The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An American company is apologizing for ‘denying genocide’ in the sky above New York City

A plane skywriting is seen over the Statue of Liberty in New York. (Getty Images)

The messages that a Geico-sponsored "skytyping" company scrawled across New York City skies last week weren't exactly innocuous: "101 years of Geno-lie," "Turkey = Truth," "Gr8 ally = Turkey" and "BFF = Russia + Armenia." They were accompanied by patriotic creeds in Turkish, too.

The advertising was part of a cross-country media blitz by, a website that tries to counter the dominant — and, most say, historically accurate — narrative around the Ottoman Empire's slaughter of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 and 1916. The topic is inherently political: Turkey hotly disputes the number killed and portrays the events as part of the inevitable chaos that ensued as the Ottoman Empire unraveled during World War I. The United states and 172 other nations have not formally recognized the events as genocide — many, presumably, under pressure from Ankara.

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The Armenian diaspora in the United States, including many descendants of those who fled the mass killings, play an instrumental role in keeping the century-old events in the news.

Geico Skytypers, which normally advertises for the likes of Coca-Cola, IKEA, and other big brands, found itself in the middle of this tug of war — and it claims this happened completely unwittingly. On Monday, the company offered a meek, mealy-mouthed apology that repeatedly circled around to one point: We were really busy and didn't take the time to find out what we'd be advertising to millions of New Yorkers beforehand.

After getting deluged with calls from livid citizens, this is the heart of the apology issued:

“Were you aware of,” “Would you have,” and “Did you consider,” questions are incredibly overwhelming when they surround the quick and sudden realization that the “innocent” messages may have deeper implication than anyone could have considered. “Turkey = Truth Peace” or citing websites seemed quite innocuous, unless you’re aware of the historical and sociological undercurrent. Some of the message content should have raised flags, but in a rush and with the assurance from the hiring agency, we typed messages that should have never been promoted. There is no excuse for carelessness, especially when harm is caused, however we are guilty of ignorance, not ill intent.

The company went on to say that it is formulating an "ethical advertising policy" and has "warned other advertisers about the lessons we’ve since learned."

Vice News quoted the "flight-lead" for the company as saying that he had turned down anti-Trump, pro-Trump, anti-Clinton and pro-Clinton messages throughout this U.S. election cycle.

The International Association of Genocide Scholars, the Institute on Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem and the Institute for the Study of Genocide in New York all agree that a genocide took place, a conclusion partly based on ample witness accounts from the time. A year ago, Pope Francis termed the massacre a genocide. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fired back that the pope had "joined the conspiracy." took out full-page advertisements and banner ads in some of the United States' largest newspapers as part of its campaign in support of the Turkish position.

Read More:

Turkey’s Erdogan says history will be the judge of the ‘Armenian genocide.’ Really?

Is this genocide? What four Americans saw happening to Armenians 100 years ago