Sunday, November 29, 2009

Does Armenian food go better with Pepsi?

Check out the home page of The American Turkish Society and you can't help being drawn to the instantly familiar Coca-Cola logo trumpeting the group's Annual Gala Dinner on May 28.

(Of course, the date is also Armenian Independence Day -- but let's assume that's mere coincidence.)

The soft drink giant's promotion of the event -- and the organization -- is no surprise: Muhtar Kent, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the The Coca-Cola Company, is a member of the American Turkish Society's board of directors and one of this year's major honorees.

Not familiar with the American Turkish Society? It bills itself as "America’s oldest not-for-profit organization seeking to enhance economic, political, and cultural ties between Turkey and the United States."

In doing so, the group honors prominent Turkish-Americans like Mr. Kent, promotes Turkish business in the U.S. and encourages American companies and executives who do business in Turkey. Among the honorees in recent years, for example, was William Clay Ford of the Ford Motor Company, which has been a partner in a Turkish assembly operation since the 1960s.

This all seems harmless enough. However, the American Turkish Society also has opposed American recognition of The Armenian Genocide on grounds that it would harm U.S.-Turkish relations. The group's position echoes the insulting talking points of the Turkish government, referring to the "deeply painful period in history for both Turks and Armenians."

Mr. Kent is, by all accounts, a very impressive man whose business achievements are worthy of note. According to his company bio, he holds a bachelor of science degree in economics from Hull University, England, and a master of science degree in administrative sciences from London City University.

He joined Coke in 1978 and has risen through a variety of jobs since, including General Manager of Coca-Cola Turkey and Central Asia. He became chairman of the board of directors earlier this year.

I haven't done an exhaustive study, but a quick search of news archives turned up nothing controversial regarding Armenians in Mr. Kent's public statements. But to me, Coca-Cola's support for an organization that promotes Genocide denial speaks volumes.

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