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03 November 2008

2638) Atom Egoyan: Life and His Cinema by Sedat Laçiner

Atom Egoyan is a Canadian citizen, a well-known film director and scriptwriter.

EARLY YEARS: Mr. Egoyan was born in 1960 in Cairo (Egypt) as the first child of Joseph and Shushan Yeghoyan. Then the family was in the furniture business. However, his parents were interested in arts. Joseph Yeghoyan, in his youth, had studied painting in the Art Institute of Chicago. Sources say that the reason behind the family naming their first-born ‘Atom’ was the building of the first nuclear reactor in Egypt (Siobhan Rossiter, ‘Atom Egoyan’, Northern Stars, www.northernstars.ca/directorsal/egoyanbio.html; ‘All about Atom’, http:/members.cruzio.com/). .


The family migrated to Canada three years after Atom was born. While there was a considerable Armenian population being established in Nontreal and its environs, the family settled in british Colombia with their newborn daughter ‘Eve’ (Atom’s sister Eve Egoyan is also an artist. Eve, who is a well-known pianist, has contributed to Atom Egoyan’s mo¬vies, family Viewing, Speeking Parts, The Adjuster and Calander, with her piano. The Things in Between is her the latest work). In other words Atom Egoyan found himself a part of the Canadian society from an early age and was detached from the Armenian culture. The family deciding to change their last name to Egoyan shows their struggle to found a new life and to forget the past. The family continued to do their furniture business in Canada. Atom, in his youth ignored his Armenian background and lived like a typical Canadian. For many years, he was so hostile to his Armenian identity he refused to learn how to speak Armenian. Egoyan believes that this was due to Iiving at a place where there were no Armenians and the people around him were unreceptive to foreigners. In other words, Egoyan who was discriminated by the environment felt a lot of resentment to his own identity and tried very hard to be a part of the dominant culture. Egoyan describes those years by:

“During my childhood I was desperate to assimilate, in Victoria, I wanted to be like the other kids.[1] They used to call me the little Arab boy because I was a little darker, had a strange name and came from egypt. It wasn‘t until adolescence that I realized something had been lost in my life,” (Hrag Vartanian, ‘The Armenian Stars of the Canadian Cultural Universe’, Feature Articles on Canada, www.agbu.org).

According to himself, he became aware of his ethnic identity when he started his university education in Toronto (Hrag Vartanian, ‘The Armenian Stars of the Canadian Cultural Universe’, Feature Articles on Canada, www.agbu.org). We can easily say that the reason why assimilation is the most prevalent topic he uses in his movies, is due to his experiences from his childhood and youth (Hrag Vartanian, ‘The Armenian Stars of the Canadian Cultural Universe’, Feature Articles on Canada, www.ag¬bu.org).

As a student, Egoyan worked at the Empress Hotel as a busboy for four summers. Egoyan says that his experiences there prepared him for what he was to do later in his life. He summarizes these experiences as “to see events through many angles”. The movie Speaking Farts (1989) might be the movie where he used these experiences the most because it takes place at a hotel room.

Egoyan intensified his artistic endeavors while continuing his higher education at the Toronto University Trinity College. It is interesting to note that Egoyan chose to study International Relations. While studying diplomacy, Egoyan learned how to play guitar and continued his attempts at writing script.

EGOYAN REALIZES THAT HE IS AN ARMENIAN:
As mentioned before, Egoyan for years denied his Armenian identity. His transformation corresponds with his years in Toronto. Maybe under the influence of the politics education he was receiving or maybe in Toronto’s particular environment, Egoyan rediscovered his Armenian roots and joined an Armenian association at the university. As a member of this association he concentrated on the history and language of Armenia and under the tutelage of an Anglican priest, developed his Armenian identity. Afterwards, he was active in every Armenian social event and tried to develop his identity as an Armenian. Egoyan explains those times by saying, “Armenian student events at that time became a part of my life” (Hrag Vartanian, ‘The Armenian Stars of the canadian Cultural Universe’, Feature Articles on Canada, www.ag¬bu.org). According to Egoyan his revolutionary transformation was due to him being in a part of an Armenian group for the first time in his life. Egoyan, who lived apart from Armenians for many years, discovered that being an Armenian was not something to be ashamed of, and started to enjoy having a different ethnic identity. In this framework, it can be said that Atom Egoyan became an ‘identity convert’.

