By Harut Sassounian
The California Courier
I reported last month that the Americana shopping center in Glendale had banned three Armenian vendors from selling genocide-related T-shirts from their rented carts.
Shortly after my column was posted on the internet, generating a flood of complaints against the shopping center, Americana’s management issued the following statement on its Facebook page: “We would like to apologize to our cart tenants Tina Chuldzhyan, Alex Kodagolian and Armin Hariri, for the regrettable misunderstanding regarding their cart’s merchandise. The cart tenant is more than welcome to have its product in question displayed on the cart.”
While Americana’s apology was welcome, this hastily posted note misrepresented its wrongful action by calling it a ‘misunderstanding.’ Strangely, the shopping center did not bother to contact the tenants to inform them that the ban on sale of genocide-related clothing was lifted.
Rejecting this half-hearted apology, several hundred irate Armenians held a protest at Americana for its unacceptable behavior toward the three Armenian vendors. The Glendale News-Press covered the protest and the controversy in a series of three articles following my initial column on this subject.
It is shocking that a major corporation in Glendale would behave in such a callous manner against its large Armenian customer base — close to 50% of city’s population — where two out of five City Council members including Mayor Zareh Sinanyan happen to be Armenian. Moreover, the City had accorded Americana’s owners generous financial subsidies to establish their business in Glendale.
Mayor Sinanyan had harsh words about Americana’s arrogance. He told the News-Press that he was dismayed with the “knee-jerk reaction” of Americana’s management and that the shopping center’s relationship with the Armenian community had been “tarnished.” The Mayor also expressed surprise that Americana could be “so insensitive” toward a large portion of their shoppers who are Armenians.
On March 13, the three vendors, Chuldzhyan, Hariri (rapper ‘R-Mean’) and Kodagolian, on behalf of their company, Pentagon Records, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Americana at Brand, Caruso Affiliated Holdings, and several other unnamed defendants, charging them with five different violations:
1) Constitutional and Civil Rights Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983: violation of speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution;
2) Constitutional and Civil Rights Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1985(3): engaging in discriminatory conspiracy for the purpose of depriving plaintiffs of the equal protection of law;
3) Violation of Unruh Civil Rights Act — Civil Code Sections 51& 52: denying of plaintiffs’ full and equal advantages, facilities, privileges, and services because of their Armenian ancestry; and defendants’ discriminatory, arbitrary, and unreasonable conduct, without any legitimate business interest;
4) Violation of California Business and Professions Code Section 17200: defendants have unfairly discriminated against plaintiffs and engaged in unlawful business practice;
5) Breach of Contract: Americana breached the agreement by not allowing the three vendors to sell merchandise related to Shop1915.com, which includes merchandise related to the Armenian Genocide.
The Armenian vendors asked the court to impose compensatory, general, punitive, and treble damages on Americana. Richard Foster, the plaintiffs’ attorney, stated that he had filed the lawsuit “due to the outrageous conduct of the defendants… [which] is distasteful and disrespectful not only to my clients, but also to the Armenian community at large, especially just weeks before the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.” Foster added that the “defendants are beneficiaries of considerable government subsidies and assistance, and, as such, must refrain from such discriminatory conduct.”
Only after the Armenian tenants filed the lawsuit, Americana sent a letter informing them that they are now “permitted to display for sale, and to sell the products related to the Armenian Genocide.”
The Armenian community and all Glendalians who care about protection of civil rights have to make it clear to Americana’s owners that they do not tolerate such unlawful and discriminatory behavior from a corporation that is the beneficiary of public funds and relies on an Armenian clientele for large portions of its sales revenue.
If Americana refuses to take remedial measures and fails to reassure community leaders that such misconduct will not be repeated, Glendale residents must boycott the shopping center, continue their protests, and urge the City Council to take decisive action, including the repeal of previously granted financial subsidies.