Defamed Armenian Americans in Wake of Boston Bombings Must Seek Full Remedy

On April 30, several days after blatantly and massively defaming Armenian Americans and causing monumental damages, Mr. Ruslan Tsarni, uncle of the suspected April 15 Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, reportedly contacted the Armenian Mirror-Spectator to issue an apology to the Armenian community for “his recent statements referencing Armenians in his discussions of the Boston bombings. ‘Armenia has a very strong culture, therefore, I want to stress that his [an Armenian convert to Islam (Misha’s)] ethnicity has nothing to do with it,’ Tsarni said. ‘I wish I had never said it. … I felt for you [Armenians] and wish I had never done it,’”

Anti-Armenian accusations by Uncle Tsarni were heralded from the ‘rooftops’ of major U.S. media organizations but his apologies were whispered into Armenian American ears.

If Mr. Tsarni is genuinely sorry for his defamatory actions against Armenian Americans, he should remedy his initial defamatory anti-Armenian media blitz that reached hundreds of millions of viewers and readers worldwide with a new media campaign acknowledging his grave mistake, and repeat his apology via the same mainstream media outlets.

On April 20, addressing several major media outlets regarding the April 15 Boston bombings, Mr. Tsarni had falsely claimed: “This person just took his (Tamerlan’s) brain. He just brainwashed him completely. … There is a person, some new convert into Islam of Armenian descent.”

Ironically Mr. Tsarni chose peculiar timing – just few days before April 24, to character assassinate an entire community. April 24 is the day of each year when millions of Armenians worldwide mourn the death of one and one half million compatriots at the hands of Turkey carried out during the 1915-1923 Turkish Genocide of Christian Armenians.

Mr. Tsarni’s false anti-Armenian accusations via major U.S. media outlets went viral to the detriment of innocent Armenians who were being subjected to media-led attack on Armenian image and identity. It remains to be seen which media outlets will come clean by correcting own grave errors.

Certain U.S. media outlets chose to amplify Mr. Tsarni’s false accusations unfairly singling out the ethnicity of an “Armenian Misha,” when in fact Misha turned out to born in Baku, Azerbaijan coming from half-Armenian and half-Ukrainian ethnic background. Misha’s complete name was reported to be Mikhail Allakhverdov — a 39-year-old man.

Upon confirmation, mentioning the nationality of a suspect in a news report is fair. But to single out the ethnicity of one suspect and not all the suspects is an act of discrimination. The ethnicity of all suspects should be either declared or withheld.

As of press time Thursday May 2, a Google search with the words ‘”Boston bombers” Armenian’ turned out about 144,000 results. Based on basic conversion formula each result is either a webpage of text, blogs, or videos associating the word “Armenian” with the Boston bombings can reach approximately 800-1000 internet users. So the total audience reached via internet can be estimated anywhere from 115 to 144 million. This is Google alone.

The combined TV audience size reached by CNN, Fox, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC and a host of other TV outlets with national and international viewership; and print media such as Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post can be estimated to have surpassed additional tens of millions. Undoubtedly the damage suffered by Armenians is gigantic.

Obviously Mr. Tsarni had a field day by abusing the ‘opportunity’ given to him by mainstream U.S. media to tarnish the entire Armenian American community that is totally unrelated with the case.

In response to Uncle Ruslan’s false claims, the very first public reaction on a large-scale came on April 22 from Harut Sassounian, Publisher of The California Courier who condemned Mr. Tsarni’s false accusation linking “Armenian to Boston bombings.”

He publicly condemned those reaching speculative conclusions: “Instead of jumping to unwarranted conclusions and making generalizations about Chechens, Muslims, and the Tsarnaev family, some probing questions are in order.”

He added: “Tsarni, the talkative uncle of the Tsarnaev brothers, who made controversial and contradictory comments disseminated worldwide … has had direct ties to western energy companies involved in the Caspian region. He has worked for Big Sky Energy, Golden Eagle Partners, and Nelson Resources Ltd., all three with direct investments in Caspian Sea energy projects. Could Tsarni’s ties to these energy companies explain his accusation against an Armenian?”

He went on to ask several key questions. Then he concluded: “Why hasn’t a single Armenian organization or official complained to the news media about their dissemination of Tsarni’s baseless and libelous statements, accusing an Armenian for radicalizing Tamerlan? … It is high time that Armenians form an anti-defamation organization that would vigorously pursue all those who libel and defame them around the world.”

The second public reaction via mass media came on Apr 25, when prominent Armenian-American attorney Mark Geragos went on CNN setting that and other media outlets straight on Boston marathon bomber coverage alleging an Armenian connection. Geragos blasted Mr. Tsarni on CNN, suggesting that “somebody needs to give this uncle a field sobriety test, because I think this guy is under the influence of something,” expressing his furor over Tsarni’s linking the Boston bombers to an ‘Armenian Misha.’

An official one-paragraph response came from ANCA on April 24. The statement was circulated mainly via social media such as Facebook saying “Any reading of the basic standards of journalistic integrity would require that media outlets produce actual substantiated evidence of an Armenian connection before continuing to run unproven allegations. If such a person does, in fact, exist, journalists and their editors should focus on getting the facts, not simply re-circulating accusations without disclaimers regarding their credibility, relevant cultural and religious context, or any scrutiny of the possible motives of the accusers.”

To their credit, hundreds of Armenian and non-Armenian bloggers countered Tsarni’s false claims.

On April 25, Edmond Y. Azadian of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator wrote: “It seems that in this tense moment the Turkish and Azeri disinformation services have played their dirty roles to deflect the attention from the main case and float the Armenian name in the media, knowing full well that once the damage is done to the Armenian image, a million retractions and apologies cannot undo that damage. … It is beyond comprehension how the Armenian name was injected into this conversation about Chechen alleged terrorists. … The repeated emphasis, seemingly without any reason, that the man who essentially lit the fuses of the two impressionable Chechen men was Russian, without his name being revealed, seems to indicate a tall tale, rather than express the true starting point of this cancer.”

In a May 2 follow-up article titled “Moles, Informants and Double Agents In Boston Marathon Bombings,” Sassounian wrote: “The next suspicious character is Uncle Ruslan who has accused ‘Misha the Armenian’ of having a powerful influence over Tamerlan. Ruslan himself has had a checkered past, having worked for USAID and several Caspian Sea energy companies, while married to Samantha Ankara Fuller, daughter of Graham Fuller, a retired top CIA official. Because of Ruslan’s close relationship to the bombers’ family, his employment with Central Asian oil companies including Halliburton, and marriage to the daughter of a high-ranking CIA official, some analysts have suggested that the enigmatic uncle warrants a closer look.”

Armenian Americans should weigh their legal options and must seek full remedy for their defamed image to restore their reputation as a peaceful and productive community.

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