Last week, I wrote a column about Ronn Torossian, the president of 5W Public Relations firm in New York City, who had signed a contract for $60,000 to do PR work for the Republic of Turkey in the United States.
I wrote that I did not know whether Torossian was an ethnic Armenian or simply had an Armenian last name, since some Jews and Iranians also have Armenian last names. Before writing the previous column, I had attempted to contact him and had left two voice mail messages at his office, but he did not return my phone calls.
After writing that column, I received several emails and phone calls from Mr. Torossian. However, he requested that our phone conversations be off the record. I also received many emails and phone calls from Armenians around the world who knew the Torossian family.
I also noticed that several readers had posted comments under my column in various websites, insisting that Torossian was not an Armenian, but simply Jewish or Iranian who carried an Armenian last name. Those commenters were basing their presumptions on the fact that all of the articles about Mr. Torossian online referred to him as being Jewish and mentioned his extensive record of activism and involvement in Jewish causes and organizations.
However, I was informed by a Canadian Armenian—a former resident of Jerusalem—that he grew up in that city with Ronn’s father, Harout Torossian, who now lives in New York City. Ronn’s grandfather was Voskan Torossian, and his grandmother was Mariam.
Voskan and his family lived in the convent of Jerusalem’s Armenian Patriarchate. Voskan worked as a handyman at the Patriarchate. Ronn’s father attended Saints Tarkmanchats Armenian School in the convent. Both Ronn’s father and grandfather were members of Homenetmen (Armenian General Athletic Union and Scouts). Voskan, the grandfather, was also a devoted member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF).
Since Ronn’s father was married to a Jewish woman, Ronn is considered by the Jewish community to be Jewish. He was raised as a Jew and considers himself to be Jewish and not Armenian. From Ronn’s family friends and his father’s former classmates I have learned a lot more about his relatives and their personal lives, but to protect Ronn’s privacy I decided not to divulge any more details. I only mentioned his father and grandparents to prove that he is partly of Armenian heritage, and not Iranian or fully Jewish.
Interestingly, in one of the emails Ronn sent me after my first article, he stated: “I am Jewish. I am American born and raised in a Jewish home, and proudly educate my children in Jewish day schools. I do not and never have considered myself to be Armenian. You are conducting a comical, ridiculous, and destructive ugly litmus test.” He asked that the rest of his email be considered off the record.
I answered Torossian in an email: “Thank you for finally contacting me. I wish you had responded to the two phone messages I left for you in the past month. I respect that you feel Jewish. That is your choice and decision. However, being Jewish does not exonerate you from the unacceptability of doing PR for a country that denies genocide…. Being of both Jewish and Armenian ethnic ancestry makes you a descendant of survivors of both the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide, which places the double burden on you to be especially sensitive to genocide deniers. Just because you are making money spinning for genocide deniers does not justify your professional activities. As I pointed out in my column, you yourself have criticized those who do PR for dictators. Yet you are paid to do PR for the dictator Erdogan. If you don’t consider Erdogan to be a dictator, then you are one of the few individuals in the world who thinks so!”
Torossian replied to my email: “Criticize me all you wish. Please don’t raise my family or your perceptions of my ethnicity. I have never considered myself Armenian all my life.”
I must inform Ronn Torossian that over the years, I have written dozens of columns criticizing all those who have been hired by the Turkish government for the purposes of lobbying or public relations, regardless of their nationality. It is unacceptable to represent Turkey for money, a country that is run by a dictator, violates the human rights of its citizens, and denies the Armenian Genocide.
Ironically, back in June 2010, before Torossian signed a PR contract with Turkey, he had organized an anti-Turkish protest in Manhattan after the Israeli military attacked a Turkish humanitarian flotilla. Torossian was quoted as stating: “What these so called peace activists on the Turkish vessel pulled off was nothing short of a cleverly devised anti-Semitic lynching.”