Monday, 1 May 2017

Armenian News...A Topalian...Reviews on The Promise For my readers

For my readers

To My surprise the reviewer acctuAlly used the 'G' Word!!! Time and again and again etc...etc... etc... How refreshing that he dispensed with protocol and wished to know of our Genocide in the lead up to 1915 and in ensuing years that followed!...In my opinion, LeBon gave a respectable performance a new comer to me, I wish her luck in what she decides to appear in next!... Christian Bale was equally modulated in speaking up for us the Armenians, and his repatriation is a blessing for word to reach accross the pond...What a shame the Turkish Lobbyists pay so much to keep our plight under the radar, as their strategy is to use blackmail, with the statuesque, If Turkey is to allow the USA to use their AirSpace!... An enormous amount of information is left out. However, the events of Mousa Dagh is used to weave a love story between a Surgeon and a Dancer is so beautifully portrayed with a huge amount of respect for the audience. Not at all seedy! I wish to add more of my input, for what it is worth. Later!

The Promis... Review... 1st May 2017

BBC TV Review 

good review but that ends with the comment that the film

critical review from a cinematic perspective:

The Times, UK
April 28 , 2017 
The Promise;
A schmaltzy love triangle set against the backdrop of the Armenian
genocide is akin to Jane Austen meets The Killing Fields
by Kevin Maher 

*☆☆☆☆ Midway through The Promise, a catastrophically earnest drama
about the Armenian genocide, our battered and traumatised hero, Mikael
(Oscar Isaac of Star Wars: The Force Awakens), is asked to reveal the
inner workings of his troubled soul. Mikael is an Armenian former
medical student who, at the outbreak of the First World War, has been
beaten in the streets of Constantinople by mobs of Turkish racists,
and has witnessed the summary executions of Armenians at the hands of
trigger-happy Turkish soldiers.

Plus he has recently spent six months in a Turkish labour camp, where
he was beaten and starved to an emaciated shell, and faced imminent
death daily. He escaped only after an Armenian circus clown turned
suicide bomber (Tom Hollander) blew himself up in front of the prison
guards, handily flinging Mikael beyond the camp perimeter (yep, the
ol' Wile E Coyote escape plan).

After all this mind-melting brutality, Mikael returns home to his
mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo), who asks him - as if it needs explaining
- why, after six months in a de facto concentration camp, he has gone
kind of quiet. At which point Mikael stares dreamily into the distance
and sighs: "I fell in love in Constantinople."

And that, alas, is everything you need to know about The Promise. It
has noble intentions: it was backed by the Armenian-American investor
Kirk Kerkorian (who died in 2015) in the hope of acknowledging the
genocide in an unforgettable, thought-provoking epic. Yet as a piece
of narrative film-making it just doesn't have a clue.

Co-written by Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and
the director, Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), it unfolds like a Wikipedia
page in search of a story, eventually settling for the howlingly
inappropriate idea of ramming a dopey, schmaltzy love triangle right
up against the inhuman reality of the slaughter of 1.5 million people.
At times, it's akin to Jane Austen meets The Killing Fields, or
Schindler's List with a dash of Bridget Jones, as a wispy, doe-eyed
heroine, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), must choose between the nerdy yet
sensitive Mikael and her swarthy, adventurous American journalist
boyfriend, Chris (Christian Bale). All the while Armenians are being
massacred, tortured and marched out into the desert to die.

In fairness to Bale, he retains awesome star power and is duly
magnetic when he's on camera. Yet even then he's trapped inside a
poorly written character who spends most of his time dashing into war
zones and massacre sites, waving papers in the air and shouting: "I'm
an American! I'm an American!" Which can get a bit grating.

The French-Canadian Le Bon has little to do other than look conflicted
and deliver some shockingly clunky exposition concerning the nature of
her off-camera accent. "I lived in France for many years, but I'm a
proud Armenian," she says, awkwardly, at a party, to her curious
Turkish hosts, who neglect to mention that everyone in the country,
irrespective of accent, is speaking English.

