Guest Column: Let's talk about bigotry in Glendale

Ever since Councilman Zareh Sinanyan admitted to making racist comments, there has been a chorus of individuals at the ready to remind us of his transgression. The latest, Grey James, in calling Sinanyan a “confessed racist,” has implored the City Council to propagate an anti-hate proclamation. His comments need some Glendale history for context.

James says that Glendale supports hate speech and he's right, though perhaps not in the way that he thought. Armenophobia — fear or dislike of, or racism against Armenians — has been part of the lives of Armenians in this city for decades. It ranges from blatant to thinly veiled to underhanded and is generally ignored or declared a non-issue.

In politics, there was first the vilely anti-Armenian mailer sent during Councilman Frank Quintero's State Assembly run against Paul Krekorian.

Before and after that nadir, the City Council passed ordinances banning outdoor barbecues and new banquet halls, measures overwhelmingly affecting Armenian-owned businesses.

Then the Council decided to toy with the handling of absentee ballots, the most-used voting method for Armenian-Americans in the city.

Although questions about racial motivations were deflected by the council, the impression about absentee voting among non-Armenians was summed up by one prominent Glendale real estate agent who wrote in an email to supporters during a recent election cycle, “Maybe certain special interest groups, groups that win by absentee ballots, may not want you to go to the polls [.]?”

In an eerily similar message, disgraced former mayor John Drayman, during his unsuccessful 2011 reelection bid, in an ad in another newspaper, wrote, “…some are hoping that you won't vote; protect your interests; vote local.” His main non-incumbent challenger was Rafi Manoukian, an Armenian-American.

Who were Drayman and the real estate agent talking about?

No questions, no explanations, no calls for anti-hate proclamations. These seeming recurrent coincidences ascribed to nothing but happenstance, if anything at all.

And mercy upon you if you suggest that Armenophobia has been the impetus for anything that has negatively impacted the Armenian community. You are ignored, mocked, or flatly dismissed.

There is more.

Glendale has been atrocious in attracting police officers and firefighters of Armenian descent in a city where almost 50% of the population, officially, is of that group. Besides less than 10 Armenian-American firefighters and a pending lawsuit alleging racism against Armenian-American police officers, neither department has much to show.

Where is the outcry?

As for the sentiment in the community, we need not go further than racist comments that were previously plainly visible in the Glendale News-Press' comments sections on its website and Facebook page.

So I agree with James, but where has he been all these years?

Yes, Glendale has a problem with race. Although Sinanyan makes a convenient villain and scapegoat for the issues of hate, racism, and xenophobia in our city, James makes the point in his own comments: We have a confessed racist — but I would rather have one who's confessed, and apologized, than one who hasn't.

If our leaders have been unwilling to show leadership in proactively addressing overt or covert problems in our city, it is hard to expect that we might be anywhere but where we are.

Before any other incredulous citizens lambaste Sinanyan's admittedly vulgar comments, our community might be better served if we focused on the hate and racism right here under our noses.

Armenians don't deserve special treatment, but they do deserve to be treated fairly and respectfully, like any other citizen.

A proclamation may feel good but if the City Council actually wants to address the issues of race and hate within Glendale, it should stop pussyfooting, get its hands dirty, and get to work. And it might do well to start with some introspection.

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WILLIAM BAIRAMIAN is the former executive director of the ANCA-Western Region. He can be reached at wbairamian@gmail.com.

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