Starbucks’ Armenian Faux Pas

Amidst an angry backlash from Armenian-Americans, Starbucks has removed from cafés around Los Angeles artwork depicting women in Armenian national dress under Turkish flags.

The coffee chain was apparently attempting to cater to LA’s large ethnic Armenian community , but anyone with a smattering of an understanding of Armenian-Turkish relations — or of Google searches — could see how displaying such a poster could go awfully wrong; especially ahead of the centennial commemoration of the slaughter of over a million ethnic Armenians in Turkey.

With the centennial planned for April 24, the century-old dispute about whether or not the killings amounted to genocide has reached a fever-pitch. Armenia already has withdrawn from a largely defunct reconciliation plan with Turkey.  

The Armenian  National Committee for America, a Diaspora group, launched a social-media campaign at #boycottstarbucks deeming the art “Tasteless!” and calling for the coffee-colossus to remove the photos and apologize.

The outpouring has prompted the company to issue an apology. In what appears to have become the company’s standard response to press-queries, a Starbucks spokesperson wrote to EurasiaNet.org that  “We missed the mark here and we apologize for upsetting our customers and the community.”

The spokesperson stated that the artwork has been removed from “our Mulholland & Calabasas store in Woodland Hills” and that the company is “working to make this right" and "to ensure this image is not in any other Starbucks locations."

Similar statements appear to have been sent to RFE/RL and the Armenian-American publication Asbarez.com, according to their reports.

With the centennial approaching, though, more controversy is like to come. Although, this time, from a comic-book publisher. 

Devil’s Due, a North American comic-book publisher that says it "embraces new, even risky concepts," announced a graphic-novel project for April dedicated to the World-War-I-era Armenian tragedy. The plot is based on real events; namely, the 1921 assassination of controversial Turkish leader Talaat Pasha by an Armenian revolutionary, Soghomon Tehlirian.

The project appears to be linked to an upcoming book of the same name (Operation Nemesis) by writer/actor Eric Bogosian (Law & Order) about the assassination. Bogosian's son, Harry, is listed among the graphic novel's credits.

Other plans for commemoration of the centennial include a  pan-Armenian flash-mob, slotted for April. The project calls on Armenians to film themselves, lit candle in hand, inviting other ethnic Armenians to travel to Armenia in April to light a candle together in memory of the events of 1915.

-Updated on February 21, 2015

Starbucks’ Armenian Faux Pas

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