If we study Egoyan’s artistic identity, we should not be surprised that he turned out to be an artist, considering he grew up in a family that gave primary importance to art. Young Egoyan started writing plays when he was only 13 years old and continued this hobby into his university years, becoming more professional. The writers that influenced him the most were Eugene lonesco, Samuel Beckett and Harold Finter (Brian D. Johnson, ‘Exotic Atom’, Maclean’s, Vol. 107, No: 40, 3 October 1994). During his years in university, he also became interested in music and cinema. Egoyan started to make short films when he was at the university. His first movie, Howard In Particular (1979), was made with help from Hart House Film Board. This movie brought him an award from Canadian National Exhibition. This became his first of many awards. This success brought many other opportunities and Hart House continued to help him with other short films.

Atom Egoyan also discovered his talent for writing screenplays during his university years. Open House, which he wrote while he was at the university, was a movie script for a half an hour-long film. Canadian organizations acknowledged his talent and Egoyan received every support they could provide. In forming his identity, his struggles with the Hollywood and Western culture and the policies of local governments were influential. The backing provided by the Canadian Art Council for his script support this conclusion.

After graduating from Toronto University in 1982, Atom Egoyan started working at the Tarragon Theatre as a play writer. At that time Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) became interested in Open House and bought its broadcasting rights and later broadcasted it on national TV (1982).

In 1983, in spite of his moderate successes, Atom Egoyan was trying to overcome his identity crisis, trying to succeed in what he was doing but was known only by a limited number of people. While working on his first long-movie, Next of Kin, he met his current wife Arsinee Khanjian, and she helped him find himself and later his Armenian identity became more dominant.

Arsinée is a Lebanese Armenian and she migrated to Canada when she was 17 years old. In other words Arsinee Khanjian is an Armenian who lived as an Armenian for much longer than Egoyan. This caused her Armenian character to be stronger, distinct and maybe more radical. Arsinee was working as an actor in an Armenian movie called Mousetrap. Arsinee was a young actress, who was helped by her dentist husband, in trying to get famous. The dentist husband insistently followed Atom Egoyan for giving his wife a chance. While this caused him to lose his wife, she eventually became famous. The professional relationship between Atom Egoyan and Arsinee Khanjian soon became a passionate love affair that lead to marriage. For Arsinee, getting married with a talented director was important. However that director being an Armenian was even more important. Arsinee summarizes this situation as such,
‘I had met an artist with my history and culture. This had always been, maybe unconsciously, my dream.’ (Brian D. Johnson, ‘Arsinée Unveiled’, Maclean’s, Vol. 112, No.37, 13 September 1999, p.597).

Atom Egoyan’s relationship with his wife affected his professional life and forced him to think more strongly about his Armenian identity. Egoyan admits this:

‘Our relationship with Arsinee merged with the stories of the movies.’

Egoyan’s nickname for his wife, ‘Armenian Princess’, shows that the basis of the relationship is being Armenian. Arsinée, just like Egoyan, studied political science at university. This later affected her political behavior. Khanjian currently is 42 years old and the couple has a seven year-old son. Khanjian’s nationalism is at such a level that, when the role of a Latino woman in the TV program Foolish Heart was given to her, the character was changed in to an Armenian woman. Because the story of the program was about a middle class lady’s ‘liberal’ adventures, Arsinee admitted that she was a little worried about how the Armenian society would react towards it (Rick McGinnis, ‘Khanjian Emerges from the Shadow, Actor’s recent Work Establishes Her Own Identity’, National Post, 9 September 1999). In other words Arsi¬nee tries to keep her relations with the Canadian Armenian society at the highest level and in this way, can also influence her husband.

After finding ‘his desired actress and wife’, Atom Egoyan recorded his first long movie Next of Kin in 1984. This movie is also the first film in which his Armenian identity becomes apparent (Jonathan Rosenbaum, ‘Tribal Trouble’, Chicago Reader, 19 August 1994). The movie is about the relations between an Armenian family and the lead character (Peter). This movie was also funded by official Canadian organizations. Without the help of Canada Council and Ontario Art Council, this movie could not have been made. The movie was screened but it’s hard to say that it received much appraisal from the viewers. The movie was judged as being ignored by a movie critic (Brian D. Johnson, ‘Exotic Atom’, Maclean’s, Vol. 107, No. 40, 3 October 1994). At that time Egoyan was in dire straits and some television projects provided his only income.