However, the film's greatest failure is Mikael. He's a dramatic black
hole - weak, insipid and cowardly (there's a battle near the end where
he goes all of a wobble). Worst of all, he keeps a plain-looking
fiancée (Angela Sarafyan) on the go in his home village just so he can
spend her dowry on a medical school in Constantinople and fall in love
with the smoking-hot Ana. He's essentially a douche bag, the last guy
you want fronting your historical epic, and he's played by Isaac with
all the magnetism of a man reading the finer points of his Star Wars
merchandising contract. 12A, 133min

reasonable (even remarkable) review despite the right wing bias of the newspaper

April 28, 2017
The Promise (12A) Verdict: Unsubtle history lesson 3 stars / 5

The Promise is a sweeping period melodrama that takes itself jolly seriously in a (half-successful) bid to evoke the kind of epic pictures David Lean used to make.

Set in the early years of World War I, it stars Oscar Isaac as Mikael, a humble but smart Armenian apothecary who yearns to become a doctor.

He marries a nice village girl whose dowry enables him to study medicine in distant Istanbul, but there he falls in love with a sexy ballet teacher, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon, pictured with Isaac), who in turn is being courted by Chris, a hot-headed American photo-journalist (Christian Bale).

How many photo-journalists were knocking around Turkey in 1915, or anywhere for that matter, is open to question. Whatever, as the love triangle develops, Bale's character helps to illuminate a more specific purpose to director Terry George's film: its attempt to educate us about the alleged slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks, the so-called Armenian genocide of 1915 to 1917.

George, I might add, comes from Belfast, where in the Seventies he was involved with the Irish National Liberation Army and sentenced to six years in Long Kesh prison.

Several of his films, such as Some Mother's Son (1996) about the 1981 hunger strikes in Long Kesh (better known as The Maze), have reflected his Irish Republican leanings and have not, to put it mildly, been notably balanced. That's useful background information when it comes to assessing The Promise, which was bankrolled by the late, U.S.- Armenian billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. The film offers George an opportunity to address what he evidently considers another mighty historical wrong, and it too is tilted only one way, towards the view that the Turks behaved contemptibly and the Armenians nobly. This picture does not wear its sympathies lightly.

Of course, there is plenty of objective analysis to show that the numbers of massacred Armenians at that time have not been wildly exaggerated, as Turkey still claims.

And it is certainly an atrocity, almost within living memory, that has received strikingly little cinematic attention. But The Promise rather overdoes the background history lesson, to the extent that the foreground romance often looks like what effectively it is: a vehicle struggling under the weight of its own worthy load.

Luckily, in Isaac, Bale and Le Bon, and strong support including James Cromwell as the U.S. ambassador, the film has the cast to disguise, if not entirely overcome, its flaws. Doctor Zhivago it emphatically is not, but it still l

A full analysis of history and the film

The Sunday Times
Love in the time of genocide
The Hollywood epic that shines a light on a dark corner of history

Operation eradication 

The Promise is set during the Armenian genocide, one of the atrocities that definied the 20th century. Professor of modern history Donald Bloxham tells it like it was

On 24 May 1915 Britain, Russia and France made a joint declaration concerning their wartime protagonist, the Ottoman empire, in light of numerous massacres of Armenian Christians committed ‘with the connivance and often assistance of Ottoman authorities’. The Entente promised to hold personally responsible anyone implicated in the ‘crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization’.

Rather than heed the warning, within days the Ottoman government passed legislation legitimating deportations. Some had already occurred in different directions from sensitive border and coastal regions. Now they took on far greater dimensions. By 7 July 1915 the German ambassador in Istanbul had grasped what was afoot. Hans von Wangenheim described the government’s goal as ‘eradicating the Armenian race from the Turkish Empire.’

The hammer fell first and hardest on eastern Anatolia, today’s eastern Turkey, where Armenian settlement dated back around 3,000 years. This was the demographic and cultural centre of Armenian life, albeit one where Armenians formed a plurality with Kurds and many other peoples. Over the summer deportations extended westward throughout Anatolia and in the autumn even spread to Thrace, in Europe. So thorough were the deportations that at the end of August, the architect of the deportations, Ottoman Interior Minister Talaat, declared the Armenian question had been solved.

