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PART II. Chapter 2: The Comparison of the Scenario of ARARAT and dr. Ussher's Memoirs on which the film is claimed to be based

Art and Armenian Propaganda: Ararat as a Case Study

 .iÇà`="justify">A. THE SCENARIO OF “ARARAT”

The scenario of Ararat comes out to be the repetition of Atom Egoyan’s psychology that he has exposed in his other films. With Gorki, he presents a character that has problems with his ethnic past and as a result he chooses to commit suicide. Because Egoyan himself refused that he was originally Armenian until he graduated from university and he has received great reactions from the Armenians.[1]

Another character, depicted as an arts historian named Am. With this he gives reference to the Ani Ruins. The emphasis on Ani’s first husband being an ASALA militant and her son Raffi, protecting his father by saying that he was not a terrorist but a hero, are elements that are identified with the Armenians.[2]

Another subject that is trying to be identified with the Armenians is the “Noah’s Ark”[3]

Many elements such as, Mount A?r?,[4] the Van Lake,[5] the island of Akdamar, and the Armenian Church,[6] the scenes of the so-called genocide[7] has been placed in the scenario and by using flashbacks he has created a work of propaganda that can be named “Sloganist Cinema”.

In his scenario Egoyan has told a story of a film being made in a film. This is a historical film. Its subject matter is the Armenian Genocide that is being claimed to have occurred in 1915, by the Armenians.


In the scenario the weapons that are being used by the Turks are depicted as very modern and the weapons used by the Armenians old and out of date. The same allegations can be found in Ussher’s memoirs. Ussher says “But in this spring of 1915 very few men had been left in the villages. Thus it came about that in this crisis there were only about three hundred men armed with rifles, and a thousand armed with pistols and antique weapons, to defend thirty thousand Armenians.”[8] Nowever, this contradicts with the pictures that he has put in his book showing the Armenian soldiers shooting from foxholes and with the pictures showing the Armenians manufacturing ammunitions.[9]

Ms. Knapp who wrote the book with Ussher also has similar datum. She also says that there were 30,000 Armenians in Van of which 1,500 of them with military training, however only three hundred of them had weapons, they did not have much ammunition stock, they had guns, and they manufactured bullets and cartridge.[10] According to Ms. Knapp also they could produce 2.000 bullets everyday.[11] Roushdouni, says there where 30,000 Armenians in the city 13,000 of them were young men which during revolt fought with the Armenians against the Turks, stood guard day and night, digged foxholes, built new walls and barricades.[12] Roushdouni on the contrary to Ms. Knap’s 2,000, said the Armenians were producing 4,000 bullets every day, and plus they had 3 mortars to throw bombs.[13]

Rafael de Nögalis gives different information on each sides military power. Nögalis after realizing that Turks only had a few cannons under their command[14] goes on and gives the following information on the number of the Armenians and their ammunition:

“The Armenians in Van were about 50,000-40,000 in number. Besides having thousands of mouser rifles they had many short-barreled gun and rifles. They had bought these over the years and stocked them. They also had hand grenades that gave us great losses."[15]

He continues as follows:

“In reality we had the castle under our control but it was nearly impossible for us to use our cannon against the city. The Armenians were advantageous in every aspect. They had out numbered us. As they had told us they were more than 50,000 of course the people that were coming every day from the villages and towns in surging crowd were not included in this number.”[16]

Also in Cevdet Bey’s telegram dated April 11, 1915, besides the number given above, it was told that 4,000 Armenian bandits had secretly came to Van and the they had started to attack the villages.[17]

One of the points that support Nögalis’s words above is, Dr. Ussher’s description of the attack on Hamid A?a barracks in his memoirs. This incident was reported in the Armenian Hayasdan newspaper as well. In the newspaper article, it was reported that they had placed humbara in the foundation of the barracks and when the humbara took fire although it did not damage the building, the barracks and many soldiers were burned.[18]

Because there were no forces left to ensure the public order in Eastern Anatiolia except for the gendarme, Armenians had started to gather in Van and gave special emphasis on armament. They showed extra effort to bring Russian rifles, Manliher, Mosik, Verendil, Gra, Mouser rifles and guns from the Caucasus-Iran route. These guns that were bought for 30 liras each, were distributed to the Armenian committees and organizations according to their need. To be able to pay for them they collected a special tax from the Armenians under various names. It was thought that they had around 50,000 rifles in Eastern Anatolia. For example in the telegram sent by the Van Mayor it was stated that they had found 208.786 cartridges, 290 rifles, 17 mouser cartridges, 10 kilos of dynamite, and 30 kilos of gun powder in the search they had conducted in the Kobans Monast?y and the Armenian houses in the city.[19]