Soon after this period, Egoyan agreed with CBC to direct a political movie about the Fife of an Irish boxer. As a result In This Corner (1989) came to being. These successes brought him many other projects from Canadian and the US television corporations. Egoyan, based in Toronto, directed many TV shows until the mid-1980s.
In the mid-1980s he directed his second long movie, Family Viewing. The story is about a woman’s relations with her husband and stepson, and Arsinee Khanjian and Gabrielle Rose play in the lead. The movie was first screened in 1987, and was the first movie of Atom Egoyan to attract considerable attention from the cinema world. Egoyan started to appear in many international and national film festivals. At that time he emphasized his support for the development of the Canadian culture and as a result was duly awarded. Ft is not surprising to see Armenian actors is Atom Egoyan’s movies that are full of Canadian nuances. In an interview, Egoyan stated that he felt this movie to be closest to him (Johnson, ‘Exotic...’).

Family Viewing was followed by Speaking Parts (1987) (About this movie see: A Taubin, ‘Up and Atom’, Film Comment, Vol. 25, No: 6, November-December 1989). The story of the movie is about a Hotel maidservant’s love and surrounding stories. It was shown in 1989 Cannes Film festival. The actors were, Aidan Tierney, David Hemblen, Gabrielle Rose and Michael McManus. The Adjuster made in 1991 is one of the rare big budget movies of Egoyan. The budget was 1.5 million dollars and was the second movie of Egoyan to be shown in Cannes.

Adjuster was a movie with many sexual overtones. (About this movie see also: B. D. Johnson, ‘Journeys Into Darkness’, Maclean’s, 16 September 1991, B. D. Johnson, ‘Bleak Beauty’. Maclean’s, 30 September 1991. D. Ansen, ‘A Holiday From The Hype’, Newsweek, 29 June 1992). Even some critics said that the movie was an important illustration of Egoyan’s “sexual obsessions”. The lead of the movie was again Arsinee Khanjian. Other actors were Elias Koteas and Maury Chaykin. When asked about the sexual nature of the movie and the con¬servative Armenian society. Arsinee said that. ‘I was never uncomfortable with Atom’s way of presenting sexuality. Maybe it was satisfying my secret fantasies too’. Johnson, ‘Exotic ...‘. It is quite surprising to hear these words from a person who constantly talks about respecting the conservative nature of the Armenian society. Cannes appearances attracted the Orion Classic to sign a U.S. distribution deal with Egoyan. As a result, Adjuster was the first Egoyan movie to have received wide audience viewing in the U.S. and Egoyan became a well-known director. Moreover Adjuster received the Jury Award at the Moscow Film Festival. This one million-ruble award laid the foundations for his next movie in Armenia. Because a special clause of the award was to make a movie in the old Soviet Union lands. Egoyan became known as the ‘Canadian director’ as a result of this movie. The movie also received the ‘Best Canadian Film’ and 250 thousand dollars from the Toronto Film Festival.

CALENDAR: EGOYAN’S ARMENIAN IDENTITY MEETS CINEMA
Until 1992, Egoyan created some small Armenian characters in his movies but his dream was to make a movie wholly about Armenians. We can say that he made the movie of Calendar with this in mind. As mentioned earlier, Egoyan had to make a movie in the old Soviet Union lands in order to collect his 1 million-ruble prize. This condition gave birth to the movie of Calendar. As time went by the prize decreased and Armenia was separated from the Soviet Union. As the movie project was about to falter, Atom Egoyan contacted the German Television Channel ZDF during the Rotterdam Film festival and with its financial backing reinitiated the project.

The crew went to Armenia, but because of financial and time limitations the most important scenes of this 75-mimute movie had to be recorded in 10 days. Most parts of the movie were recorded by a home-camera and script had to be shortened. It is even claimed that the movie was recorded without a set script. Soldiers were in attendance for the duration of the recordings. In conclusion, Egoyan’s dream turned out to be not what he desired, due to a small budget (80,000 dollars) and unsuitable envi¬ronment. However this was his first ‘historical’ movie and could be considered as his first step towards Ararat. The director not achieving what he really wanted in Calendar tried again in Ararat. The director also acted with his wife in this movie. Ashot Adamian, was the other lead. Even though the movie could not be distributed widely, it received good reviews. Issues these reviews most discussed were the close connection set between Armenia and Canada, family relations of the director, sexual relations and problems faced by an ethnic minority (Armenians) that the movie cultivated. Another point that has to be considered is that Calendar was one of the most promoted movies of the director. Especially in Canada, the USA, the UK and France local Armenian organizations worked very hard to promote the film.