Many Armenian men and older boys barely began their deportation marches from the eastern provinces. Seen as potential sources of resistance they were murdered at the outset when they had not already been conscripted into labour service for the military, which would also result in their killing. Women, children and the elderly were deported southwards to the deserts of Syria and Iraq. Along often meandering deportation routes they were subject to massive and repeated depredations – sexual assault and outright killing as well as death from exposure, starvation and thirst – at the hands of Ottoman gendarmes, paramilitaries, criminals deployed by the state, and elements of local Muslim populations. In this orgy of destruction the lucky ones met a quick end. For many it was protracted and agonising. Some were bundled together and drowned in the Euphrates (the Black Sea was also the site of mass drowning for Armenians on its littoral), others burned alive, mutilated, or gang-raped and then executed. There are claims of crucifixions. Pregnant women had their foetuses ripped from their wombs; infants’ heads were dashed.

Some deportees bought a stay of execution by surrendering whatever valuables they had managed to bring. Kidnapped women were forced into marriage or protracted sexual slavery. Many, like the children abducted from the convoys, were forcibly converted to Islam as a means of assimilation into the Turkic-Muslim social body. Occasionally, some of these defenceless people were rescued by sympathetic onlookers. Only a small proportion of the deportees from the eastern provinces survived to reach the deserts.

In this orgy of destruction the lucky ones met a quick end. For many it was agonising

The Armenians from more westerly provinces were not subject to the same level of harassment en route. Some were deported by railway to what were effectively open air concentration camps at their barren destinations. Starvation and disease took massive toll, though many clung to life, partly with missionary aid. These were subject to massacres ordered from February 1916 through the end of the year.

Figures will never be precise but Hilmar Kaiser, one of the most rigorous historians of the genocide, places the minimum number who died because of Ottoman policy in 1915-16 at 1.1 million, well over half of the pre-war population. At least scores of thousands fled into Russian or Persian territory or elsewhere. Perhaps half a million Ottoman Armenians survived into 1918, in disproportionately large numbers in western cities where they posed no demographic problem for the Ottoman elite and where the gaze of the outside world remained strong. The survivor community, bereft of elites and cultural heritage as well as the vast majority of its kin, dwindled greatly through flight in the ensuing years. This option was not possible for most of the 150,000 or more Islamized Armenians living in Muslim households.

The focus of this piece is the Armenian genocide, but we must not forget the great death toll inflicted on Syriac Christians at the same time, memorialised in Assyrian culture as sayfo, from shato d’sayfo, the ‘year of the sword’. Not least among the contemporary resonances of this topic is ISIL’s massacre, kidnap, rape and expulsion of Syriac and other Middle Eastern Christians in formerly Ottoman territory.

The how and the why 

Any explanation of the genocide must account for the circumstances of war. Unlike some scholars I detect no plan to obliterate the Armenian community before the opening of hostilities: the state of war was not pretext for the enactment of a preconceived policy but rather part of the explanation of that policy. The defeat of the Ottoman Third Army by Russia on the Caucasus front at the turn of 1914-15 resulted in scapegoating of the Armenians. On 24 April 1915, a date commemorated today as the start of genocide, Talaat ordered the arrest of Armenian community leaders across the empire in anticipation of Anglo-French landings the following day at Gallipoli. One context of the deportation decisions in May was Russian advance into eastern Anatolia.

To accept the salience of war is not to accept the justification of ‘military necessity’ provided by the ruling Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress, and repeated by deniers who say nothing much happened to the Armenians but that they deserved it anyway for collaborating with the Entente. Insurgent activity by a small number of separatist Armenians there was, but more important was the prior CUP stereotype, reinforced by scapegoating, that Armenians were disloyal in virtue of their very ethnoreligious identity. Besides, the CUP’s collective libel against the Ottoman Armenians was partly based on the behaviour of Armenians who were Russian subjects. Much of what was seen as sedition was Armenian self-defence, given Ottoman massacring in the border regions from early in the world conflict, and the living memory of mass slaughter in peacetime, in 1909 and in 1894-6. Furthermore, the CUP itself stimulated cross border insurgency amongst Muslim populations in Russian territory, and the Russian ‘security’ response there was far more restrained than its Ottoman equivalent. A chasm separates the size of any security threat as measured objectively from the scale and nature of CUP policy. It is challenging to comprehend how Ottoman wartime interests were served by the mass immolation of orphans in Der Zor (in today’s Syria) in October 1916.

No: what needs to be explained is the subjective outlook of the CUP leaders. What shaped their threat perception, their ethnoreligious exclusivism, their ruthlessness?

