By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Representatives of the Armenian National Committee of America and senior executives of Americana shopping mall in Glendale met on September 5 and agreed to put their future relationship on a better footing.
This was the first meeting in more than a dozen years between the two groups, precipitated by the refusal of Americana to provide paid advertising space on its billboard for “Architects of Denial,” an Armenian Genocide documentary. The producers of the documentary were told by Americana that the subject was “too political.” This was a puzzling and irritating response since Americana had seen neither the documentary nor the text of the display ad that was being rejected simply because it was about the Armenian Genocide.
After several attempts asking Americana officials to explain the true reason for rejecting the display ad, they became even more adamant in their refusal. The most insensitive sentence in one of their emails to the documentary producers was that Americana had received comments on this controversy “ranging from the Armenian community and the Turkish Consulate.” This highly offensive statement was equating the voices of descendants of the Armenian Genocide to that of a Turkish diplomat who represents a denialist autocratic regime whose predecessors had committed the Genocide!
To make matters worse, this was not the first time that Americana had taken a negative position on an Armenian Genocide-related issue. Three years ago, Americana officials had refused to allow three young Armenians who had leased a kiosk from Americana to sell T-shirts that carried texts related to the Armenian Genocide. After an outcry from the local Armenian community, Americana reversed its decision allowing the sale of the T-shirts. They called their initial decision “a misunderstanding.”
In a similar development last month, shortly before the Glendale Chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) had called a press conference on the public portion of Americana grounds to announce a boycott, Americana officials reversed themselves not only allowing the display ad for the documentary, but “at no cost to the producers.”
This was a positive first step. Americana’s owner, Rick Caruso, agreed to meet with the Armenian National Committee of America to discuss how to improve relations between the local community and the shopping mall.
Mr. Caruso attended the Sept. 5 meeting along with Americana’s Executive Vice President of Operations Jackie Levy, Executive Vice President of Communications Nancy Murray, Senior Vice President of Community Relations Rick Lemmo and Senior Vice President of Planning, Government and Community Relations Sharon Keyser. The Armenian delegation consisted of ANCA-Glendale Chairman Artin Manoukian, ANCA Western Region Board Member Berdj Karapetian, ANCA Western Region Advisory Board Member Harut Sassounian, former ANCA Western Region Executive Director Elen Asatryan, and ANCA Glendale Community Outreach Director Margarita Baghdasaryan.
The Sept. 5 meeting proceeded in a cordial atmosphere. Mr. Caruso agreed to take concrete steps to improve the shopping mall’s relationship with the local Armenian community. Americana promised to form a special community relations team to focus exclusively on its partnership with Armenians.
“We are pleased that Mr. Caruso has agreed to work on initiatives to improve relations with the Armenian American community and regain our trust and confidence,” stated ANCA-Glendale Chairman Manoukian.
In his turn, Jackie Levy, Americana’s Executive Vice President of Operations announced: “We value the very productive meeting with ANCA-Glendale leadership and look forward to strengthening our relationship which includes continuing to celebrate our deep appreciation for the Armenian community. Establishing this new community relations team will ensure that our partnership will continue in a very meaningful way.”
Thus, a long-standing contentious relationship between Americana and the Glendale Armenian community is in the process of being resolved amicably. Mr. Caruso, the owner of Americana, was very gracious in his remarks at the meeting and spoke very positively about Armenians. In the coming months, there will be more contacts between the two sides to come up with plans to strengthen their cooperation so that the disputes are resolved through friendly discussions rather than resorting to protests and boycotts.
More than two dozen Armenians and non-Armenians appeared at the Glendale City Council meeting to complain about Americana’s initial rejection of the display ad. To their credit, all five Glendale City Council members, led by Mayor Vartan Gharpetian, supported the community’s demands and were present during ANCA’s press conference at Americana. Also supporting the Armenian community’s wishes was California State Senator Anthony Portantino who played a major role in helping to resolve the controversy and attended the ANCA press conference.
The resolution of this controversial issue indicates the importance of community participation and activism in matters that affect Armenian Americans.