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Sedat LAÇİNER, Asst. Prof. Dr.
09 May 2006 - JTW
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!â¦# ="justify">The provocative Armenian film, Ararat, which was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and caused a sensation and Turkish protests, will open the 27th international Toronto Film Festival on September 5, 2002 and will be shown in cinemas worldwide in November 2002. The film accuses the Turks of committing genocide against the Armenians in 1915, while the Turkish authorities refuse the allegations and argue that, "The film is full of lies and biases." It is understood that the hot debates will continue during the Autumn of 2002 and a thorny, if not incurable, historical problem will occupy the agenda between Turks and Armenians instead of the real economic and political problems.
1915 And Creating a National Identity on Communal Hate
1915 was a hard year for the Ottoman State: The First World War struck the economy and social life. Millions of soldiers died on the fronts while more became orphans and widows in the back yards of the war theatre confronted with famine, epidemics and bands' attacks. The State lost control particularly in security matters. In Anatolia, bands and gangs hit towns without discrimination for ethnicity or religion. Furthermore ethnic distrust re-emerged and damaged social harmony. In brief, when the Armenian radicals rioted in the Eastern provinces of the State, the last thing the Ottomans wanted was an ethnic uprising under these circumstances. However, the catastrophe the Ottoman State confronted was perceived as a golden opportunity by the Armenian separatist groups, and they used this for propaganda so that the Armenians could be independent with Russian assistance. It is a well-known fact, the Armenian attempt resulted in a catastrophe and cost the lifes of thousands of innocent Armenians and Muslims. It is unfortunate for both sides that, after this date the nationalists built Armenian identity based on the 1915 events and created a "1915 legacy" keeping the Armenians on alert regarding the Turkish "threat". They first named the 1915 events a "massacre". As was the Jewish case after World War I, the radical groups changed the name to "genocide". Thus the so-called genocide became the axe of the Turkish-Armenian relations and a formidable obstacle for reconciliations. The "genocide" legacy particularly affected those in the diaspora for decades and the new generations who shaped their Armenian identity on the historical prejudices and hostility though most of them neither saw Turkey nor met a Turk. Most of the Armenian artists are no exception, but they have a fatal weapon: art.
Armenian Cinema and Politics
The Armenian cinema in particular has focused on the so-called genocide and has helped to shape the national identity of the Armenian youth with Anti-Turkish elements. Verneuil's "Mayrig", Dovlatyan's "The Yearning" and Hrayr Toukhanian's "Assignment Berlin" are just some examples. Most of these films failed in terms of art and financial figures, yet their political influence made their directors famous (if not heroes) in the eyes of the Armenian youth. The most recent example is Atom Egoyan's film, "Ararat".
Atom Egoyan is an Egypt-born Canadian Armenian film director, who has lived in Canada since childhood. In other words, he is a diaspora Armenian and has deeply felt the assimilation threat during his early age. He even refused to speak Armenian and made efforts to be a "pure Canadian" until his college years when he realized that to be an Armenian means to fight against the "Turkish deniers". In other words, Egoyan is an "identity convert". Converts are generally more radical and they tend to exaggerate the facts in order to legitimize the revolutionary shift in their way of life. Egoyan is no exception and after his college years, he fanatically advocated the historical Armenian claims. Ararat is the latest example of his radicalism.
Egoyan argues that he questioned the hatred among the Armenians and its reasons in his film. However, it was obvious in the Cannes premier that Egoyan has succumb to communal pressure from the diaspora Armenians and has chosen the simplest way to make a film by accusing "the others", namely the Turks, as responsible for all the terrible things the Armenians have confronted.
Egoyan claims that the scenario is based on historical facts and archival documents, though he has never mentioned any document or proof, just beliefs and prejudiced ideas. As a matter of fact, neither he nor any member of the film crew is a historian and Atom Egoyan refused to make a history film when asked to do so before Ararat.
Egoyan in his film accuses the Turks of massacring Armenian women, children and men with no real reason. For Ararat, Turks committed genocide against Armenians because they hated them, and Turkish hatred created hatred among Armenians. Obviously Egoyan has no proof for his accusations, if not insults to a whole nation, but he does not actually need any proof (!) because he has a "poetic license", like the director of the film within his film. The 1915 Van Uprising, as mentioned, is well documented by the Ottoman and foreign observers and none of the documents draw such a picture as Egoyan does in his history-film (!). As a matter of fact, many scenes in Ararat contradict other parts of the film. On the one hand, it is argued that the Armenians made a peaceful defense; on the other hand the scenes show well-armed Armenian military forces. In the film, the Van uprising is "the heroic defense of Van" (Film's Script, 54. Ext. Van), yet the director does not question why the Turks attempted to reoccupy their own territory with a mainly Muslim population. The reality is that the armed Armenian military forces backed by the Russian army had occupied the province of Van and massacred thousands of Turks and Kurds while thousands more civilians fled to other provinces to save their lives. The Armenian forces were led by the revolutionary and nationalist Armenian bandits and they dreamed of an independent Armenia under the Russian support. They were waiting for the Russian troops to help them against the Ottoman security forces and in a few weeks the Russian troops came to the province. Before the Russians came, all of the Muslim quarter of the city was set on fire by Armenian bandits.
Turkish-Armenian relations is one of the most problematic relations in the world despite the fact that both nations need each other. The main problem in the relations is not the facts but the perceptions. The Armenians believe in a legacy which they created themselves and the radicals nourish the hatred among the Armenians. On the other hand, the Turks do not give enough attention to the Armenian issue by underestimating its importance for Turkey and the region. Both sides accuse each other and nobody listens to the other. Under these circumstances the Armenian and Turkish artists have a great tool to destroy the prejudices and illusions regarding the other side. Atom Egoyan was one of these "lucky" men, yet he did not use the opportunity and transferred the problem to future generations instead.
As a result, it can be argued that Ararat is a masterpiece propaganda film directed by a talented and radical-nationalist Armenian director, financed by Armenian lobby groups and supported by the Armenian Culture Ministry. It is a film well-packed with cinematic tricks, but it is not impossible to see the director's hatred behind the cinema curtain.

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