Here we need to understand that the Great War was but the final and most acute stage of an existential crisis for an Ottoman state struggling to bridge a wide technological, military and economic gap with the other great powers. The tendencies culminating in genocide were embedded in the long-term decline of a diverse empire that was built on communal coexistence as well as religious hierarchy and attendant legal and social discrimination.

One key theme was the nineteenth century suffering of Muslims who were brutally, often murderously, expelled by advancing Christian powers, especially Russia, and secessionist Balkan Christians. Sometimes the secessionists had the support of the powers. In especially large numbers in the 1860s-70s, Balkan Muslims and others from the Caucasus found themselves as refugees in a rapidly diminishing Ottoman territory. They brought a reservoir of anti-Christian sentiment and land hunger, which impacted disastrously on the Anatolian Armenians. The refugees’ settlement, plus the loss of great Christian populations, changed the demographic balance of the remaining empire.

All this prompted Ottoman retreat from the mid-century reforms that had pursued greater inter-religious equality and security of Christians (by no means always delivered), and had been designed to forestall the sorts of secession that had just happened anyway. Abdülhamid II, who came to power in 1876, and reigned until deposed months after the CUP coup of 1908, more than tolerated the ongoing dispossession of Armenians in the eastern provinces by Kurds as well as Muslim refugees. This benefitted his primary religious constituency and reduced Armenian population concentration.

The sultan’s suspicions had been directed eastwards with special intensity since the 1878 Berlin Conference called to arbitrate reduced Ottoman boundaries in the Caucasus and the Balkans. (Britain also appropriated Cyprus.) In the Berlin Treaty the European powers had stipulated a reform plan to protect Armenians in the eastern provinces. The ‘Armenian question’ was born and the link between inner and outer Christians reinforced in the mind of successive Ottoman elites.

While the changing great power constellation through the 1880s left reforms a dead letter, the project of reviving great power attention to the Armenian plight and internal defence of the community, was taken up by new Armenian political parties. The 1894-6 massacres of at least 80,000 mostly male Armenians constituted a massive reprisal against the whole community for the actions of the parties.

The pattern of territorial loss and elite radicalisation was repeated in the 1912-13 Balkan wars as Anatolia received up to 400,000 more Muslim refugees from Macedonia and western Thrace. These events are as important in explaining the Armenian genocide as the initial CUP coup of 1908; after all, on either side of the coup the Armenian Dashnak party and the CUP had had an alliance of sorts, conceived in joint support for constitutionalism against Abdülhamid’s rule. In January 1913 a group of CUP leaders seized untrammelled power after a period of governmental turmoil, and the most radical ideological tendencies advanced with them. Islam was still an important binding force, but Turkish nationalism was increasingly emphasised, along with stark social Darwinism. Entire Christian populations appeared as latent enemies that could not be accommodated within a common future.


Ottoman defeat in 1918 brought regime change in Istanbul, but the political constellation of the new Turkey and the wider Middle East was not settled until the Lausanne settlement of 1923, after Atatürk’s resurgent nationalist movement greatly improved his negotiating position. The treaty dashed Armenian hopes of a state incorporating some eastern Anatolian territory. Today’s small, landlocked Armenia in the Caucasus emerged from Russian then Soviet rule. Unsurprisingly, the genocide, and Turkey’s aggressive-defensive denial of it, sours relations between the states, as do demands by some Armenian nationalists for territorial revision.

But there is more to denial than this. The late Ottoman state and any number of provincial actors enriched themselves with the houses, belongings, and businesses of deported Armenians. They and their heirs had every interest in covering up the crime. Then there was personnel continuity from the WWI leadership to that of the republic, despite Atatürk once describing the destruction of the Armenians as ‘a shameful act’. Two examples of legion. During the war Shükrü Kaya had led the Interior Ministry’s directorate for the settlement of tribes and immigrants, the organisation that orchestrated the Armenian deportations. In the republic he served variously as Interior and Foreign Minister. Esat Uras’ The Armenians in History and the Armenian Question (1950, English translation 1988) was for a while one of the most influential books on the topic. It should not surprise that the work is entirely self-serving from the perspective of the state, since its author, then called Ahmed Esat, had been another underling of Talaat, as an office chief in the security directorate. To this day Turkish officials – and for that matter academics unable to gain critical distance from the state narrative – pose as disinterested historians, fixating on errors in works they find uncomfortable, while themselves failing to adopt standard scholarly practices like accounting for tracts of thesis-challenging evidence. Such evidence comes from Armenian victims, in the form of communal knowledge passed down through family histories in the east, from the documents of neutral American diplomats and US missionaries and representatives of Istanbul’s allies (Austro-Hungarian as well as German). As a proliferating specialist scholarship is showing in ever more detail, it also comes from the records that have survived from the perpetrating regime. That evidence confirms the deliberate destruction of a people.