Calendar, as mentioned earlier, is the second movie by Egoyan, which deals with Armenian identity. Egoyan, in this movie, studies being an Armenian on three levels. a) Nationalism, b) Diaspora, c) Assimilation.[2] The driver-photographer’s wife and photographer-wife relationships represent these levels in the movie. The movie is based on three characters and three time periods. Changing timelines is one of Egoyan’s most prominent specialties. In Ararat he uses two different timelines. Calendar begins in the bedroom of a Canadian Photographer (Atom Egoyan). There is a 12-page calendar on the wall with photographs of historical Armenian Churches and all through the movie the photographer has affairs with many women speaking in different languages. From time to time he looks at these Churches and remembers his wife (Arsinee Khanjian) he left back in Armenia. When he went to Armenia to take the photos of the Churches for the Calendar, a nationalist Armenian (Ashot Adamian) worked as a guide and driver for his wife. The dialog between the wife and the driver is always in Armenian and the director did not use any subtitles. Further on in the movie, we see that the photographer and his wife have separated and we learn about his thoughts on the relationship between the driver and his ex-wife. The real reason of the tension between the photographer and his wife is that he takes the photos of the churches and considers this just another job while his wife respects what these churches stand for.

The last word we can say about the movie is that the director found this movie to be too ‘personal’. The separation scene between the photographer and his wife is even thought to represent the separation of Egoyan and his wife (‘Viewing Atom Egoyan’, Maclean’s, Vol. 106 (49), 6 December 1993). While the couple discounts these claims, Egoyan states that Calendar put himself and his relationship on the forefront and included some sections of his life. In other words, Calendar Contains some clues to Egoyan’s thought process and his life.

Exotica: The next important work of Egoyan after Calendar, was a British-Canadian production, Exotica (1994). This was the Egoyan’s largest movie until then (5 million dollars). Egoyan studies an isolated life, mixed emotions and their consequences to ones sexual life in this movie. The movie takes place at a striptease bar called Exotica and deals with a young lady Christina (Mia Kirshner), her close relations and her customers (Other characters and actors in this movie are, Zoe (Arsinee Khanjian), Eric. prehent owner of the establishment (Elias Koteas) and Thomas (Don McKellar). Exotica became the most successful Egoyan movie up till then. It entered the official contest of the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and received the International Film Critics Award. It found a large audience in Canada and received 8 Gerie Awards. Its distribution in the USA was done by the Miramax, which is also doing Ararat. The script of the movie was published as a book in 1995. Additionally, positive response from the US media created large opportunities for Egoyan. Some say that Exotica was the movie that opened the doors of the US movie industry to Egoyan (Janet Maslin, ‘Atom Egoyan May Have His Breakthrough In Exotica’, New York Times, 5 March 1995, section 2, p.13. For detailed information about Exotica look.: J. Hoberman, ‘Ghost Story’, Village Voice, Vol. 40 (10), 7 March 1995, Shlomo Schwartzberg, ‘Exotica’, Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada, Vol. 29 (I), Fall 1994 / Winter 1995, Brian D. Johnson, ‘Exotic Atom’, Maclean’s, Vol. 107, No. 40, 3 October 1994).

Egoyan’s success in the US increased his popularity in Canada. According to the distribution firm, it is hard for a Canadian director or movie to attract attention in Canada (Brian D. Johnson, ‘In Search of a Uniting Embrace’, Maclean’s, Vol. 107, No. 40,3 October 1994). Canadians usually wait until a Canadian artist becomes well-known overseas before they embrace him or her. In this context, Egoyan success overseas, especially France, made Egoyan and his films much more popular in Canada.

SWEET HEREAFTER: EGOYAN, AN OSCAR NOMINEE
Sweet Hereafter (This movie was shown as ‘A Different World’ on Turkish television) is one of the most significant Egoyan movies. It can be said that this movie made him the success that he is. This movie was the successful movie that the Canadian movie industry was dreaming about and made Egoyan one of the most important movie personalities in Canada.[3] Sweet Hereafter was made by Egoyan adapting Russell Banks’ novel to the silver screen.[4] While novel takes place in New York, Egoyan changed it to Sam Dent (British Colombia). This change emphasi¬zed the Canadian character of the movie. British actor Fan Holm played the lead. Initially Donald Sutherland was considered for the role but it did not happen. The movie premiered in Cannes Film Festival and received the Special Jury Award, International critics Award and the Ecumenical Jury Award (Barbara Wickens, ‘Triple-win Canadian at Cannes’, Maclean’s, Vol. 110, No. 22, 22 June 1997). The movie also opened the 1997 Toronto film Festival and became the international pride of the small Canadian cinema. Canadian Film industry compared to Hollywood is very small and is hungry for international success. That’s why Egoyan’s success is very important for Canadian Cinema (Charles Gordon, ‘Why Cultural Canada Has Yet to Come of Age’, Maclean’s, Vol. 111, No. 19, 11 May 1998, p.11. For Egoyan’s place in the Canadian Film industry: Brian D. Johnson, ‘Hollywood Stars and Canadian Style’, Maclean’s, Vol. 112, No. 38, 20 September 1999, p.56. For a comparison between Hollywood and the Canadian Film Industry: Geoffrey Macnub, ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’, Independent, 13 July 2001). The movie won eight Genie Awards from 16 nominations in 1997 and first time in the history of the Canadian cinema a Canadian movie was nominated for two Oscars in 1998 (‘Best Script’ and ‘Best Director’). It was considered ‘unbelievable’ for a Canadian movie and Canadian director to be nominated for Oscars. Apart from the awards, international critics’ reviews were also very positive (Johnson, ‘Champagne ...’). Especially, appraisal from Le Monde, The New York Times and USA Today made Egoyan’s connection with the American and French public that much stronger.

