Kobe Bryant's Turkish deal ignites anger

Updated: December 16, 2010, 2:59 PM ET
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant's two-year endorsement deal with Turkish Airlines has enraged some Armenian Americans who are threatening to boycott the Los Angeles Lakers star.

Turkish Airlines says Bryant will appear next year as its "global brand ambassador" in advertisements promoting the March start of nonstop flights between Istanbul and Los Angeles.

"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," Bryant said in a statement posted on the airlines' website.

The tension, though, stems from Turkey's denial that about 1.5 million Armenian deaths from 1915-19 constituted genocide. Turkey instead describes the deaths as the result of civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

"He should reconsider his ill-advised endorsement of Turkish Airlines, and, at the very least, go on record condemning Turkey's denial of the Armenian Genocide and calling upon our Congress to pass of the Armenian Genocide Resolution," Armenian national committee of America executive director Aram Hamparian said, when reached by ESPNLosAngeles.com.

A Lakers spokesperson stated the controversy wasn't a team issue and referred further inquiries to Bryant's representatives.

There are about 700,000 Armenian Americans in California, and Armenian National Committee of America executive director Aram Hamparian tells the Times that many of them are furious over Bryant's deal with Turkey's state carrier.

Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne and The Associated Press contributed to this report.