Donald Bloxham is professor of modern history, specialising in genocide and war crimes, at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of The Great Game of Genocide

The nation that never says die 

Armenia rose from the ashes of the First World War eager to make its mark on the century that almost wiped it out, writes Matthew Clayfield

Between the bloody bookends of 1915 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 20th century was far from kind to Armenia and its people. But that didn’t stop Armenia and its people from making the most of it. In fact, they did rather more than that: competing hard across multiple playing fields, it can be argued that they made the century their own.

Noted for their business acumen, sporting prowess, artistic excellence and political nous, Armenians bat so consistently above average in so many arenas that a true accounting of their successes would overrun these pages.

Some of the names are household ones. Such as eight-time tennis Grand Slam champion Andre Agassi, the son of an Iranian-born Armenian who boxed in two Olympic Games nearly 50 years before his son took gold at one.

And there’s the Oscar-winning actress and singer, Cher. If she could turn back time, as she so memorably suggested she’d like to, she would still be Cherilyn Sarkisian, with Sonny and Starstruck but glimmers in her eye.

Cher reconnected with her heritage on a 1993 humanitarian mission during the war with Azerbaijan, and has advocated for recognition of the Armenian genocide ever since.Best known for being well-known, the Kardashians have long made a point of doing the same thing, not least by visiting Yerevan’s genocide memorial complex on their TV show two years ago.

“The Kardashians apologised for not speaking Armenian but said they are learning their native language,” a government statement said. The crowd went wild and many selfies were taken.

But the roll call is far more expansive than the Kardashian family tree, and the achievements of those whose names appear on it are more important to Armenians in their homeland than any sporting trophy or acting gong.

In the early Noughties, Armenian-American businessmen such as Gerard Cafesjian and Kerkor “Kirk” Kerkorian poured their wealth into the country, building roads and houses, establishing world-class cultural institutions, and stimulating economic activity in the nascent tech and medical sectors.

Diaspora Armenians donated tens of millions of pounds to the Armenian Apostolic Church, providing more than three-quarters of its annual operating budget and rescuing it from collapse in the wake of the fall of communism.

More recently, Lebanese-Armenian money has been ploughed into Artsakh Roots Investment, a company created to revive the Kashatagh and Shahoumian regions of the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh – the Republic of Artsakh, officially – through agricultural loans and repopulation projects.

The rich and famous 

And such generosity shows no sign of slowing down: Russian-Armenian entrepreneurs alone have already committed to investing more than £240m in Armenia this year.

Cafesjian’s path to philanthropy ran through print, the press and publishing. Executive vice president of West – one of America’s most prominent publishers of legal materials – he set himself the task of helping Armenia in whatever way he could after West was sold in 1996.

Kerkorian took a different route. One of history’s richest Armenians, he once said that he and his siblings “didn’t learn the English language until we hit the streets”. But it was hitting the skies that really made his name.

Having learnt to fly during the Second World War and to gamble once it was over, Kerkorian managed to marry his two passions by purchasing Trans International Airlines and flying high-rollers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to play craps and cards.

In a typical – if somewhat extreme – show of Armenian entrepreneurial chutzpah, Kerkorian sold the airline, purchased Mero-Goldwyn-Mayer and built the “world’s biggest hotel-casino” in Las Vegas three times.

Purchasing a major entertainment company is one thing. Being named the entertainer of the century is something else entirely. Yet Charles Aznavour has pulled that feat off, not once, but twice, in 1998, when both CNN and Time bent their knee in his direction. He thrashed Elvis and Dylan by 18 per cent in the latter poll alone.

An ambassador and permanent delegate of Armenia to Unesco, and the founder of the charity Aznavour for Armenia, France’s Sinatra, as he is sometimes called, has long worn his heritage on his sleeve. In 1960, in François Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, the now 92-year-old played a character named Saroyan, after William, an Armenian-American author.

