BOSTON, Mass. (A.W.)—A billboard paid for by the “Turkic Platform, Istanbul,” put up a few blocks from the Armenian Heritage Park in Boston’s North End, has been removed by Clear Channel Outdoors—the owners of the billboard structure. The billboard, which listed the address for a website called “Fact Check Armenia” and the words “Truth = Peace,” featured a hand—with the Turkish flag—making a peace sign, and two other hands with crossed fingers draped in the colors of the Armenian and Russian flags.
A spokesperson for Clear Channel Outdoor told various news outlets early on April 7 that the billboard was placed “in error” and was going to be removed. Pictures on social media later confirmed that the billboard had been removed that morning.
Similar billboards have been spotted in various spots across the Eastern United States. The Armenian Weekly contacted Clear Channel Outdoors’ corporate office asking for comment. “The ad was placed there in error and was removed today,” wrote back Jason D. King, vice president of Corporate Communications at Clear Channel Outdoors.
Public outcry about the billboard and its message encouraging Armenian Genocide denial flooded social media outlets on Wed., April 6. Several photographs of the billboard—including one by Elizabeth Weinbloom—were tweeted, as community members and the public at large were encouraged to direct their complaints to the company in charge. “@MassBillboards – You’re running a billboard denying the Armenian Genocide over Armenia Heritage Park? Shame on you,” read Weinbloom’s tweet.
The Armenian Students Associations (ASA) of the Greater Boston Area organized a phone campaign to have the billboard removed early on Thursday morning. “We were all pretty upset with the billboard and figured it had to be brought down, so we thought a phone campaign would be the most effective way,” Lori Yogurtian, a member of the Armenian Students Association at Suffolk University, told the Armenian Weekly. Yogurtian and her fellow executive members reached out to other ASAs in the Greater Boston Area and invited more than 2,000 people to take part in the campaign.
“People started calling the [Clear Channel Outdoor] offices at 8 a.m. to voice their concern with the billboard. Only a few people actually got through—most just left voice messages—but they got the message,” she said.
“What was most encouraging was the huge outpour of support by the non-Armenian community downtown,” said James Kalustian of the Armenian Heritage Park Foundation. Speaking to the Armenian Weekly, Kalustian said that the North End community and residents were very helpful in letting Clear Channel know that the billboard did not belong there. “This [Thursday] morning, when I got up, there was already a petition started by some North End residents on Change.org—by non-Armenians—demanding that the billboard be taken down,” he said.
“Clear Channel’s statement says that the billboard was put ‘in error.’ We’re not sure what that error was, but we’re certainly going to pursue it,” Kalustian said.
The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston Area released a statement condemning the billboard and its message shortly following its removal. “The JCRC of Greater Boston is appalled by the billboard recently posted in Boston’s North End that denies the existence of the Armenian Genocide. This is a disturbing affront to the Armenian community and to all decent people in Boston. As one neighborhood resident rightly says in today’s Boston’s Globe, this billboard, placed across from the Armenian Heritage Park, is ‘like putting a Holocaust denial ad right above a Holocaust memorial.’ We are pleased that Clear Channel Outdoors, owners of the billboard, has indicated that the message was put up in error and has removed it,” read the statement.
Kalustian said that the JCRC’s statement—as well as the support from other communities—has been “amazing.” “Especially with Sunday’s walk against genocide, where all the communities will be united to speak about against atrocities against mankind, it was very reassuring to see that it wasn’t just our community that was speaking out, but also many other residents and community members who were offended by not only the billboard itself, but also its proximity to the Armenian Heritage Park.”
The Third Annual Walk Against Genocide will take place in Boston on April 10 at 1:30 p.m. featuring speakers on genocides and mass killings of the 20th and 21st centuries. It will start with a gathering at the New England Holocaust Memorial followed by a walk to the Armenian Heritage Park on the Greenway for a closing program.
Araz Chiloyan, a member of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF-YOARF), said that she went to see the billboard after seeing various social media posts about it on Wednesday. “I was very disappointed to see the billboard put up by Clear Channel Outdoors at an intersection only a couple of blocks down from the [Armenian Heritage] Park,” she told the Armenian Weekly. “Luckily, community members were quick to react and shared their disgust with the company—the same company which removed billboards commemorating the Armenian Genocide, since the message on it was ‘too political,’ back in 2014,” Chiloyan said.
About one week before the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, in April 2014, Peace of Art, Inc. was notified by Clear Channel Outdoor that the Armenian Genocide commemorative billboard, at Lechmere Station in Cambridge, Mass., had to be removed. The message “Recognize the Crime of the Century, the Armenian Genocide” was considered to be of a political nature by certain groups who complained to Clear Channel. A year earlier, in April 2013, billboards with the message “Honoring the memory of 1.5 million lives lost, Armenian Genocide. Recognition and condemnation,” were paid for by Peace of Art, Inc. and displayed in the same location and without incident.
According to Fact Check Armenia’s website, the group is “dedicated to providing accurate and reliable information to the world about the events that led up to and during 1915. It provides historical data on the Armenian uprisings that gave way to the Ottoman Turks actions and counters Armenian misinformation.”
“It is alarming to see the ease with which a foreign lobbying group can post a billboard that, in addition to being deceptive, is deeply offensive to Boston’s Armenian and Russian populations,” said Armenian Weekly contributor and president of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief (SOAR) Katie Vanadzin, who was early to raise awareness about the billboard on social media on Wednesday. “The fact that it [the billboard] was approved to be posted near the Armenian Heritage Park to coincide with an annual day of mourning and remembrance makes me wonder what wouldn’t be approved by Clear Channel,” she added.