Dr. Ussher in his memoirs wrote that the Armenians tried to scare and provocate the Turks. In order to do so they had send a dog that had a lantern tied around his neck from their foxholes to the Turkish side, and the Turks thought they were attacked by the Armenians and opened fire on the dog.[20] Another night they tied tins to the horses and sent them towards the Turkish side.[21]

Russian General Maslofski wrote about the war that began, with the Armenian Revolt, on April 15, 1915:[22]

“In the Van district the situation had become complicated. They started the massacre on April 14. The Armenians destroyed a small gendarme detachment in Van. Due to this the Turks send Kaz?m Bey’s 5th squadron to the city and seiged the Armenians in the city and castle. In the same way, to help the Armenians in Van, they informed the army corps to send a unit under the command of general Truhin.”[23]

Another telegram was sent by Halil Bey on April 23, 1915 that was confirming General Maflosfski’s telegram:

“The Armenians attacked the Ottoman Bank and some other official buildings and blew some up. Their attack to the Van Bridge and the barrack were prevented. Although we have a force of 2200 soldiers we will get support from the gendarme and the people who live here."[24]

According to Nögalis this number reached around 10,000-12,000.[25] However, he stated memoirs, how the Turks were outnumbered by the Armenians:

“The Armenians instead of forming brass bands, formed a government and attacked us with sticks and stones I wondered how we would end up. Most probably they would force us to go to Bitlis and by doing so, would cut of the retreat line of the forces in Iran."[26]

Anyhow, it did not take long for the Russian Army to come towards Van and for the Turkish army to leave the city.

Nögalis reports this incident as:

“We had learned from the Major Cevdet Bey that after they had withdrew from Van, the Armenians took the control over the plain and killed all the Muslim women, children and the elder."[27]

Nögalis recounts an incident that he witnessed:

“To fire our cannon I was up in the attic with a few officers. There was an old woman who was hanging her wash on a rooftop near by. Armenians noticed her and shot her to death. After that they started shooting at us. They took more pleasure out of killing these people than killing half a dozen officers. Whereas we were closer to them than the old lady.”[28]

In the book written by Dr. Ussher there was no information of the kind. In his book he wrote that it was the Turks who had massacred the Armenians.

In his memoirs, Dr Ussher wrote contradicting things, As he was showing the Armenians as innocent victims on one hand, on the other he was writing that they were forming groups, building new walls and digging foxholes all along the roads. [29]

Dr. Ussher after writing about how the Turkish Army pulled back towards Bitlis, tells about how the Armenians took over the control in Van, and how they had waited for this for centuries and at last that moment had arrived with great enthusiasm.[30]

Another point that has been emphasized in the scenario was Dr Ussher sending a letter with a child.[31] According to the scenario, the children who was taking the letter got caught and got horse shoes nailed to their feet in Cevdet Bey’s room.[32]

There are no such recollections in Ussher’s book. There is a scene were a letter was sent but it was not send with a child.[33] The letter was sent to the American consulate in Tbilisi. Ussher wrote about this in his book as follows;

“There were Russian Armenians and Persian Armenians near the borders. The defender of Van sent messengers out in a desperate attempt to reach these friends. At their suggestion we gave twelve of these men sent at different times the following message written on tiny strips of the thinnest linen to be sewn into the steams of their garments. “[34]

Dr. Ussher attached this message to his book.

Van, April 27, 1915

To Americans, or any Foreign Consul.

Internal troubles in Van. Government threatens to bombard American premises. Inform American Government American lives in danger.

(Signed) C. D. Ussher
E. A. Yarrow

Reward messenger.[35]

In the following part of the book he describes how the message reached the relevant places.

"Tuesday afternoon, May 18, in came the advance guard of the Russo-¬Armenian regiment which preceded by six hours the main army. They had expected to find Van still in a state of siege and were amazed at finding it in the hands of the Armenians. From them we had learned that one of the twelve Armenian messengers had got through into Persia the 8th of May. Our message had been passed on to the Russian Consul and immediately dispatched him to his government and published in the papers of both Russia and America.”[36]

As it can be seen the actual incident was quite different from its depiction in the scenario. The Armenians before used the horse shooing of the feet story before that was used by Egoyan. For example in the film “40 Days in Moses’ Mountain” the Turkish soldiers catch the Armenian walking in the desert and nail horse shoes to their feet. Atom Egoyan adopted this story to his scenario. The only connection between the two letter incidents in Egoyan’s scenario and Ussher’s book is what the message contained. From than onwards Egoyan reshaped the story in the context of “the freedom of Art”.