In 2002, in Atom Egoyan’s Ararat, he played a French-Armenian film-maker – this time named simply William Saroyan – attempting to make a film about the 1915 genocide in the face of Turkish denial that it ever happened.

Egoyan is the son of Armenian-Egyptians and one of Canada’s most critically acclaimed filmmakers. His son Arshile is named after the Armenian-American painter, Arshile Gorky, a seminal influence on the abstract expressionists in the United States. It’s all a rich tapestHere’s another thread of it. More than a mere namesake for Aznavour’s alter egos, William Saroyan was a Pulitzer- and Oscar-winning author who Stephen Fry once described as “one of the most underrated writers of the century” and someone who “takes his place naturally alongside Hemingway, Steinbeck and Faulkner”.

In 1993, Steven Zaillian followed in his footsteps by taking home an Oscar of his own – not to mention a Golden Globe and a Bafta – for adapting another genocide story for the screen: Schindler’s List. Last year, Peter Balakian followed Saroyan to a Pulitzer for Ozone Journal, a sequence of 54 heartbreaking poems that recall excavating the bones of Armenian genocide victims in the Syrian desert with a crew of television journalists.

Armenians, they bat consistently above average in so many arenas 
The walk of fame continues, taking you past the four-time Formula One Drivers’ Champion Alain Prost; the heavy metal band System of a Down, who hail from Glendale, California, aka “Little Yerovan”; and Dikran Tahta, a mathematics teacher at St Albans School, who former pupil Stephen Hawking named as a major influence.

Armenia is a major player in world chess, and six years ago it made the game compulsory in schools, in what educators said was a bid to build character rather than breed champions. They don’t want for grandmasters, either way: the country’s reputation could rest alone on Garry Kasparov (a Russification of his mother’s maiden name, Kasparyan) and Levon Aronian (No 9 in the World Chess Federation rankings). Looking ahead

Today, Armenia faces a number of challenges. A culture of corruption and oligarchic control remains a significant barrier to foreign investment in certain sectors of the Armenian economy, even in the eyes of generous members of the diaspora.

Fourth-generation diaspora Armenians are more likely to view the country as a place of ancestry rather than as a place to return to.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, where the long-running territorial dispute with Azerbaijan shows no signs of cooling and some rather troubling ones of warming up, there are concerns that groups such as Artsakh Roots Investment may be opening themselves up to accusations of bankrolling an “occupation”.

And even now, more than 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the World Bank estimates that almost a third of Armenians are living in poverty – and that many are leaving for the US, UK and Russia like generations before them.

There’s no quick fix in Nagorno-Karabakh, nor indeed for the poverty, but there are signs of hope. Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan has instituted an independent anti-corruption agency, and to help ensure transparency at the b lot box, diasporans were called on to oversee the recent parliamentary elections of April 2, the first elections after a constitutional referendum in 2015 approved reforms for the country to become a parliamentary republic. Sadly, the elections were tainted by credible reports of vote-buying and violations during the voting and counting process.

A gambler glancing back over the 20th century would tip Armenia to turn its fortunes around, however. Few countries have been pounded so hard on the anvil of history and lived to tell the tale.

Looking at the present through the lens of the past 

Director-screenwriter Terry George gives us the lowdown on the making of his latest movie, The Promise

We have Kirk Kerkorian to thank for The Promise. A businessman with a lifelong interest in the movies, he had always wanted to make an unabashed Hollywood film — something epic, with breathtaking visuals and traditional in its storytelling — that treats the Armenian genocide as a matter of historical fact.

So he set up a production company to do that, and The Promise is the result. We made a classic love-triangle romantic drama — on a grand Doctor Zhivago scale — that is backdropped by the genocide. Sadly, Kirk died not long after we started filming, but he did so safe in the knowledge that his wish would be granted.

I am no stranger to movies about difficult, often controversial subjects, having made or contributed to a few myself already. I directed Hotel Rwanda, about the massacre of the Tutsi people by the Hutu militia, and with Jim Sheridan I co-wrote In the Name of the Father, which deals with the wrongful conviction of a young Irishman for an IRA bombing. You have to be careful to do your research when you’re drawing on fact to tell a fictional story.

You shouldn’t take liberties. The Armenian genocide that plays out behind the love story in The Promise happened the way we depict it, no question. It was very widely reported in the American press at the time, though it was ignored or buried by historians after the end of the First World War.

