Feb 092015
 
 February 9, 2015  Add comments
Final Design of "Cradle of Civilization" (© www.aarfa.org)

Final Design of “Cradle of Civilization” (© www.aarfa.org)

KTLA announcer Micah Ohlman let all hell break loose when he described Armenians as ‘often nomadic people’ during the live broadcast of the Rose Parade, on January 1, 2015, watched by tens of millions of people around the world. The erroneous choice of words stained even the Armenians’ excitement at the news that the first ever Armenian rose float received the 2015 President’s Trophy of the Tournament of Roses. Praised for ‘most effective floral use and presentation,’ the brainchild of the American Armenian Rose Float Association (AARFA), ironically, was titled “The Cradle of Civilization.”

Of all TV stations, surprisingly, only KTLA voiced the expression ‘often nomadic people’ that amounts to an oxymoron in combination with the phrase ‘the cradle of civilization.’ Here is the context of the phrase: “And you see the letter ‘E’ carved on the arch that honors God as the stable force for this often nomadic people.”

Thousands of angry Facebook posts and comments were posted; a very large number of emails were sent to KTLA TV; a Facebook group KTLA-TV: Armenians Are Not Nomads was launched; and articles were written in Armenian online and printed media. It was an avalanche of criticism, condemnation, and evidence that Armenians are not nomads. Some people even took to weaving Judeo-Masonic or Turkish conspiracy theories behind the phrase. It was argued that the intent behind the inaccurate description was to render Armenian claims to their homeland lost to Turkey as a result of the first genocide of the 20th Century groundless by way of portraying the Armenians as a nomadic people.

“Well, it generated the most emails that we got,” said Joe Quasarano, Executive Producer at KTLA TV, whom I had contacted to find out who the author of the phrase was. In freelancer’s capacity, Joe Quasarano wrote the scripts for the equestrian units, Jennie O’Hagan wrote the scripts for floral-decorated floats, and together they worked on the scripts about the marching bands for KTLA TV’s live broadcast of the 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade.

Per Quasarano, thus, Jennie O’Hagan is the person who wrote the script about the Armenian float and simply imported the phrase ‘often nomadic people’ into her script. When contacted over the phone, O’Hagan declined to comment on the issue and simply suggested that I direct all my questions to Joe Quasarano or John Moczulski, KTLA’s Vice President and Station Manager. O’Hagan, however, contradicted Quasarano, insisting that she was not the only one working on the float scripts. “I’m one of the people that does it […] together with others,” she said.

I had already contacted both Quasarano and Moczulski, with whom I initially got in touch on January 12, 2015. He promised to look into the matter and made an initial offer to retract the statement during the next Rose Parade in 2016, as this is the only time that KTLA can reach the same audience that heard the phrase this year. After doing his research, Moczulski assured me that the phrase ‘often nomadic people’ originated in the text provided by the Tournament of Roses website. I asked him to at least have KTLA issue an official announcement about that fact.

After almost a month of discussions, Moczulski was sorry to report the following: “I talked to our legal people, and they don’t feel comfortable with me or anybody else speaking for the station, because we don’t know if the station has anything to explain between what the station’s point was… we broadcast what we were given and what the… whatever the tournament is saying.”

Quasarano was certain that the controversial verbiage – ‘often nomadic people’ – was neither O’Hagan’s personal input nor was it KTLA announcer Ohlman’s ad lib. In contrast, the part about former Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian’s appointment as Santa Barbara County Undersheriff was Stephanie Edwards’ personal ad lib, according to Quasarano.

‘Often nomadic people,’ according to Quasarano, was imported from the text provided by Tournament of Roses website. The Tournament of Roses has a dedicated website for the registered participants to submit full information about their float, equestrian unit or marching band, including a detailed description of all the symbols they sport. These materials serve as sources for writers like Quasarano and O’Hagan to compose scripts for TV announcers.

“We do not have any purview into that at all. And we do not direct that at all,” Heidi Hoff, Senior Director of Marketing & Communications at Tournament of Roses. According to her, Tournament Roses only serves as a medium between the participants who submit their texts to their website and writers’ who access it for reference.

So, was it AARFA’s fault? Six days after the scandal, AARFA finally published an official statement on their Facebook page, condemning the use of the phrase and, effectively, denying their fault:

Dear Compatriots,

AARFA Board is aware of the issue related to the expression of “…often Nomadic People…” which was broadcasted on KTLA TV on New Year’s Day.

We collectively condemn this expression.

Rest assured we have contacted the proper entities on January 1, 2015 and we will keep you all posted with the outcome.

Thank you.

Board of Directors

American Armenian Rose Float Association, inc.

We have not been kept ‘posted with the outcome’ yet. Judging by AARFA’s text describing the float, AARFA appears to be innocent. Below is an excerpt from the final version of the AARFA’s text (see AARFA Original Script and the AARFA script as of January 2015), where ‘often nomadic people’ does not appear:

Here is the description of the items on the Float, from left to right. 1.​The letter “Է” (e’), carved on the Arch, symbolizes our magic letter, our essence and our untold secred… . 2.​A P C (A B C), are the first 3 letters of the Armenian alphabet. Our alphabet is not shared by any other nation. 3. ​The carpet symbolizes industry, started by Armenians as far back as ​the 5th century, B.C. 4.​The Tree of Life. 5. ​The Armenian National fruits are; the Apricot, the Pomegranate ​(symbol of fertility) and the Grape.

