By Jason KUROSU
Glendale City Commissioner Zareh Sinanyan’s campaign for a Glendale City Council seat has encountered an unwelcome obstacle in the form of accusations that have resulted in politicians withdrawing their support for him and questions regarding the upcoming April 2 election.
Anonymous emails associated Sinanyan with numerous postings on YouTube, most of which date anywhere from three to five years ago, posted under an account named “Zareh Sinanyan.” The postings originate from the comments sections of various YouTube videos and are particularly aggressive and inflammatory towards several ethnic groups, often using profanity and sexually charged language.
Soon afterwards, links to the “Zareh Sinanyan” account and screenshots of the comments were disseminated around the Internet and featured on blog sites such as Tropico Station, run by Glendale resident Scott Lowe.
Lowe said he came upon the comments through an anonymous email, but in his opinion was able to verify that Sinanyan made those comments.
“When I first received the email,” said Lowe in an email, “I checked and verified that all of the comments were online from the account linked to Sinanyan’s name, that all of the time stamps were correct (since some of the posts go back five years), and I verified that all of the information in the screen captures I received was accurate and not Photoshopped – all of the comments were publicly available online at YouTube at that time, with that time stamp information, under the name Zareh Sinanyan.”
Many of the alleged comments have since been deleted, though screenshots of the comments still exist. Since the release of the comments, several political figures who previously endorsed Sinanyan, including Congressman Adam Schiff, L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian and L.A. mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti, have rescinded their support.
The Glendale City Council first addressed the comments at its March 5 meeting.
Councilmember Laura Friedman characterized the comments as “extremely disturbing, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, threatening and really beyond something that we as a city can afford to have associated with one of our commissioners.”
It was decided to discuss whether or not to remove Sinanyan from the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee (CDBG).
Sinanyan described the situation as a “smear campaign” and a “well orchestrated, well financed and long term effort” by anonymous individuals to discredit him. Sinanyan said that these anonymous sources are threatening to release more false postings under his name with the intention of ruining both his reputation and that of the ANCA (Armenian National Committee of America).
Sinanyan also said that Laura Friedman is using the allegations against him for political gain, when she moved for his removal on March 5.
“In a blatant disregard for ethical standards and city council’s own rule against using the city council meetings for election hearing purposes, Laura Friedman made the motion, for no other reason than to hurt and to remove someone she perceived to be a political rival, someone who had raised more money than she had and had as many, if not more, political endorsements than her,” said Sinanyan.
Sinanyan said the comments “do not represent who I am as a person, do not reflect my values, my ideals, my way of life. Anyone who knows me knows this to be true.”
He added, “I condemn the sentiments expressed in those statements wholeheartedly.”
However, Sinanyan also denied seeing the alleged comments.
When asked whether he wrote the comments, Sinanyan said, “Unless I see what I’m being faced with, I’m not answering that question.”
When presented with a paper copy of the comments, Sinanyan said, “This is worse than what I imagined.”
Sinanyan also repeatedly stated that the comments “don’t reflect me.”
Friedman responded, “I’m disappointed that Mr. Sinanyan, who I’m sure has seen those quotes, would not unequivocally say he did not write them. Saying they don’t represent you is very different from saying you didn’t write them.”
Several speakers from the public addressed the council, with many attesting to Sinanyan’s character and the unlikely possibility that the alleged comments came from him.
CDBG Chair Gary Cornell described Sinanyan as a “conscientious, productive member” of the CDBG who “conducted himself with the utmost professional ethics and courtesy.”
ANCA Co-Chair Leonard Manoukian said, “The political environment of Glendale is pure poison.”
“Last week, an anonymous email sparked a fire that threatens the very system that has seen hundreds of Glendale residents apply and serve as city commissioners and board members. But now these men and women can see that a single anonymous accusation can bring all their work to naught and ruin their reputation in the process.”
The council then discussed the matter amongst themselves, yet had trouble deciding what to do regarding Sinanyan, considering they did not have all the facts.
Councilmember Dave Weaver said that he could not make a clear decision without knowing definitively if Sinanyan did or didn’t post those comments.
“I hate to see anyone’s character [impugned] without definitive reasons or cause,” said Weaver.
Councilmember Ara Najarian mentioned that he was impressed with Sinanyan when he appointed Sinanyan to the CDBG in 2009 (though Sinanyan later stated that Najarian did not originally appoint him, but reappointed him after Laura Friedman removed him from his post in 2008).
However, Najarian also said, “We as a city council have an obligation to stand up wherever and whenever we see hate. I think we all agree that those words that were written are words of hate, words of racism, words of bigotry.”
Councilmember Rafi Manoukian supported Sinanyan.
“I recommend you don’t step down,” he advised Sinanyan.
Councilman Manoukian felt bringing up the comments was nothing more than character assassination.
“I think this is a political hit. I don’t know if Ms. Friedman did it personally or was coaxed into it. I don’t know her motivations because I haven’t talked to her. But it’s completely uncalled for three weeks before the election.”
The council members spoke of investigating through Google or other technical means whether or not it could be proven that Sinanyan’s profile was hacked.
Ultimately, the council decided to “table the matter” or take it off the calendar until they could establish, with clear evidence, whether or not Sinanyan definitively made the comments.