By DAVID CRUMM
How tragic to find the Armenian Genocide playing out in the Arts & Entertainment sections of American newspapers and magazines, this week!
Touching off the dispute are Turkish nationalists who are so upset about the new movie The Promise, debuting in theaters this week, that they have released a competing feature film that denies the larger Turkish culpability in the Armenian Genocide. What’s more, Turkish media activists have tried to sabotage release of The Promise by, among other things, dive bombing the movie’s IMDB page with thousands of low ratings.
If you’re just discovering this news story, here is a helpful New York Times overview of the dispute and the dueling feature films, headlined: Battle Over 2 Films Reflects Turkey’s Quest to Control a Bitter History. You also might have heard about this dispute, over the past week, on National Public Radio or in a regional newspaper near you.
Ironically, film critics themselves have been tough on The Promise. Movie critics are not chiding The Promise for its portrayal of the Armenian Genocide itself; rather, they are criticizing the addition of a melodramatic love story. Care to read a couple of those critics’ reviews? Here is the NYTimes review of the film; and here is the Rolling Stone review.
This week, if you care about international human rights issues, you may want to invest in buying a ticket to see The Promise—if you can find it showing at a theater near your home. That’s the movie that tells the more accurate story of the genocide, so presumably a ticket to the film will add support to that more truthful effort. But this column is not intended as a movie review.
A JOURNALISTIC PERSPECTIVE
Here at ReadTheSpirit, we pride ourselves in following the best of journalistic practices: accuracy, fairness and balance. Our colleagues courageously report on a host of thorny issues concerning racial, ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. And, every year, we publish fresh stories highlighting the need to remember the dangers of genocide and other threats to human rights.
This week, our Holidays & Festivals columnist Stephanie Fenton is covering the annual observance of Yom Hashoah, which continues until sundown on April 24, 2017. April 24 also is marked, each year, as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day by the Armenian diaspora around the world. Here at ReadTheSpirit, we have been actively covering centennial milestones, including the genocide, that are part of observances recalling the World War I era. One of the most moving pieces we’ve published on the centennial of the genocide is Rodney Curtis’s short memoir about visiting the memorial complex at Yerevan.
(Note to readers who are new to this subject: If you want to learn more about the history of this genocide, right now, Wikipedia has a fairly detailed and balanced account.)
From a journalistic perspective, Turkish-nationalist activists cannot be allowed to erase this chapter of history. And, even as we say that, let’s be clear: The world is long past trying to heap guilt for the Holocaust/Shoah in the 1930s and 1940s on the collective shoulders of the millions of Germans and German-Americans living today. The Armenian Genocide took place even earlier. Turkish citizens and Turkish-Americans should realize that this is not a question of heaping guilt for those crimes 102 years ago on the collective Turkish population today.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
The world must remember. That’s the bottom line and the point of this column is to offer our readers links and resources to dig into this subject—and share accurate information with friends and colleagues. That’s the least we can do in this week’s issue of ReadTheSpirit, which coincides with both genocide memorial days. We must remember.
The Promise is a flawed film, no question, but we recommend it as a milestone in moviemaking. Unlike the Shoah, few feature films have tried to grapple with the Armenian Genocide. Another option is the 2002 Atom Egoyan movie, Ararat. Like The Promise, Egoyan’s film received mixed reviews. One complaint about Arrarat is that the multi-layered narrative, which amounts to a movie within a movie, was difficult to follow.
In my office at ReadTheSpirit, I have two books on my shelf about the genocide. One is the 2002 HarperCollins history of the genocide and its legacy by Peter Balakian, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response. This book, in particular, has an entire chapter on what happened on April 24, 1915, when Turks wiped out a cross section of Armenia’s civic and cultural leaders in an attempt to cripple further resistance. If you appreciate Balakian’s first volume, then you may also want to order his 2009 follow-up book, Black Dog of Fate.
The other book I keep handy is a University of Virginia Press book by the late historian Merrill D. Peterson, called Starving Armenians. During his lifetime, I interviewed Peterson on a number of occasions, mainly anniversaries of key events in American history. He was an expert on Thomas Jefferson, the Civil War era and, perhaps most importantly, he studied how Americans thought about history over time. His book, like Balakian’s Tigris, opens a window on the Armenian Genocide from the perspective of people around the world, learning about these events and trying to respond.
Want something more substantial? First, you should know that Balakian’s Tigris is well documented and his 393 pages of text are followed by 60 pages of end notes and bibliography for further reading. But, in 2017, two other major histories are widely praised, both from university presses and weighing in at more than 500 pages. Taner Akcam’s 2012 The Young Turks’ Crimes Against Humanity was strengthened by the author’s access to Ottoman Empire archives. Ronald Grigor Suny’s They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else is part of the Princeton University Press’s important series of books called Human Rights and Crimes against Humanity. Other volumes in the series range from the Stalin era to contemporary conflicts.
As recently as Sunday, April 23, 2017, The New York Times reported on Akcam’s ongoing, worldwide search of archives, calling him “The Sherlock Holmes of Armenian Genocide.”
This week, the team here at ReadTheSpirit urges you to explore these resources, learn and share these stories.
We must remember.