Another theme that is in Egoyans scenario and the film is the scene that depicts Cevdet Bey as a sadist, nervous, and cruel man. The scene takes place in Cevdet Bey’s room. In this part an Armenian photographer visits Cevdet Bey to present a photo that he had previously taken of him. However, Cevdet Bey is shown as a harsh and merciless man. By doing so, he passes a psychological hatred and fear on to the audience, because in this scene Cevdet Bey, with his weird and unstable attitude, belittles the photographer who is in the room with his son.

Dr. Ussher attached this message to his book The scene described above does not take place in Ussher’s book. As far as Egoyan is concerned, that is not important, because as he has mentioned, he has the right to “artistic freedom” In the conversations in the scenario when somebody asks him how he did something so impossible he says it is possible with the “artistic freedom” he has.

The scenario continues;

“Hundreds of bodies were strewn along the side of the road. Dogs fight with each other over the carcass of a child. On a makeshift gallows, the bodies of men dangling; a mother wails under the suspended body of her murdered son.”[37]

“Martin points a woman, still in character, sobbing as she holds her child’s hand She’s seen the rest of her family massacred, Her pregnant daughter was raped in front of her eyes, just before her stomach was slashed open to stab her unborn child. Her husband has his testicles cut of and stuffed into his mouth."[38]

Another massacre scene in Egoyan’s scenario is the part that naked women are whipped, forced to dance and after being covered with kerosene burned to death.[39] “A Turkish soldier is raping a young woman. The camera moves close to the anguished woman’s arm, following it down to her hand. The young mother is holding the hand of her terrified eight year old girl, hiding underneath the cart”.[40]

These do not exist in Dr. Usshers memoirs. Ussher had told about some outlaws who were living in the mountains committed several murders.[41] On the other hand Dr. Ussher wrote that the Turkish soldiers had read a circular for the massacre of the Armenians. He claims that according to this circular if a Muslim protects a Cristian, first they will burn down his house, later they would kill the Christian that he protected in front of him, and then he and his family would be killed.[42] Neither Ms. Knapp,[43] nor Rushdouni[44] nor Nögalis who was on the side of the Turkish military, ever talked about such a circular.

Both the scenario and Dr. Ussher’s book mention how the wounded Armenians were carried to the American mission and they were treated there. There is nothing surprising in this considering that the Americans were in the region for the Armenians to begin with and it’s only natural for them to do that.

Dr. Ussher’s, description of how the Turkish women and children who were left being and taken to the American missionary for treatment were taken care of and eventually died is as follows:

“A severe form of bacillary dysentery became epidemic, especially among our Turkish refugees, despite all our efforts to help them for they seemed to have no stamina, no will to live   Mr. Yarrow made vigorous representations to General Nicholaieff, which induced him to send some Red Cross men to help in the surgical dressings. They were willing to work in our hospital, but refused to utter loathing to have anything to do with Turks."[45]

The American hospital that has been mentioned above was torn down by the Armenians as they were leaving Van. In the telegram sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the hospital, after the Armenians moved out, was described as follows:

“The hospital that the American’s had spent millions of dollars, that took care of many infants and sick people, was turned into an owls nest.”[46]

Interestingly, Ussher does not write about this in his book and only puts the pictures. It is interesting that a person that tries to give all the details not mentioning this, only puts the pictures and writes “A Hospital in Van” under the picture there is another showing the previous condition of hospital and writes “After the bombardment” on another that shows its latter condition.[47] In the Armenian historian Richard G. Hovannisian’s edited book “Armenian Van/Vasburgan” the author of the chapter “Van 1915”, Anahide Ter Minassian who has taken the picture from Ussher’s book wrote “The Van Hospital before and after the Turkish Bombardment”[48]

Another picture taken from Dr. Ussher’s memoirs proves that the Turks would never do such a thing. In page 279 of his journal there is a picture taken in 1917 that shows the American Church in Van standing in one piece. “This proves that the incident was willfully misinterpreted considering the Turks leaving the Church that they do not need in one piece and terring down the hospital that they are very much in need of”.[49]

