Starbucks Enrages U.S. Armenian Community With PR Misfire
By Carl Schreck
February 19, 2015
WASHINGTON -- An attempt by U.S. coffee giant Starbucks to appeal to Los Angeles' sizable Armenian population has backfired after its coffee shops displayed posters depicting women dressed in traditional Armenian garb under the crescent and star of the Turkish flag.
The posters were spotted this week in Los Angeles-area Starbucks locations, infuriating activists and social media users who called the image offensive in light of what Armenians refer to as the "genocide" of their people by Turkish Ottoman forces in the early 20th century.
"Why is Starbucks selling coffee using an image of women, dressed in traditional Armenian costumes, celebrating a Turkish state that systematically victimized Armenian women during the Armenian Genocide, and that still denies this crime against all humanity?" the Armenian National Committee Of America (ANCA) wrote in a February 18 post on its Facebook page.
|“||#STARBUCKS APOLOGIZES; PULLS OFFENSIVE POSTERS: In response to an online onslaught of concern regarding its posters depicting women in Armenian dance costumes with under Turkish Crescent and Stars, #Starbucks has issued an apology and is removing the offensive ads. In a statement issued to Asbarez News, and posted to the ANCA Facebook Page, #Starbucks officials noted:
“Thank you to all who raised this concern to us today. Serving as a place for the community to connect is core to our business and we strive to be locally relevant in all of our stores. We missed the mark here and we apologize for upsetting our customers and the community. We have removed this art in our Mulholland & Calabasas store in Woodland Hills and are working to make this right." Is the offensive poster in your local Starbucks? Call Starbucks Customer Service 800.792.7282 FREE to advise them - and post the location to the ANCA Facebook Page. Read the asbarez story at http://www.anca.org/starbucks
Scholars estimate that some 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman forces in what is now eastern Turkey between 1915 and 1918. Ankara has rejected the term "genocide" in connection with the killings, saying both Turks and Armenians committed atrocities during and after World War I.
Social media users claimed to have seen the poster in several Starbucks locations in Los Angeles County, which is home to 446,000 people with full or partial Armenian ancestry, according to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau data cited by California-based scholar Shushan Karapetian.
As outrage swelled online and Starbucks customer service representatives fielded angry calls, the company posted an apology on the ANCA's Facebook page on February 18, promising to remove the offending photographs.
"Serving as a place for the community to connect is core to our business and we strive to be locally relevant in all of our stores," a Starbucks representative wrote in the post. "We missed the mark here and we apologize for upsetting our customers and the community."
The representative added that the artwork would be removed from a store in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Woodland Hills and that Starbucks is "working to make this right."
It was not immediately clear exactly how many shops displayed the photograph.
A Starbucks spokesperson told RFE/RL in a February 19 email that the company is "quickly looking into this to ensure this image is not in any other Starbucks locations."
'Flood Of Concern'
ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian said the group became aware of the posters from social media users in California early in the morning on February 18 and that his group believes they were displayed in at least "two or three locations in Southern California."
"It became very clear very quickly that this was a very serious issue for the entire community, because we started getting a flood of concern," Hamparian told RFE/RL, adding that Starbucks responded "very appropriately."
The photograph, in which one of the women dressed in Armenian garb is holding a paper Starbucks cup while red balloons embossed with the Turkish star and crescent float overhead, appears to have originated with California-based designer Tim Rose.
Rose, who has worked on campaigns for Starbucks and other multinationals, including Coca-Cola and Nike, featured the photograph on his website as recently as January 28, according to a cached version of the site.
The image has since been removed from the website.
Rose did not respond to an emailed request for comment. But he posted a statement on his website apologizing for the photograph, which he said was taken for Starbucks during a 2011 festival celebrating Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
"Neither I nor the photographer knew the dancers were Armenian," Rose wrote.
He added that he removed the image from his website "once it came to my attention that this was rightfully offensive to the Armenian community."
"I am in full support of their plight and would never have knowingly supported any action that would hurt either them or cause unnecessary pain," Rose said.
Preparations are underway worldwide for this year's commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the mass killing of Armenians under Ottoman rule. The tragedy has been recognized as "genocide" by more than 20 countries, including Canada, Russia, and France.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian on February 16 recalled from parliament protocols on normalizing ties and establishing diplomatic relations with Turkey, accusing Ankara of lacking "political will" and thwarting the process with "preconditions." With reporting by RFE/RL's Armenian Service
NOTE: This article has been amended since publication to include a statement from Tim Rose.