English-language film-makers have tried — and failed — to address the genocide before. In the Thirties, MGM started work on its adaptation of Franz Werfel’s book, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh — his account of the last stand of a small group of Armenian resistance fighters and their subsequent rescue by the French navy — but the film company succumbed to pressure from the Turkish government to scrap the production.

Werfel’s book was banned in the Third Reich in 1934. Unsurprisingly perhaps, since a week before the invasion of Poland in 1939 Hitler was recorded as saying that the Poles should be exterminated because “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” History was about to repeat itself.

History repeated itself again during the shooting of The Promise, making it horribly relevant. Unspeakable things were happening in the Middle East, and thousands of people, were fleeing war and the brutal occupation of their homeland by Islamic fundamentalists.

Actually, this wasn’t just history being re-enacted — it was history unfolding in much the same place (during the genocide, the Turks said they were marching the Armenians towards desert camps, near Aleppo, but of course they never got there).

I filmed certain scenes that reflected what was going on around us because the similarities were so striking. One scene brings to mind the body of the Kurdish boy, Alan Kurdi, who was washed ashore in Turkey.

What drove the Turks to target the Armenians is what drives Isis to kill the Yazidi Kurds. But the Armenians at least had help from the Allied forces during wartime.

Today’s refugees face hatred. I wanted the film to spark an awareness in audiences that those refugees are no different from the Armenians, or the “huddled masses” that appear in the poem that’s engraved beneath the Statue of Liberty.

I was blessed with a tremendous cast who really got behind what we were trying to achieve: the male leads Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale; their love interest Charlotte Le Bon; Shohreh Aghdashloo, the American-Iranian actress; and Marwan Kenzari. And our cinematographer, Javie Aguirresarobe, framed their performances beautifully.

As told to Joseph Furey 
Armenian Genocide Documentary ‘Intent to Destroy’ Premieres at Tribeca Film Festival
April 28, 2017

NEW YORK— New York City Acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger’s documentary feature about the Armenian Genocide, entitled Intent to Destroy, premiered on Tuesday night at the SVA Theater during the Tribeca Film Festival.

On the heels of the nationwide release of The Promise, Berlinger’s Intent to Destroy takes the viewer behind-the-scenes of the making of Terry George’s epic feature and expertly weaves the modern day depiction of the genocide with scholarly—as well as eye-witness—accounts of its full history and continued denial to this day. By shining a light on the mechanism of denial over the past century—and the aggressive suppression of genocide depiction—he aims to extinguish the notion of any “debate” by revealing the absurdity of denial against the irrefutable facts he comprehensively lays out in the film.
Directr of "Intent to Destroy" Joe Berlinger speaks ahead of documentary premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York

Directr of “Intent to Destroy” Joe Berlinger speaks ahead of documentary premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York

While several documentaries about the Armenian Genocide have been produced over the years, Intent to Destroy distinguishes itself by diverging from traditional documentary format and creating an extraordinary, multi-faceted vehicle that not only tackles the history and the continued denialism by the perpetrators—while uniquely taking the viewer onto the set of a Hollywood feature—but also delves into the many efforts of depiction that had been thwarted over the years by insurmountable Turkish influence. And as such, both The Promise and Intent to Destroy determinately break that cycle and triumph in delivering, through film, the true history of the Armenians that has been hidden for so many years.

Academy Award and seven-time Emmy nominated filmmaker, Joe Berlinger, is a storyteller at his core—his films include the highly acclaimed Brother’s Keeper, the Paradise Lost Trilogy, and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. He typically creates films that follow a story as it’s unfolding, and the making of The Promise presented itself as the ideal way to do just that. “I heard Eric [Esrailian] was producing The Promise, and I have long felt that it’s a shame that Hollywood has been afraid of making movies about the genocide, because of U.S.’ complicity in helping Turkey not acknowledge it. So when I heard the film was being made, I thought it was a historic opportunity to use that as the present tense thread to tell the underlying story of the genocide.” He continued to stress, “And more importantly, not just the genocide, but the legacy and aftermath of denial, and the mechanism of denial.”
Question and Answer session after premiere of documentary Intent To Destroy at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 25, 2017 (Source: Den of Geek)

Question and Answer session after premiere of documentary Intent To Destroy at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 25, 2017 (Source: Den of Geek)

With the feature film as his foray into telling this story, Berlinger also delves deeply into the suppression of depiction and draws parallels to what is happening in the world today.

