O?uzhan KARACADr Annamaria Orla-BukowskaThe Holocaust and Its CulturalMeanings I2 February 2018 A Close-Up Look at the Treatment ofArmenians in the Ottoman Empire in ThePromise, and the continuity of this treatment in today’s Turkey The discussion over what Armenians experiencedin the Ottoman Empire after World War I, still maintains its violence since theday it has begun. Although most historians and academics believe that Armenianswere the first victims of the 20th century’s first genocide, many Turkishpeople still assert the idea that Armenians died either in the clashes betweentwo sides, or they lost their lives during the forced immigrations they weresubjected to because of so-called security matters. Despite the fact that manyhistoricians both in Turkey and Europe still question whether is it appropriateor not to define the happenings as a genocide, it is an irrefutable historicalfact that Ottoman Empire intended to exterminate all Armenian people inside itsboundaries between 1915-1916, which is enough to call this happening as a”genocide”, which is the word that was coined by Raphael Lemkin, whodescribed the word ”genocide” as follows:” By genocide, we mean thedestruction 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 ofall members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan ofdifferent actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of thelife of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.”( Lemkin, 79).
‘The Promise (2016), whichwas directed by Oscar winning director Terry George, and produced by Kirk Kerkorian,is based on a love triangle between an American photojournalist Christ, and Anawho is charming, elite and beatiful, and an Armenian student named Michael whois studying medicine in Constantinople far away from his town. In thebackground of this love story, Armenian genocide is being reflected. (Imdb) Leadingroles are played by famous actors like Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac andCharlotte Le Bon (Imdb). The productionof the movie continued Valletta,(Spain), Sintra (Portugal), Valletta (Malta) and Aguilas (Spain). (imdb).
It isprobable that, for example, the city Valletta, which has a lot of historicalbuildings and splendid structures, was intentionally chosen to reflect theunique beauty of Istanbul, as it was not possible for the movie makers to filmthe scenes in Istanbul, which made them looking for a place that can be closeto it Istanbul itself. Besides, there are a lot of scenes in the movie thatwere 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 fromTurkish army are saved by French navy in?skenderun, in port cities which areValletta, Sintra and Aguilas. As it is Hollywood movie, the language isEnglish, however; the fact that the English level and accent of every person inthe movie differs, make it more life-like, in that, while Ana, who came toIstanbul from France, speaks English fluently, while Armenians, ordinaryOttoman soldiers and artisans are devoid of accent. Every historical movie has a specificperspective, and The Promise wassurely intented to shed a light on Armenian Genocide, and show the whole worldwhat kinds of hardships Armenian people had to go through between the period1915-1916. While doing this, director abstainsfrom using allegorical narration, as moviesthat are about historical events, are prone to having direct narration to convey the contextmuch better. Terry George, the director of the movie explained the reason whyhe wanted to direct the movie in an interview as ” It’s one of the great forgotten catastrophes of the 20thcentury.
The word genocide was coined to describe what happened to the Armeniancommunity” (horizonweekly). Therefore, it is possible to say that theperspective of the movie definitely supports Armenia when it is considered thateven the movie maker of the film is an Armenian businessman who financially supportedthe movie in big amounts and made it possible to film it.In thebeginning of the movie, the main charatacter Michael leaves his hometown wherehe and his family have been living in happiness and are free to conduct anykinds of tradition they wish, and comes to Constantinople where so many peoplefrom different nationalities live together. The medicine school he is studyingharbors Turkish students as well as foreign pupils. However, when he goes to abazaar where he supposed to meet his father’s old friend who has a shop insidethe place, we get to see the firsttraces of the treatment of Armenians in Ottoman society.
A Turkish artisan seeshim 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 atthe same time the Armenian owner nods his head and tells him to get back to histribe back. It is seen that there is a tension between them, especially becauseof Turkish’s artisan’s jealousy, as it is well-known fact that Armenians havealways been successful in trade. ”Most Turks and Turkists explained theperceived Armenian superiority in the economy by attributing it to the viciousand cunning character of the Armenians, to their ”artificial” imitation ofWestern culture”. (Hovannisian, 39) Even before the clashes break out, we cansense that there is a nonstop tension between two sides. After Ottoman Empiredeclares its entrance to the World War I, with the rising feelings ofnationalism, Ottoman citizens began uprisings. ”Once the First World Warbegan, however, and Russian Troops were poised to invade Turkey, thefrightening possibility appeared that the Armenians would join the Russians,and Turkey would be destroyed.
Hence, the Armenian danger had to beeliminated.”(Melson,11) In one scene, Michael and Anna bumps into a crowd thatmarching in the streets of Constantople, yelling, beating every foreign peoplethey see and burning the places which are belonged to other people down. Thiskind of attitude of Ottoman society towards Armenians is continuing until theend of the movie, however; we also see some Ottoman people who are trying tohelp Armenians. There is a settlement founded on an isolated territory whereorphan Armenian children are concealed, and tried to get out of the countrywith ships, Armenian children to get out of the country by ships. There, we seean Ottoman administrator who strives to help the chidren clandestinely from thegovernment.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 aretrying to recruit Michael to the military.
In addition, he also helps theAmerican reporter, at the end of the movie by letting Ambassador know that Chrisis in prison, which is the reversal of the fortune in the movie when Chris getsout of prison and sets out to ?skenderun with French navy and save Armenianswho are escaping from death. From this view of perspective, it is possible tosay 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.Thebehaviours of senior officials and commanders are not different from thecitizens in the movie. Just after Ottoman Empire joins the war, generalscommand the army to arrest every Armenian in the city without looking theirpositions and ranks, put them in prisons, slaughter them, and send the leftones to Aleppo, Syria, by making them walk hundreds of kilometers. We see IsmetOgan, who is the father of Emre and a chief officer, discovers his son’s bribe toofficers and he puts Michael in prison, and made his son recruited to the armyby force. After his short prison experience, Michael and other male Armeniansare taken to a construction area which is far away from Constantinople, as awork force.
The exploitation of the Armenians in that scene is reflected verywell, in that, Ottoman soldiers not only use civilians as a work force, theyalso do not even blink an eye when they are executing those Armeniansarbitrarily. After Chris is entraped in the forest by Ottoman soldiers, andtaken to main headquarters, Faruk Pa?a, who is the commander of the Easternfront of the war, blames him with spying after he reads his daily of warreports and discovers Chris’s cooperation with a Turkish commander who helpsorphan Armenian children to get out of the country, and pushes him to revealthe name of that commander. Upon Christ’s rejection, he sentences him to death.Turkeyhas been harboring many nationalities and ethnitcies including Armenians sincethe Ottoman Empire.
As it was in the past, still the treatment of Armenansdiffers person to person. However, when it comes to the current Turkishgovernment, it still functions as the Ottoman government back in 1915-1916. Theviewpoint of the government towards Armenians and Armenian Genocide has notchanged, on the contrary, denials and growing hatred are on going, and there isstrief by the government to conceal the happenings. ”The events of that timehave subsequently slipped into shadows of world history, thus gaining the title”the forgotten genocide” (Dadrian, xviii). In the movie, we see Ottomancommanders and officials who arrest and murder innocent Armenians. When wejudge today’s Turkish government and security forces from this perspective, wewill see that nothing actually has changed.
In 2007, one of Turkey’s mostfamous journalist, Hrant Dink who was the chief editor of the newspaper Agon,was assasinated by Ogün Samast, a 17 year old Turkish nationalist, inday-light. ( the guardian). Although there have been some charges againts thegovernment’s involvency, the president put the blame on Fetullah Gülen who isthe head of the Gülen movement which attempted a coup in 2016 by using hisfolllowers in the Turkish army.
After nine year over the happening, a footage of Ogün Samast in a police headquarterjust after the event has been leaked. Inthe video, police officers and gendarme make him hold a Turkish flag in frontof the camera, hug him, and congratulate him and declaring him a hero. (bianet)Even after this leaked footage, Turkish authorities hinder thoroughinvestigation into the involvement of state officials in the conspiracy ( thenational). We also see in the film that even though he is Ottoman and muslimbut he has helped an Armenian, Emre wastaken into the army by his father to fight in the war. A same kind of situationhappened in Turkey when the famous writer and academic Orhan Pamuk was put on atrial 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 commentsto a Swiss magazine in February.
In the interview, he referred to the Armeniangenocide committed by the Ottoman government during World War I, and to theTurkish government’s more recent clashes with Kurds. “One millionArmenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands and nobody but me darestalk about it,” the magazine quoted him as saying.” (nytimes)Even before themovie was premiered,there were some reactions from nationalist Turkish people.Thefact that it is the first Hollywood movie that reflecting the Armenian Genocideand starring movie stars like Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac made people angryas the movies which have movie stars are more likely to make people believe inthe story, in that, even some Turkish internet users started a petition toprotest 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 fromcoming out. ( changeorg) Despite only meeting three times with the spectator,the movie received more than 55.
126 1-star ratings in IMDb (independent). Thereason of this smear campaign is because of the sense of nationalism,especially deriving its power from the government and the president. Turkishgovernment has also power over some central media organs, one of them is”Hürriyet”, which accepted their fake new about Armenian leader SerjSarkisyan in 2011, by claiming that Sarkisyan gave a speech to Azerbeijaniyouth and told them ”We took Karabakh, and left A?r? to you”. (habersol) Whenit is considered that media functions as the fourth estate, this kind of fakenews that are tolerated by the government have embittered the enmity towardsArmenian in Turkish society day by day.In Conclusion, The Promise reflects very well howOttoman Empire, with its citizens and army, treated Armenians back in1915-1916, and when this treatment is compared to the actions and the mindsets oftoday’s Turkey including government and the citizens, one can understand how somethings remain unaltered. However, in order to prevent any kind of similar happeningsin the future, societs must stop quarreling with each other and pave the way fora healthy future.
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Remembrance and denial: the case of the Armenian genocide. WayneState Univ. Press, 1999.
“HRANT D?NK MURDER:Police Officers Posed with Murderer Samast after Offence.” Bianet -Bagimsiz Iletisim Agi,bianet.org/english/english/137070-police-officers-posed-with-murderer-samast-after-offence.Lang, Brent.
“Terry George on His ArmenianGenocide Romance and Why Hollywood’s Blockbuster Obsession Hurts Movies.” Variety,8 Sept. 2016,variety.com/2016/film/markets-festivals/terry-george-on-his-armenian-genocide-romance-and-why-hollywoods-blockbuster-obsession-hurts-movies-1201853844/. Lemkin, Raphael, et al. Axis Rule inOccupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals forRedress.
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