15 June 2008

2496) Role of the First Armenian Propaganda Film in the Development of Armenian Nationalism

Since the cinema appeared the directive impact of its visual , auditory and fictive structure has led this art to be an effective means of propaganda in spreading being adopted and molding public opinion of an idea, a doctrine, an ideology or a brief. The use of cinema by Bulgarians,Armenians (the minorities of the Otoman Empire) in the direction of their own political aims also happened soon after the cinema invented. Bulgarians were those who took action first on this issue. The Bulgarian Princedom who itself created the problem of Macedonia, making use of this power of the cinema, had a propaganda film made called the “Ottoman Cruelty” to receive the support of Europe on this problem.The second step was taken by diaspora Armenians in the USA in 1919.

The diaspora Armenians in the USA, in order to form public opinion in both the USA and Europe , which would support their claim and to strenghten the Armenian nationalism, began to studies of a film which would create an hatred on its viewers against the Turks. This first propaganda film known as “Armenian crucified or the souls on auction” was completed in 1919. The film was adapted from a journal of an Armenian girl called Aurora Mardiganian which was later written by M.I.Gates as Armenia trespassed: Aurora Mardiganian who saved from the big massacre. Diaspora Armenians, in order to redound the authenticity of the film included Henry Morgenthau (Former USA ambassador in the Ottoman Empire) in the supporting cast in the film. This film whose finance was provided to Armenians and Syrians by American Aid Committee (American committee fir Armenian and Syrian Relief) and which was made to in seling studio was released first in the USA and later in Europe.

The underlying fact why the film was shot and released in 1919 was political. At that time Armenian committees had been putting pressure on the USA for taking Armenia to its mandate. For the same purpose, American Committee for independence of Armenia had been founded by Vahan Cardashian and James W.Gerard . The aim of the committee was to include a part of caucasia, Eastern Anatolia and Çukurova into Armenian Republic of which capital was Yerevan by the assistance of the USA. Namely the support of American public opinion which would be acquired via the film would have been used as a means of pressure on the Senate and House of Representatives the impact of the film on American public opinion resulted beyond the expectations as regards both economically and politically.

The film as was in the USA, also attracted a lot of attention in Europe, especially in Switzerland. The release of the film was tried to be obstructed by Münir Süreyya Bey, Otoman Charge D’Affaires of Bern. Despite all the difficulties displayed by the Swiss government, as a result of Süreyya Bey’s insistent attitude and his shift, the release of the film was banned after a short time. However this prohibition increased the interest towards it.

The film, “The Souls on Auction”was the first early period propaganda film, which was made by diaspora Armenians. It set an example for the films which would be made later on. Besides, it contributed with the development of Armenian nationalism and the increase of Armenian supporters in Europe.

Source: Ali Özuyar-Writer- Historian of Cinema
Erciyes University-Nevsehir University
2nd International Social Student

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