Turkish Airlines Stand by Kobe Bryant as Global Ambassador

By Dennis J. Freeman

Turkish Airlines refuse to buckle under pressure for its support for adding Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant as a global ambassador. Since the announcement came out late last year that Bryant would serve as a spokesperson for the airlines, controversy has erupted.

The Armenian community has viewed the relationship between Bryant and Turkish Airlines as a slap in the face. Some Armenians has even gone as far to say they would boycott Bryant and the Lakers. Several attempts seeking comment from the Armenian Youth Federation went unanswered.

So far, Turkish Airlines is unbowed by the controversy.

“The airline will continue to focus on bringing impeccable service, flight safety and connectivity to its customers worldwide,” an airline spokesperson said.

Lakers spokesman John Black said the team could not comment on the matter because Bryant’s two-year contract signing with Turkish Airlines as its Global Brand Ambassador has nothing to do with the organization. An email sent by news4usonline.com to Bryant’s agent Rob Pelinka, asking for comment, was not immediately returned.

The spokesperson from Turkish Airlines said the air carrier is happy to have Bryant aboard in helping to promote Turkey as a world-class travel destination.

“Turkish Airlines prides itself on being the very best in the industry,” the Turkish Airlines representative said. “Kobe Bryant, a world class athlete and globally recognizable figure, is a natural choice to represent the Turkish Airlines brand and an extension of the bilateral basketball relationship between Turkey and the United States.  Kobe will help Turkish Airlines grow its presence in the U.S., as well as help promote modern Turkey as a travel destination.”

Armenians, which has a strong presence in Southern California, see the Bryant-Turkish Airlines deal as an affront to the massacres of more than a million of their ancestors in a three window from 1915-1918. According to the History Place, a historical, fact-finding website, an estimated 1,500,000 Armenians perished in genocide killings in Turkey during that time period.

What took place during that time is still being disputed today. But what took place then between the two countries should have no bearing on Bryant promoting tourism to the country, Turkish Embassy spokesman Rauf Alp R. Denktash said in an email to news4usonline.com.

We think, to embroil Kobe Bryant in a controversy over highly contested history that is nearly 100 years old trivializes the gravity of that history and places a burden on him that he is in no way responsible to bear,” said Denktash. “He is a basketball player – a cultural figure – not an historian.  The debate over how to characterize the events of 1915 is sensitive and complex and should be left to historians, not imposed on cultural icons seeking to promote modern Turkey as a travel destination.”

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is now seen as a global icon./Photo Credit: Jon Gaede

Bryant, who was the only professional athlete courted by the air carrier, will appear in a variety of advertisement campaigns during his stint with Turkish Airlines, including promoting routes from the U.S.

Bryant, in a statement released by Turkish Airlines, expressed his excitement about partnering with the company.

“I’m so proud to be chosen as a global brand ambassador for Turkish Airlines,” Bryant said.  “They have been providing travelers with excellent service for 77 years, and I’m glad that U.S. travelers, including my fellow Angelenos, are able to experience Turkish Airlines first-hand,” said Mr. Bryant.  “Turkey is a country rich in natural beauty and thousands of years of cultural history, and I’m proud to partner with Turkish Airlines to bring that majesty to people around the world.”

Denktash said Bryant’s agreement to partner with Turkish Airlines is a reflection of a shared link between the two countries.

“Kobe Bryant’s involvement with Turkish Airlines is a natural extension of the bilateral basketball relationship between Turkey and the United States,” Denktash said. “Five Turks currently play in the N.B.A., while Allen Iverson, among other Americans, plays in Turkey. It is unfair to Kobe Bryant and insulting to the memory of those from all sides who suffered in 1915 to exploit a 21st century marketing program simply to score political points.”

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