A new billboard in the North End that appears to dismiss the Armenian Genocide has sparked a controversy among members of the community, many of whom are shocked and upset by the advertisement’s message.
The billboard, located at the corner of Salem and Cross streets, shows three hands: one making a peace sign with the Turkish flag on it, surrounded by two other hands with crossed fingers bearing the Armenian and Russian flags. The slogan “Truth = Peace” runs across the top of the billboard.
The billboard is located near Armenian Heritage Park.
“It should be taken down,” said Lori Yogurtian, founder of the Armenian Students Association at Suffolk University. “It’s completely one-sided, completely perpetuating denial of something that has time and time again been proven as a fact.”
According to the United Human Rights Council, the Armenian Genocide occurred from 1915 to 1918, when two million Armenians were forced from their homes in Turkey. During that time, hundreds of thousands were massacred by Turkish militants or perished while emigrating from the country.
The advertisement states that it was “proudly paid for by the Turkic Platform, Istanbul,” and lists the URL for a website called Fact Check Armenia, which alleges events of the period did not constitute genocide, and millions of Kurds, Turks, and Arabs also lost their lives at the time.
The billboard structure itself is owned by Clear Channel Outdoor, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which oversees outdoor advertising in the city.
Fact Check Armenia did not return an e-mail seeking comment Wednesday night. Clear Channel also could not immediately be reached.
“The billboard in this photograph is not located on MassDOT property, and MassDOT does not regulate the content of outdoor advertising on private property,” said Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokeswoman for transportation department.
James Kalustian, president of the Armenian Heritage Foundation, said he is outraged by the billboard, located only blocks from the foundation’s park.
“That some company would take funds from any organization and put that billboard outside of Armenian Heritage Park, which is a somewhat solemn location, is absolutely reprehensible,” Kalustian said. “To put up something like that, without substantiating facts, is just insulting.”
On Sunday, the park will serve as the finish line for the city’s Third Annual Walk Against Genocide, which will honor victims of mass killings throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. It will also be the site of an annual April 24 ceremony on the anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, Kalustian said.
The Turkish consulate in Boston and several Turkish cultural organizations could not be reached for a comment on the billboard on Wednesday night.
Lisa Green, who lives on Commercial Street near the park, said the timing of the billboard’s appearance wasn’t an accident.
“It’s just a flat-out dog-whistle mean thing to do,” Green, 48, said. “Anyone might have walked right by it, but for the people it offends, it’s unbelievably bad. It would be like putting a Holocaust denial ad right above a Holocaust memorial.”
Somerville resident Elizabeth Weinbloom, who shared a photo of the billboard on social media, said the advertisement is harmful because most residents won’t recognize the weight of the message it carries.
“It’s very subtle in a way,” said Weinbloom, 31. “You have to already know about the genocide, and, in particular, Turkey’s denial of the genocide to know what’s happening in the billboard.”
Responses to the billboard on Twitter: