O?uzhan since the day it has begun. Although most

O?uzhan KARACA

Dr Annamaria Orla-Bukowska

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The Holocaust and Its Cultural
Meanings I

2 February 2018


A Close-Up Look at the Treatment of
Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in The
Promise, and the continuity of this treatment in today’s Turkey


The discussion over what Armenians experienced
in the Ottoman Empire after World War I, still maintains its violence since the
day it has begun. Although most historians and academics believe that Armenians
were the first victims of the 20th century’s first genocide, many Turkish
people still assert the idea that Armenians died either in the clashes between
two sides, or they lost their lives during the forced immigrations they were
subjected to because of so-called security matters. Despite the fact that many
historicians both in Turkey and Europe still question whether is it appropriate
or not to define the happenings as a genocide, it is an irrefutable historical
fact that Ottoman Empire intended to exterminate all Armenian people inside its
boundaries between 1915-1916, which is enough to call this happening as a
”genocide”, which is the word that was coined by Raphael Lemkin, who
described the word ”genocide” as follows:

” By genocide, we mean the
destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group. Generally               speaking,
genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation,except
 when accomplished by mass killings of
all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of
different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the
life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.”
( Lemkin, 79).


The Promise (2016), which
was directed by Oscar winning director Terry George, and produced by Kirk Kerkorian,
is based on a love triangle between an American photojournalist Christ, and Ana
who is charming, elite and beatiful, and an Armenian student named Michael who
is studying medicine in Constantinople far away from his town. In the
background of this love story, Armenian genocide is being reflected. (Imdb) Leading
roles are played by famous actors like Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac and
Charlotte  Le Bon (Imdb). The production
of the movie continued  Valletta,
(Spain), Sintra (Portugal), Valletta (Malta) and Aguilas (Spain). (imdb). It is
probable that, for example, the city Valletta, which has a lot of historical
buildings and splendid structures, was intentionally chosen to reflect the
unique beauty of Istanbul, as it was not possible for the movie makers to film
the scenes in Istanbul, which made them looking for a place that can be close
to it Istanbul itself. Besides, there are a lot of scenes in the movie that
were filmed in the sea, which pushed the crew to shot the most important scenes,
like the final scene where innocent Armenian people who are running away from
Turkish army are saved by French navy  in
?skenderun,  in port cities which are
Valletta, Sintra and Aguilas. As it is Hollywood movie, the language is
English, however; the fact that the English level and accent of every person in
the movie differs, make it more life-like, in that, while Ana, who came to
Istanbul from France, speaks English fluently, while Armenians, ordinary
Ottoman soldiers and artisans are devoid of accent.

Every historical movie has a specific
perspective, and The Promise was
surely intented to shed a light on Armenian Genocide, and show the whole world
what kinds of hardships Armenian people had to go through between the period
1915-1916.  While doing this, director abstains
from using allegorical narration, as  movies
that are about historical events, are prone to  having direct narration to convey the context
much better. Terry George, the director of the movie explained the reason why
he wanted to direct the movie in an interview as ” It’s one of the great forgotten catastrophes of the 20th
century. The word genocide was coined to describe what happened to the Armenian
community” (horizonweekly). Therefore, it is possible to say that the
perspective of the movie definitely supports Armenia when it is considered that
even the movie maker of the film is an Armenian businessman who financially supported
the movie in big amounts and made it possible to film it.

In the
beginning of the movie, the main charatacter Michael leaves his hometown where
he and his family have been living in happiness and are free to conduct any
kinds of tradition they wish, and comes to Constantinople where so many people
from different nationalities live together. The medicine school he is studying
harbors Turkish students as well as foreign pupils. However, when he goes to a
bazaar where he supposed to meet his father’s old friend who has a shop inside
the place, we get to see the  first
traces of the treatment of Armenians in Ottoman society. A Turkish artisan sees
him walking to Armenian textile shop and calls the owner of that shop ”dog”
telling Michael that man will robe him and he should come to his store, and at
the same time the Armenian owner nods his head and tells him to get back to his
tribe back. It is seen that there is a tension between them, especially because
of Turkish’s artisan’s jealousy, as it is well-known fact that Armenians have
always been successful in trade. ”Most Turks and Turkists explained the
perceived Armenian superiority in the economy by attributing it to the vicious
and cunning character of the Armenians, to their ”artificial” imitation of
Western culture”. (Hovannisian, 39) Even before the clashes break out, we can
sense that there is a nonstop tension between two sides. After Ottoman Empire
declares its entrance to the World War I, with the rising feelings of
nationalism, Ottoman citizens began uprisings. ”Once the First World War
began, however, and Russian Troops were poised to invade Turkey, the
frightening possibility appeared that the Armenians would join the Russians,
and Turkey would be destroyed. Hence, the Armenian danger had to be
eliminated.”(Melson,11) In one scene, Michael and Anna bumps into a crowd that
marching in the streets of Constantople, yelling, beating every foreign people
they see and burning the places which are belonged to other people down. This
kind of attitude of Ottoman society towards Armenians is continuing until the
end of the movie, however; we also see some Ottoman people who are trying to
help Armenians. There is a settlement founded on an isolated territory where
orphan Armenian children are concealed, and tried to get out of the country
with ships, Armenian children to get out of the country by ships. There, we see
an Ottoman administrator who strives to help the chidren clandestinely from the
government.The Emre, son of an Ottoman officer, and a close friend of Michael,
also tries to help Michael all along the movie by bribing the officers who are
trying to recruit Michael to the military. In addition, he also helps the
American reporter, at the end of the movie by letting Ambassador know that Chris
is in prison, which is the reversal of the fortune in the movie when Chris gets
out of prison and sets out to ?skenderun with French navy and save Armenians
who are escaping from death. From this view of perspective, it is possible to
say that there is no intention of showing Ottoman society as bad in whole,
however, it would not be true to say there is a euphemism of the perpetrators.

behaviours of senior officials and commanders are not different from the
citizens in the movie. Just after Ottoman Empire joins the war, generals
command the army to arrest every Armenian in the city without looking their
positions and ranks, put them in prisons, slaughter them, and send the left
ones to Aleppo, Syria, by making them walk hundreds of kilometers. We see Ismet
Ogan, who is the father of Emre and a chief officer, discovers his son’s bribe to
officers and he puts Michael in prison, and made his son recruited to the army
by force. After his short prison experience, Michael and other male Armenians
are taken to a construction area which is far away from Constantinople, as a
work force. The exploitation of the Armenians in that scene is reflected very
well, in that, Ottoman soldiers not only use civilians as a work force, they
also do not even blink an eye when they are executing those Armenians
arbitrarily. After Chris is entraped in the forest by Ottoman soldiers, and
taken to main headquarters, Faruk Pa?a, who is the commander of the Eastern
front of the war, blames him with spying after he reads his daily of war
reports and discovers Chris’s cooperation with a Turkish commander who helps
orphan Armenian children to get out of the country, and pushes him to reveal
the name of that commander. Upon Christ’s rejection, he sentences him to death.

has been harboring many nationalities and ethnitcies including Armenians since
the Ottoman Empire. As it was in the past, still the treatment of Armenans
differs person to person. However, when it comes to the current Turkish
government, it still functions as the Ottoman government back in 1915-1916. The
viewpoint of the government towards Armenians and Armenian Genocide has not
changed, on the contrary, denials and growing hatred are on going, and there is
strief by the government to conceal the happenings. ”The events of that time
have subsequently slipped into shadows of world history, thus gaining the title
”the forgotten genocide” (Dadrian, xviii). In the movie, we see Ottoman
commanders and officials who arrest and murder innocent Armenians. When we
judge today’s Turkish government and security forces from this perspective, we
will see that nothing actually has changed. In 2007, one of Turkey’s most
famous journalist, Hrant Dink who was the chief editor of the newspaper Agon,
was assasinated by Ogün Samast, a 17 year old Turkish nationalist, in
day-light. ( the guardian). Although there have been some charges againts the
government’s involvency, the president put the blame on Fetullah Gülen who is
the head of the Gülen movement which attempted a coup in 2016 by using his
folllowers in the Turkish army. After nine year over the happening,  a footage of Ogün Samast in a police headquarter
just after the event has been leaked.  In
the video, police officers and gendarme make him hold a Turkish flag in front
of the camera, hug him, and congratulate him and declaring him a hero. (bianet)
Even after this leaked footage, Turkish authorities hinder thorough
investigation into the involvement of state officials in the conspiracy ( the
national). We also see in the film that even though he is Ottoman and muslim
but he  has helped an Armenian, Emre was
taken into the army by his father to fight in the war. A same kind of situation
happened in Turkey when the famous writer and academic Orhan Pamuk was put on a
trial after his statements about the Armenian Genocide on Swiss Magazine.