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Police Hang Turkish Flags on Starbucks Storefronts in Adana
By Rupen Janbazian on February 24, 2015
Special for the Armenian Weekly
Adana Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Huseyin Sozlu instructed the municipality’s police to hang Turkish flags at the entrance of Starbucks locations across Adana on Feb. 22, in response to apologies issued by Starbucks and California-based designer Timothy Rose to the Armenian community. The apology came after the company featured a controversial photograph—depicting women wearing what appeared to be Armenian traditional costumes and standing under balloons carrying the Turkish crescent and star—in a marketing campaign around the Los Angeles area, which angered many local Armenians.
According to Turkey’s demokrathaber.net, at least five Starbucks locations throughout Adana were draped in Turkish flags.
Sozlu, a member of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a Turkish far-right political party informally known as the Grey Wolves, released a statement about his decision to hang the flags:
“As it happens every year, the Armenian Diaspora, which is prepared to make unsubstantiated accusations against our country and the Turkish nation, was able to remove posters that featured our flag from Starbucks locations in the Los Angeles area. They used the influence gained by the number of Armenians in the area. We do not find it right that [Starbucks]— by accepting the reaction of the Armenians—is becoming a party to this injustice,” read the statement. “ This year, on April 24, the Armenian Diaspora will attack the Turkish nation and Turkey with more force than in the past. They have started the year, which they see as the 100th anniversary of the alleged Armenian Genocide, with a campaign to remove our flag. We have responded to this attack by hanging our glorious flag from Starbucks shops in Adana. Our flag is sacred to us and will forever wave in every corner of our country.”
The posters that sparked this debacle were displayed at Starbucks locations throughout the Los Angeles area early on Feb. 19. The apparent attempt by Starbucks to appeal to the area’s large Armenian population proved to be a misstep for the coffee giant, as a wave of protests was quick to follow after images of the offensive poster sprung up on various social media outlets.
The Los Angeles-based Asbarez newspaper was the first to break the story about the mysterious posters, which prompted an outpour of anger in the community. After inquiries from Asbarez, a Starbucks spokesperson said that the chain has already begun the removal of the offensive posters and apologized for upsetting their customers. Speaking with the Armenian Weekly, Asbarez editor Ara Khachatourian explained that he contacted Starbucks headquarters in Seattle directly and that they were swift in their response.
“It was an interesting grassroots movement that played out online. People were angry,” said Khachatourian.
The Starbucks apology
Although it is unclear exactly how many shops displayed the photograph, Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian believes they were displayed in at least “two or three locations in Southern California.”
“Why is Starbucks selling coffee using an image of women, dressed in traditional Armenian costumes, celebrating a Turkish state that systematically victimized Armenian women during the Armenian Genocide, and that still denies this crime against all humanity?” the ANCA wrote in a post on its Facebook page.
Soon after, Starbucks posted an apology on the ANCA’s Facebook page, promising to remove the offending photographs. The short statement read:
“Thank you to all who raised this concern to us today. Serving as a place for the community to connect is core to our business and we strive to be locally relevant in all of our stores. We missed the mark here and we apologize for upsetting our customers and the community. We have removed this art from our Mulholland & Calabasas store in Woodland Hills and are working to make this right.”
Speaking to RFE/RL, Hamparian noted that Starbucks responded quickly and appropriately. “It became very clear very quickly that this was a very serious issue for the entire community, because we started getting a flood of concern,” said Hamparian.
The photograph originated from designer Timothy Rose, whose resume includes creative design work for Coca-Cola and Nike.
On Feb. 19, Rose posted a statement on his website apologizing for the image, which he acknowledged was “rightfully offensive to the Armenian community.” The statement read:
“To all the Armenian community, I wish to apologize for the photograph taken for Starbucks in 2011. Neither I nor the photographer knew the dancers were Armenian. We were traveling around the world shooting photojournalistic images for the brand and captured this image during a festival in 2011 for Ataturk. There was no Photoshopping or models used. Once it came to my attention that this was rightfully offensive to the Armenian community, I took the image down. I am in full support of their plight and would never have knowingly supported any action that would hurt either them or cause unnecessary pain. My deepest apologies.”