Many dialogues in the scenario do not take part in Ussher’s book. For example in the film Ararat Rouben turns to Martin, who plays Dr. Ussher, and says, “You are a missionary. Think of what that means. This is a mission. You’ve traveled all the way from America to be with these people, to give them hope and assistance. Now these Christians are being wiped out. The city is surrounded by soldiers who will rape the women, butcher the men, and march the children to their deaths. You’ve got to be frightened. Absolutely terrified. Where is Christ?”[50] By saying so, he does exploit Christianity and draws the attention of the Christians whom were chosen as the target audience.

Although these do not take part in Dr. Ussher’s book, this message can be felt by implication meaning that Dr. Ussher supported these ideas in his book. As a matter of fact, this book was aimed to get the support of the Americans when the us entered the war in 1917.

In Ussher’s book you can quite easily feel the propaganda. However, in World War I, there was a regular Armenian army that consisted of Armenian bandits. Furthermore, there were armed Armenians who entered Turkey from the Iranian border.[51] In short the Armenians in Van were not weak and miserable as they were presented in the film Ararat.

In Ussher’s book, Armenians are described as angels and the Turks as the devil.

Ussher exaggerates so much he wrote that the Armenians ran away from the Turks to Russia and even continued to die there.[52]

Considering that Ussher had ran away with the Russians and Armenians, even this explains many things. His leading role in the Armenian terror in Van and the way he left the Turks to die that came to ask for help made it impossible for this missionary to stay in Van.[53]


The writer of the memoirs, which has formed the foundation for the scenario and the movie Ararat written and filmed by Atom Egoyan, Dr. Ussher is the son of the bishop of the Church on Terreneuve Island. Based on his family background Ussher has been raised as a good Christian. Thus, in his book he proudly wrote that during his high school years in Montreal he signed the “Volunteer Student Declaration” and was very willing to join the missionaries. Moreover, after he graduated from university, he was practicing medicine in Kansas City and living a comfortable life, he did not think twice when an offer was made to him to join the missionary and to go to Anatolia. Dr Ussher came to Anatofra to take part in a planned mission to make the Armenians devoted to the US interests.

He was only one of the missionaries that took part in this plan. He chose the Harput-Van-Bitlis axis as his work area and helped the Armenians of the region to get organized against the Ottoman Empire, trained them and helped them to find weapons. Intentionally or unintentionally he wrote in his memoirs that although he was a Doctor he took part in political actions and acted as a mediator between the Ottoman Government and the Armenians.

In 1917, the year that U. S. entered the war, his book was published and through his book he tried to mislead the American public against the Turks. Memoirs are full of contradictions. As one reads it, these contradictions they come out in the open. One of the them is, it is the same Armenians that suffer under the Turkish massacre and dig foxholes, and manufactured bullets.

The books and memoirs of other missionaries that served at the same time refute Dr. Ussher’s slanderous accusations. For example, although they work in the same place Ms. Knapp writes that the Armenians produce 2,000 bullets everyday while Dr. Ussher never mentions it. On the other hand, Rushdouni writes that Armenians produced 4000 bullets everyday. In the mean time Rafael de Nögalis writes that the Armenians were 30,000-40,000 in number, they had thousands of guns and rifles and even hand grenades that they had purchased over the years. Many similar topics become clearer as one compares them to the Turkish Archives. Moreover, the declaration that was published during the Armenian revolt begins with “To the Armenian Nation” plus the documents that include the daily reports of the Armenian Army makes everything become even clearer. On the other hand, in the light of these documents the memoirs written by Ussher, the book that lays the foundation for Atom Egoyan’s scenario, losses its reliability.

While evaluating the incidents one can find great differences between Egoyan’s scenario and Dr. Ussher’s book. Although Egoyan said the scenario would be the same of the book, he has placed scenes that do not take place even the memoirs. However he claims that due to his “Artistic freedom” he has the right to included unreal incidents.

The film has taken its place in the Armenian issue, as a proof of, how history can be willfully.