”Mr. Pamuk, 53, the author of
“My Name Is Red” and “Snow,” is accused of insulting      “Turkishness” with his comments
to a Swiss magazine in February. In the interview, he referred to the Armenian
genocide committed by the Ottoman government during World War I, and to the
Turkish government’s more recent clashes with Kurds. “One million
Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares
talk about it,” the magazine quoted him as saying.” (nytimes)

Even before the
movie was premiered,there were some reactions from nationalist Turkish people.The
fact that it is the first Hollywood movie that reflecting the Armenian Genocide
and starring movie stars like Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac made people angry
as the movies which have movie stars are more likely to make people believe in
the story, in that, even some Turkish internet users started a petition to
protest Christian Bale, and they demanded a life-long ban on  Bale’s entry permit to Turkey. (changeorg)
There is another online petition started by nationalist to ban the movie from
coming out. ( changeorg) Despite only meeting three times with the spectator,
the movie received more than 55.126 1-star ratings in IMDb (independent). The
reason of this smear campaign is because of the sense of nationalism,
especially deriving its power from the government and the president. Turkish
government has also power over some central media organs, one of them is
”Hürriyet”, which accepted their fake new about Armenian leader Serj
Sarkisyan in 2011, by claiming that Sarkisyan gave a speech to Azerbeijani
youth and told them ”We took Karabakh, and left A?r? to you”. (habersol) When
it is considered that media functions as the fourth estate, this kind of fake
news that are tolerated by the government have embittered the enmity towards
Armenian in Turkish society day by day.

In Conclusion, The Promise reflects very well how
Ottoman Empire, with its citizens and army, treated Armenians back in
1915-1916, and when this treatment is compared to the actions and the mindsets of
today’s Turkey including government and the citizens, one can understand how some
things remain unaltered. However, in order to prevent any kind of similar happenings
in the future, societs must stop quarreling with each other and pave the way for
a healthy future.














Dadrian, V. N. (2008). The history of the Armenian
genocide: ethnic conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus.
Berghahn Books.

Hooton, Christopher.
“Christian Bale Armenian Genocide film gets 55,126 1-Star ratings on IMDb off
just three public screenings.” The Independent, Independent Digital
News and Media, 25 Oct. 2016, www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/the-promise-film-christian-bale-armenian-genocide-imdb-turkey-oscar-isaac-a7378881.html.

Hovannisian, Richard
G. Remembrance and denial: the case of the Armenian genocide. Wayne
State Univ. Press, 1999.

Police Officers Posed with Murderer Samast after Offence.” Bianet –
Bagimsiz Iletisim Agi,

Lang, Brent. “Terry George on His Armenian
Genocide Romance and Why Hollywood’s Blockbuster Obsession Hurts Movies.” Variety,
8 Sept. 2016,

      Lemkin, Raphael, et al. Axis Rule in
Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for
Redress. Lawbook Exchange, 2014.

Robert. Revolution and genocide: on the origins of the Armenian
genocide and the Holocaust. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996.

Reuters. “Popular Turkish Novelist on
Trial for Speaking of Armenian Genocide.” The New York Times, The New York
Times, 16 Dec. 2005,


“Hürriyet Ermeni dü?manl??? yapt???n? kabul etti!” SoL Haber Portal?,
7 Nov. 2014,

 “The Promise (2016).” IMDb,
IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/title/tt4776998/.















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