By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Americana shopping mall executives in Glendale once again reversed themselves declaring that they not only now accept to advertise the Armenian Genocide Documentary, Architects of Denial, but offered to do it for free!
In the process, Americana’s executives behaved erratically, unprofessionally, and most surprisingly, against their own business interests by behaving insensitively toward the major block of their shoppers, the large local Armenian population.
It all started two weeks ago when Americana’s General Manager Julie Jauregui refused to sell space on its billboard by calling the Armenian Genocide documentary "too political." When I contacted Americana for a proper explanation, I was told by Emily Davis, responsible for Americana’s Public Relations and Communications: "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.” When asked why the documentary did not comply with Americana’s advertising guidelines, three days later I was told by Emily Davis, Americana had no further comment!
Under pressure from the local Armenian community and the Armenian National Committee of America -- Glendale Chapter, Jackie Levy, Americana’s Executive Vice President, changed course and sent a conciliatory letter to ANCA, dangling the hope that there would be a resolution to the issue after meeting with the Glendale City Council and the documentary producers, and declining to meet with ANCA.
A few days later, Jackie Levy, sent a much harsher letter to the documentary producers stating once again that Americana declines the requested advertising because the shopping mall is for people “who can come together to enjoy themselves… that is why we have established policies prohibiting advertisements concerning political issues.” She then offered to meet with ANCA and expressed the wish to “reaffirm our longstanding support of the Armenian community….” which is a complete lie. Americana has repeatedly taken anti-Armenian positions, particularly on the Armenian Genocide issue when they banned the sale of genocide t-shirts three years ago.
Jackie Levy then proceeded to make the most offensive remark, mentioning “comments we have received ranging from the Armenian community and the Turkish Consulate.” Ms. Levy should be asked how many Turkish shoppers frequent Americana vs. 100,000 Armenians in Glendale. Furthermore, why is she allowing the Consulate of a foreign despotic regime to interfere in the decisions of Americana and the local community? By doing so, she is equating Armenians -- the victims of genocide -- with those whose ancestors had committed such heinous mass crimes!
Meanwhile the pressure started mounting on Americana by various American TV networks which broadcast the Armenian protests against the shopping mall. There were also more than 20 Armenian and non-Armenian speakers, including this writer, who addressed the Glendale City Council on August 15, expressing their outrage at Jackie Levy’s insensitive letter. At the end, all five City Council members expressed their unhappiness with Americana’s rejection of the Armenian Genocide ad and committed to follow up with the shopping mall’s executives to pressure them to change their position.
Finally, Americana executives reversed their position once again on August 17, by announcing shortly before ANCA's press conference scheduled to declare a boycott of Americana by the local Armenian community. Jackie Levy announced that Americana now agrees to display the advertisement and “at no cost to the producers.”
Ms. Levy excuses Americana's earlier negative decision as a "misunderstanding" of their position on human rights “and for that we apologize. We have always condemned violence and atrocities of any form anywhere in the world, including the Armenian Genocide that has impacted the lives of Armenians in our community.”
In response, ANCA announced that they consider Americana’s reversal an “initial positive step.” The ANCA further stated that the shopping mall “should be demonstrating its corporate citizenship” and “must seek a relationship with the community that demonstrates, in concrete terms, its understanding and care for the surrounding community and our city. In the coming weeks, we look forward to meeting with Mr. Rick Caruso [Americana’s owner] and his management team to discuss, in concrete terms, how we can forge a better relationship and bond between the community and the Americana and Caruso Affiliated that results in a genuine, constructive and meaningful long-term relationship."
Given Americana executives' contradictory statements in the last couple of weeks, the Armenian community has lost complete trust in their promises. Mr. Caruso, Americana’s owner, not only should review the shopping mall’s relationship with the local Armenian community, but also decide if several of his executives should continue working for him given their unprofessional behavior.