[1] Zaman, 28 Kas?m 2001.
[2] Egoyan, Ararat, p. 16.
[3] Egoyan, Ararat, p. 5.
[4] Egoyan, Ararat, p. 4.
[5] Egoyan, Ararat, p. 3.
[6] Egoyan, Ararat, p.3.
[7] Egoyan, Ararat, (Can be seen in many scenes of the scenario).
[8] Ussher, An American Physician .... p. 248.
[9] See appendix for the pictures that Dr. Ussher has put in his book.
[10] James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-1916 (Ed. Ara Sarafian), (New Jersey: 2000), p. 77.
[11] Bryce and Toynbee, The Treatment of Armenians ..., p. 77.
[12] Bryce and Toynbee, The Treatment of Armenians ..., pp. 89-90
[13] Bryce and Toynbee, The Treatment of Armenians ..., p. 90
[14] Nögalis, Hilal Alt?nda Dört Sene ..., p.22.
[15] Nögalis, Hilal Alt?nda Dört Sene ..., p. 22.
[16] Nögalis, Hilal Alt?nda Dört Sene..., p.23, from the Genral Staff’s ATASE documents in the telegram dated Oct. 20, 1914. It was written that in Ka??man 8000 Armenians had gathered and the number had increased to 15.000 Ar¬med Armenians with the ones that joined them from Russia. (ATBD), Sa: 83, Document 1896).
[17] Askeri Tarih ve Stratejik Etütler Daire Ba?kanl??? (ATASE) Archives, No. III Kls. 44, Dos. 155, F.22., Naklen, Akçora, Ermeni ?syanlar? ..., p. 170.
[18] Hayastan, July 6, 19 ? 5, Naklen, Ermeni Komitelerinin A’mal ve Harekat-? ?htilaliyyesi, Haz. H. Erdo?an cengiz, (Ankara: 1983), p. 278.
[19] Akçora, Ermeni ?syanlar? ..., pp. 153.154.
[20] Ussher, An American Physician   p. 255.
[21] Ussher, An American Physician   p. 255. (Ussher wrote that this made noise equal to hundred thousand men)
[22] The date of the revolt that started in Van ha been shown in some documents as, April 14 and some places as April 15, When one examines the documents of the time one can see that it took rise from the beginning of April (1915). However, when it is examined in detail it can be seen that the Armenians started their revolt and terrorist attacks in October 1914. (For this see, Gürün, Ermeni Dosyas?, p. 264).
[23] Maflosfski, Umumi Harpte Kafkas Cephesinin Tenkidi, pp. 194-195.
[24] ATASE, No. 4/367 1, Kls. 2820, Dos. 69-A, F.3-53, Naklen, Akçora, Ermeni ?syanlar?..., p. 178.
[25] Nögalis, Hilal Alt?nda Dört Sene..., p. 22.
[26] Nögalis, Hilal Alt?nda Dört Sene....p. 23.
[27] Nögalis, Hilal Alt?nda Dört Sene..., p. 39.
[28] Nögalis, Hilal Alt?nda Dört Sene..., p. 39.
[29] Ussher, An American Physician ..., p. 250.
[30] Ussher, An American Physician ..., p. 288.
[31] Egoyan, Ararat, p. 30.
[32] Egoyan, Ararat, p. 31.
[33] Ussher, An American Physician ..., pp. 273-274.
[34] Ussher, An American Physician ..., p. 273.
[35] Egoyan. Ararat, p. 33.
[36] Egoyan, Ararat, p. 54.
[37] Egoyan, Ararat, p. 72.
[38] Egoyan. Ararat, p. 72.
[39] Ussher, An American Physician ..., p. 238.
[40] Ussher, An American Physician ..., p. 244.
[41] Bryce and Toynbe. The Treatment of Armenians…, pp. 73-87.
[42] Bryce and Toynbe, The Treatment of Armenians…, p. 107.
[43] Ussher, An American Physician ..., p. 295
[44] BOA, HR. SYS, HU. Kr. 110, dos. 12-2, nr. 56-62
[45] For this see, Usshen, An American Physician ..., pp. 88-89.
[46] Anahide Ter Minassian, “Van 1915”, Armenian Van/Vaspurakan, (Ed.) Richard G. Hovannisian, (California: 2000), p. 240.
[47] For the pictures of the hospital see the appendix.
[48] Egoyan, Ararat, p. 9.
[49] Ussher, An American Physician ..., p. 307, Dr. Ussher in a part of his book talks about many Russian Armenians that were stationed near the Iranian border and the Armenians in Van were constantly sending them messages. (Ussher, An American Physician ..., p. 273).
[50] Ussher, An American Physician ..., p. 315.
[51] Ussher, An American Physician ..., p. 303- 304.

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