Sassounian: Americana Shopping Center Bans Sale of Genocide T-Shirts

Three young Armenian entrepreneurs rented a cart last month at the Americana—a large shopping-restaurant-theater complex in Glendale—to sell T-shirts, hats, and other clothing items advertised on their shop1915.com website.

After Americana’s leasing staff approved their merchandise, Tina Chuldzhyan, Alex Kodagolian, and Armin Hariri (a rapper known as “R-Mean”) began selling their merchandise.

On Feb. 12, the opening day of their business, the three Armenians were unexpectedly told by Americana’s management to keep their cart family-friendly and remove all pictures of protests. Even though there were no pictures of any protests on the cart—just posters of people wearing the T-shirts on sale—Chuldzhyan told the California Courier that she immediately took down the posters to avoid any conflict with Americana.

On Feb. 25, Americana issued an ultimatum telling Chuldzhyan and her two partners that within 24 hours they had to change the kind of merchandise they were selling, claiming that there had been public complaints about the “genocide” clothing. Otherwise, they would have three days to vacate the premises.

Fearing they were on the verge of eviction, the three entrepreneurs agreed not to display the Armenian T-shirts, and sell them only if requested by a customer. Later that afternoon, an Americana official reiterated that all clothing items with the “genocide” theme had to be completely removed from the cart.

This was a clear interference in the three Armenians’ business. Americana had no right to ban the sale of “genocide” T-shirts—a violation of the owners’ freedom of expression. Furthermore, the T-shirts I saw while visiting the cart last week did not carry the word genocide, but had the following inscription: “WE ARE STILL HERE – 2015.” There were other T-shirts for sale displaying just the letter “P” for Pentagon Records, the name of the Armenian entrepreneurs’ company.

It is not certain if anyone had actually complained to Americana’s management about the Armenian T-shirts. No one had ever said anything critical to the owners of the business. Moreover, even if someone had complained, does it follow that Armenian clothing, with or without the word “genocide,” should not be sold at Americana? This is a slippery slope! Should anyone complain about Holocaust and genocide books being sold by the Barnes & Noble bookstore at Americana, would the shopping center’s management ban the sale of such books? How about the movie theaters at Americana showing films that may be offensive to some shoppers?

Realizing that Americana was violating her civil rights, Chuldzhyan consulted an attorney to see what legal steps she could take to defend her business interests. She informed the lawyer that her contract with Americana did not prohibit the sale of genocide-themed clothing. The contract simply restricted the sale of pornographic material, drug paraphernalia, and second-hand merchandise. The attorney told Chuldzhyan that even though Americana’s actions were clearly illegal, she had no choice but to comply, since she was up against a major corporation with a powerful legal team.

While disappointed that she was unable to defend her legal rights, Chuldzhyan decided to follow her attorney’s advice, and reluctantly complied with Americana’s illegal and draconian orders, not to lose her fledgling business. “I felt as if I was back in the prohibition days, selling bootlegged merchandise,” Chuldzhyan told the California Courier.

Last week, Chuldzhyan continued to receive warnings from Americana not to display any genocide-related clothing, even after she had taken down all other Armenian T-shirts, except the one that said, “WE ARE STILL HERE – 2015.”

This controversy goes far beyond the personal interests of three young Armenians. Americana’s actions affect the civil rights of all tenants and the entire Armenian community, particularly on the eve of the Armenian Genocide Centennial. Glendale Armenians and city officials, who had granted Americana generous tax exemptions, should immediately intervene in this matter, by defending the rights of these three small business owners.

Americana is owned by Rick Caruso, who has enjoyed friendly relations with Glendale’s large Armenian community. Hopefully, Caruso will take the necessary corrective steps when he learns about his staff’s inappropriate and illegal actions.

No one from Americana’s office responded to my phone call, after I left a message requesting an explanation for the ban on the sale of Armenian clothing.

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of the seven largest Armenian-American organizations. He has been decorated by the president and prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

20 Comments

  1. “I felt as if I was back in the prohibition days, selling bootlegged merchandise,” Chuldzhyan told the California Courier.
    She should feel like the “gavoor” that every Armenian was claimed to be in Turkey, 100 years ago. She does have options, and I’d use them. Somewhere some law firm in that area should step up, PRO BONO, to defend this enterprise against the big money of Americana. An alternative IS to protest, out on the streets, and get the considerable Armenian community of Glendale to avoid the shopping center. Since money is the only thing they’ll understand, biting into their coffers and that of the tenants there, maybe they’ll make their point. Good luck to them.