Berlinger explains that “By embedding with [The Promise], I could tell the whole story of how as early as 1935, Irving Thalberg’s attempt to do ‘Forty Days of Musa Dagh’ was shut down, and ever since then there’s never been a mainstream Hollywood film. So I think that’s important to understand, how there are certain stories we are pressured into not telling. And in this age of alternate facts and fake news, I think that lesson has never been more important.”

While the peek behind the curtain of a feature film is certainly alluring, executive producer Eric Esrailian (Survival Pictures) stressed that the documentary is much bigger than an inside look at the making of The Promise. “It’s much more significant than behind-the-scenes, because we basically describe the depth of the denial—to some extent. I think it’s actually deeper than is even reflected in the documentary, but this is as close as a documentary has ever gone into the denial. And then it also talks about the depiction of atrocities, and how it’s been handled over the years, and the attempts to suppress the depiction… so I think it’s really important for people to see that.”

Angela Sarafyan (The Promise, Westworld)—who poignantly shares her perspective with Berlinger on the set of George’s feature film—unequivocally addressed the issue of denial. “There’s no question about the genocide happening. It is not even up for debate. It is just the truth. Period. And there’s nothing else to talk about… the documentary itself is just an opportunity for people to observe why it’s been this controversial.”

Award winning actor/author/historian Eric Bogosian, who lends his expertise to the film by way of adept narration and astute historic insight, spoke candidly to the singularity of the project. “I’ve seen a few movies that cover the Armenian Genocide, in terms of giving the information, and I really think this is the most deft one I have seen. Nothing against the others, some of which were done by friends of mine—and I really think they’re wonderful—but in terms of the evolution of trying to give so much information to the viewer in a quick amount of time, this movie really does a terrific job. There’s a lot to understand here—it’s World War I, the Ottoman Empire is 600 years old, so this isn’t stuff that just happens overnight. I think Joe did a great job on it.”

Peter Balakian, renown poet/author/historian, who also ardently contributed his expertise to the project, noted “Intent to Destroy is an impressive film for its multi-layers and its moving between art and history and witness.” The Pulitzer Prize winner went on to affirm that, “No film has ever dismantled the Turkish denial campaign of the Armenian Genocide as this film has. Berlinger takes us into the absurdity of Turkish denialism and brings us as well insights into the complexity of Terry George’s making of The Promise. It’s a film that should be seen widely by general audiences and should be used in the academic curriculum.”

With the one-two punch of The Promise and Intent to Destroy, the world is now forever equipped with two complementary works that will educate people about the Armenian Genocide for years to come. Although opening weekend box office numbers were soft for The Promise, this fact doesn’t rattle the filmmakers whatsoever. “I have to tell you, I’m so honored by the outpouring of support,” assures Esrailian. “We did this as a visual museum. And when you build a museum, you don’t start counting the box office on day one. It’s not for 2 days. It’s for a 100 years. And so, we’re honored.”

Bogosian further mitigates any apprehension over the initial performance of the movie. “I don’t have concerns. It’s a great movie and it’s certainly gotten a lot of attention. If they want to talk about box office and talk about the movie more—good. Because every time we talk about the movie, we talk about what happened. At the end of the day, the story that Turkey has been selling for a long time now is that there’s some sort of debate as to whether or not this happened. So the more we can get the information out that there’s no debate, then that’s a success… and this movie does that. Both movies do that.”

Intent to Destroy, Berlinger’s first film to premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, opened to a sold out theater and was followed by an extensive panel discussion with Berlinger, Esrailian, Bogosian and Balakian, as well as Carla Garabedian, producer of The Promise, and John Marshall Evans, former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia, both of whom were also featured in the film. The discussion was moderated by Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director, Middle East & North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.

There are four sold out festival screenings this week, and according to Berlinger, plans are underway for a theatrical release this summer, as well as eventual on-air broadcasts of the documentary feature.

Berlinger is hopeful, yet pragmatic, about the impact his film might have on this issue. “I hope I open people’s hearts and get people to start talking about it… Do I think a movie is going to change the overall dynamic? Probably not, but it will help people to have a dialogue about it, and that’s always useful and healthy.”

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