strict standards for our advertisements and we carefully review all content. This did not comply with the advertising guidelines for our portfolio properties throughout Southern California.”
This carefully crafted statement is completely meaningless! Thus, I wrote back to Emily Davis, wondering how could the advertising for this documentary “not comply” with Americana’s “strict standards for advertisements,” when in fact, Americana's executives had neither seen the documentary nor the text of the billboard ad before rejecting it. The only information Americana officials knew was that this ad was for an Armenian Genocide documentary. I asked Davis if she implied that the topic of the Armenian Genocide itself violates Americana’s “strict standards for advertisement." After mulling over her reply for three days and consulting her senior colleagues, Davis responded that they are sticking to their previous answer!
Reaching a dead-end with Americana, I had no choice but to take the matter to the Glendale City Council last week, where four of the five Council members are Armenians. This fact alone, well-known to Americana executives, was another serious miscalculation by them, since they are legally obligated to adhere to scores of agreements they have signed with the City in return for generous subsidies and lavishly advantageous lease considerations. Any deviation from these legal obligations could force the City to take decisive action against Americana to enforce the signed agreements.
In my public remarks to the City Council, I urged the City to arrange a meeting with Americana executives and local Armenian community leaders to resolve this issue. Otherwise, the community would have no choice but to resort to protests and boycotts. Joining me in addressing the City Council was Margarita Baghdasaryan, Community Outreach Director, the Armenian National Committee of America, Glendale Chapter.
The City Council members were naturally sympathetic to our presentations and promised to intervene by arranging a meeting with Americana executives. The purpose of the meeting is not only to straighten out this latest wrong-headed decision, but get to the bottom of what is behind the repeated rejections of Armenian Genocide materials by Americana officials. We need to settle this issue once and for all! We cannot continue to deal with genocide-related objections raised by Americana periodically. We need to know what is the root cause of this repeated insensitive and insulting behavior of Americana officials. If they continue to take a hostile position on the Armenian Genocide issue, maybe hitting them in the pocket book through protests and boycotts, as well as City Council enforcement, would bring Americana executives to their senses!