The Kardashian factor and the G-word

A PR battle rages between Turkey and Armenians 100 years after the mass killings.

Kardashian with Kanye West and their daughter North during their visit to Yot Verk Church in Gyumri
Kardashian with Kanye West and their daughter North during their visit to Yot Verk Church in Gyumri [REUTERS]

Business Insider recently offered a selection of “13 pictures that prove Amal Clooney is a complete boss“. According to the website, George Clooney’s lawyer wife merits this distinction “whether she’s outshining her husband on the red carpet or representing Armenia in a human rights court over the Armenian genocide”.

As Sarah Carr commented on Facebook: “I’m racking my brain … trying to remember an instance where a business publication did a slideshow to tell us that a male can be both intelligent and competent and look nice. Could it be that I missed that article, or is the media [expletive phrase]”.

Clooney’s court duty on behalf of Armenia took place in January at the European Court of Human Rights, where she went up against Turkish politician Dogu Perincek, previously convicted in Switzerland for denying the Armenian “genocide”.

As the Associated Press puts it: “Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as genocide.”

Turkey recalls Vatican envoy over Pope’s ‘genocide’ comments

The Turkish narrative, on the other hand, relegates the G-word to quotation marks, insisting instead that the killing was mutual and that the Armenian casualty count has been inflated for malicious and politically motivated reasons.

At least 20 countries and 43 US states have recognised the mass killings as “genocide”, but, 100 years after the fact, the PR battle rages on – and, as is the norm in advertising, sex sells.

Pomegranates and selfies

Business Insider reports that, when asked during the genocide case “Who are you wearing?” – clearly the most pertinent of questions – Clooney wittily responded: “I’m wearing Ede & Ravenscroft”, who tailored her court robes.

The dreamy male half of the Clooney couple has also donned the genocide cape, as it were, speaking last month at an event in honour of the upcoming centennial on April 24.

And this month, Kim Kardashian and family members swooped into the Armenian capital of Yerevan to acquaint themselves with their Kardashian roots, augment their selfie arsenal, and pay tribute to the victims of the mass killings – an issue that has apparently concerned the reality TV star since at least 2011.

What is really accomplished when Kim Kardashian documents her turquoise eyeliner on Instagram and throws in the hashtag '#Armenia'?


Turkish media predictably complained about “‘genocide’ propaganda” and accused the Armenian lobby in the US of making Kardashian into a “‘genocide’ ambassador”.

E! Online took a much more enthusiastic approach, and used the celebrities’ descent upon Armenia to promote “10 Fascinating Facts to Know About the Country’s Culture and History.”

From this list of factoids, we learn that Armenians like pomegranates, that they discovered wine, that they were “among the first to invent” yogurt and coffee, and that 1.5 million of them were murdered in a “historical event” denied by Turkey.

The Instagram strategy

A smattering of Turkish scholars and writers have broken the “genocide” taboo and sought to broaden the discourse in Turkey. Journalist Hasan Cemal, the grandson of one of the organisers of the mass killings, even managed in 2012 to publish a book called 1915: The Armenian Genocide – sans quotation marks.

But in today’s world, it seems, many find it more expedient to rely on social media and celebrities to make the case for recognising the mass killings of Armenians as genocide. Lists of short and “fascinating facts” are of course also useful, being a preferred form of “news” intake for the distracted modern mind.

Which brings us to the question: What is really accomplished when Kim Kardashian documents her turquoise eyeliner on Instagram and throws in the hashtag “#Armenia”?

The Armenian government, for one, expressed its euphoria over the Kardashians’ attention-generating efforts in the run-up to the centennial. But thanks weren’t the only thing the attention-getters received.

After what Kim described as “an emotional day at the genocide museum” – the photo of which has garnered almost one million Instagram likes – she and her sister Khloe and their families were presented with a certificate for a “homestead” in Yerevan’s new gated community of Vahakni.

Never mind that there are surely better ways to commemorate folks who lost their lives and land than by donating property to a group of rich people. One gets the idea that some parties may be more interested in using the Kardashian brand as an international capital magnet.

Amal Clooney is representing Armenia in a human rights court [GC]
Amal Clooney is representing Armenia in a human rights court [GC]

Meanwhile, the photo of the certificate on Khloe’s Facebook page has attracted the usual enlightened commentary from the social media crowd, much of it focused on why the document includes Khloe’s estranged husband’s last name.

Rather than bring attention to historical events, what the whole spectacle does is bring attention to the fact that things are worse than we thought – we aren’t merely teetering on the edge of inanity, we’ve replaced civilisation with it.

Some might ask: So what if we require glamorous elite guidance to care about the world and its inhabitants? The ends justify the means.

But if the means entail converting every aspect of existence into a commodity, PR effort, and marketing scheme, perhaps we’re better off not knowing how it all ends.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.