Quasarano who shared the above text with me said the words in red meant that a change was made to the text after the original posting. He also said that when O’Hagan and he accessed the original description found on the site, at around Thanksgiving in 2014, the phrase ‘often nomadic people’ was in the text. It was edited out later, but the broadcasters were unaware of the change, because they never checked back.

It is interesting that not only the phrase ‘often nomadic people’ appears to have been removed but also any reference to God, which was replaced by a phrase ‘untold secred’ [sic] that begs a spell-check.

Quasarano blamed the Tournament of Roses for failing to ensure proper notification of changes for script writers. “Our issue with them is, yeah, you did a change but we would have to go back through, in later December, go back through every one of the 98 entries to see these changes,” he said.

Hoff said that the red color remains only for up to seven days. So, if the broadcasters visited the page after that, they would have to peruse the entire text and compare with their old copy to see if any changes were made. Since the edited words were red on January 3, 2015, when Quasarano retrieved the above text, then the changes must have been made between December 28, 2014 and January 3, 2015. This means that the phrase ‘often nomadic people’ was added to the text sometime prior to Thanksgiving and removed no later than January 3, 2015. If the AARFA was indeed the author of the phrase, it is notable that the addition occurred after Khachig Shahinian, the founder of the AARFA, was illegally kicked out of the organization in mid-November by the majority of the board members whom he himself had recruited. Shahinian claims he had ideological differences with some of them.

At first, Heidi Hoff blamed the script writers for not doing their homework: “We announced this at the float participant meeting in September: a broadcaster starts to write the scripts on October 1, but really doesn’t finalize them until the weeks ahead.” But she eventually put the responsibility on ‘the participant and the builder to provide the copy that you want the broadcaster to be aware of.’

Since Hoff is in charge of the broadcaster’s website, which she described as a ‘participant’s portal,’ I asked her when exactly the phrase ‘often nomadic people’ was removed from the original text. She said she would have to go back to into their analytics and see. “I don’t want to tell you that I can’t do that,” she said. “There’s probably some research I can do on the analytics to find out.”

However, as soon as I told Hoff that I was not an AARFA member, but rather an investigative journalist, she gave me a completely different response. “I’m not gonna go back in there and see who put what in there right now. I can’t do that.” Instead she recommended that I reach out to the AARFA members to get clarification.

Some of the members of KTLA-TV: Armenians Are Not Nomads Facebook page, including the original whistleblower Norik Markosyan, representative of Armenian Renaissance – Los Angeles Chapter, Harut Bronozian, former TV host of Return to Armenia, and me, had already contacted the AARFA with unsatisfactory and sometimes even insulting outcome. For instance, after Markosyan expressed his outrage over the phrase on Facebook, Stepan Partamian, AARFA Treasurer, called him ‘Mordern Nomad.’

The AARFA members were not quick to respond to Bronozian and my emails about the origin of the controversial phrase. And whenever they did, their answers were often short, rude and evasive. Partamian eventually invited Bronozian and me to lunch, emphasizing that he would speak to us off the record, not as an AARFA representative. We had to decline the offer since we cared more about facts than casual conversations over a meal.

I offered the AARFA members to have a meeting with me and at least two other activists to discuss the issue at a restaurant. They declined it. Instead I was offered to meet with two AARFA members at a warehouse by the railway tracks along San Fernando Road, in Los Angeles, CA. Furthermore, they emphasized that I had to come alone. The offer sounded fishy. I immediately announced a press conference to be held at Conrad’s in Glendale, CA, the same restaurant, to which I had initially invited them. I extended an invitation to the AARFA members, as well, but none of them showed up.

A few hours after I posted the video of the press conference on YouTube, Partamian had the video removed, on January 11, 2015, under the pretext of copyright infringement. He claimed that I had used clips from his videos that were not on YouTube, which was an outright lie. Although I disputed his ungrounded claim, my YouTube account was subject to restrictions until February 6, 2015, when YouTube finally resolved the issue in my favor and restored both the above video and my account privileges.

After over a month-long investigation, we can only establish that there is still no hard fact of how the phrase ‘often nomadic people’ made its way to KTLA’s live broadcast. All of the KTLA representatives failed to provide the source text that contained the phrase in question. Heidi Hoff appears to be the only person to hold the key to the mystery. Judging by my conversation with her, she is more likely to cooperate with AARFA members and look into the analytics, i.e. the history of edits, to provide a definite answer. So, if the AARFA claims to have not authored the phrase ‘often nomadic people’ to describe the Armenians, then I encourage them to get the records from Heidi Hoff and publicize them.

Ara K. Manoogian is a human rights activist; a Fellow of the Washington-based Policy Forum Armenia (PFA); creator ofwww.thetruthmustbetold.com; author of the white paper “To Donate Or Not to Donate”, an in-depth study on the activities of the “Hayastan” All-Armenian Fund