  2. I believe the Armenian community leaders should protest strongly against this senseless decision and a demonstration should be organized in front of Americana

    • I’m with you, kuyrik jan.
      This is UNbelievable. Let’s organize one they’ll never forget.

  3. Retaliate by banning Americana and let them know it.
    Don’t buy anything there for a week and you will see how fast things change!

    • Խնդրում եմ ջնջեք ձեր գրածը. Ձեր գրածից հայտնի է որ պարոն Սասունյանի գրածը մինջև վերջ չէք կարդացել.

  4. We need to do something about this. Who can we write to? Protest in front of? West coast Armenians, let all of us know how we can help!

  5. It is time for all Armenians to unite and fight this matter. What are the Armenians of Glendale doing? The Armenians at the Glendale City Hall? Where is Mark Giragos? Let him put his weight and fight for his people. All Armenians unite, boycott Americana. We can bring them to their knees if we are united. This is not the last of it, it is just starting.

  6. Somebody contact Mr. Geragos.
    “Hopefully, Rick Caruso will take the necessary corrective steps when …” WHAT?
    So they’ll sit and wait …? When are you gonna learn your lessons?
    I doubt Armenians ever will.

  7. It’s time to set up shop across from the mall if possible. Shoppers should wear shirts in the mall. There should be ads in local papers calling for a boycott and explaining why. Create publicity

    Any chance American CivilLiberties Union might be interested

  8. Americana, a GENOCIDE denier? And of all places in Glendale? This calls for a very strong response by at least 50% of the population in Glendale. This is happening on the 100 th anniversary of the Genocide?React!!!!!!!!

  9. I will start making calls tomorrow….I will demand to know what is going on..Anyone who lives in the County where the Americana is, just go to the Assers office, whoever owns it will have their name..Its public record and it is our right to see the cowards..Amout Kezi

  10. The shopping Mall management did the right thing of course. They should have sold Kebab instead of Genocide T shirt

  11. It does not sound as if the kiosk agreement prevents sale of these items. While the LL can threaten whatever they want w near impunity, it is not likely they can sue the kiosk lessees and if they do they run the risk of being faced with an anti SLAPP motion. The probable power LL has is to terminate the lease.

  12. It’s indeed utterly revolting how this American shopping-restaurant-theater complex (by the name of Americana) has abused the civil rights of those three Armenian entrepreneurs by suppressing the selling of all clothing items that contain any kind of message pertaining to the Armenian Genocide. Once again, this comes to show that America continues to be a country that does not adhere to freedom of speech, nor expression. It also seems quite evident by now that one of those scum Turkish anti-Armenian organizations happened to pay off those Americana officials in suppressing the sale of any clothing items pertaining to the Armenian Genocide. After all, every year around this time, those denialist Turkish anti-Armenian organizations get very busy in distributing huge sums of money to numerous prostitutes within the U.S. government, as well as distributing huge sums of money to those rogue American business corporations to oppose any kind of action or activities relating to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

    As Mr. Sassounian eloquently pointed out, these flagrant civil rights abuses by the Americana not only affect those three Armenian entrepreneurs, but they also equally affect the whole entire Armenian-American community as well. Hopefully, all Armenians will boycott the services and products of Glendale’s Americana shopping-restaurant-theater complex until the period of time that its management corrects those anti-Armenian civil rights violations. In the meanwhile, a good idea would be to walk around leisurely at the Americana while wearing white t-shirts which (in your own handwriting) say “Hey Americana, you can’t stop me from wearing an Armenian Genocide t-shirt.”

    I would also like to encourage the rapper, R-Mean, to create a new song depicting the civil rights abuse that the Americana committed against him and his two fellow Armenian entrepreneurs by prohibiting them from selling clothing items related to the Armenian Genocide.

  13. It’s not far fetched to believe that the behavior of Americana is akin to the seeds of exclusion and
    discrimination. Armenians know very well where such thinking in the past has led. I shall not shop at Americana anymore if they don’t reverse their foolish policy immediately. Disgusting.

  14. The entrepreneurs constitutional rights have been challenged,and they are entitled to know their accusers(s).

    Are there no Armenian pro bono lawyers to take on this case and possibly bring it to national attention?

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