In spite of all this success, Sweet Hereafter, just like other Egoyan movies, was not a box office success. This should be tied to Egoyan’s style and stories, which are hard to understand by ‘intellectual’ and popular audience.[5]

While the movie has nothing to do with the Armenian problem, Armenian groups still could find some connection between the movie and their accusations. For example lirag Vartanian’s review about the movie;

‘Some see the affects of the genocide in Sweet Hereaifier. It is based on Russel Banks’ novel of the same name, and is about the trauma of a town in British Colombia that has a deadly bus accident. Critics say that this is a unconscious representation of the unhealed scars of the Armenian nation and the Turkish denial’ (Hrag Vartanian, ‘The Armenian Stars of the Canadian Cultural Universe’, Feature Article on Canada, www.agbu.org).

His following movie Felicia’s Journey is also a typical Egoyan movie. While it did not bring large box office revenues, it was still considered as quality work by the viewers. With this movie Atom Egoyan became the first Canadian director to have competed three times (at different times) in the Cannes Film Festival (Tanya Davies, ‘It’s Cancon Time at Cannes’, Maclean’s, Vol. 112. No. 20, 17 May 1999, p.8). The movie is a thriller that tells the story of a young Irish girl’s adventures in Birmingham (UK). This film also gave the director the opportunity for him to strengthen his connections in both the UK and Ireland.[6]

MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF EGOYAN’S FILMS
If we list the main characteristics of Egoyan’s films in the context of Ararat:

- Egoyan stresses his two identities. Being a Canadian and being an Armenian. His emphasis on being a Canadian returns as financial assistance from a nation that is hungry for artistic success and makes him a ‘hero’. Having found his Armenian roots later in life makes him much eager to remind people of his Armenian background. However he present this issue as not conflicting with being a true Canadian. The Toronto Star newspaper even describes him as a Canadian nationalist (‘Atom Splitting’, The Toronto Star, 22 December 2000).

- The issues and style he chooses to use in his films are sometimes found incomprehensible and too deep and this decreases the box office revenue he generates. However, Egoyan’s choices are found to be very valuable for Cinema and bring considerable respect from his peers. To be perceived to form an alternative to Hollywood also brings him respect.

- He is known for bringing a new dimension to movies, compared to American films. He is a perfectionist and seems to demand the viewers’ attention. Actor Fan Holm summarizes this as, ‘You might not see him. Maybe you even have to watch the movie three times in two weeks. But he is always there. This is his style, the use of Light, sound and shadows, his surroundings and time. This is his everything...’ (http:/members.cruzio.com/).

- Director has a special link with France. Especially Cannes Film Festival is where his real success started. That’s why it is not surprising for him to make his new movie’s (Ararat) premiere over there. There are two more reasons why the director has close relations with France. The first is the special relationship between Canada and France and secondly, the important Armenian minority in France.

- Most of his movies, even those that mainly deal with his Armenian identity, received funding from Canadian Art Council, Telefilm Canada and local governments. In other words, he cannot be accused of being sponsored solely by Armenians. Egoyan states that the most important reason behind him making his movies in Canada as official funding and claims that government support frees him from market pressure (Brian D. Johnson, ‘In Search of a Uniting Embrace’, Maclean’s, Vol. 107, No, 27, 1 July 1994).

- In Egoyan’s movies structure is more important than dialog.

- It can be said that he likes using his camera from an unusual angle. However, with increasing fame, his choice in stories and presentation has become more conservative.

- Stories mostly deal with assimilation, identity crisis and personal problems. Director ties this to his personal experiences: ‘Characters I form in my movies are usually those who want to find a place to settle.’ (Johnson, ‘In Search of a...’).

- While Egoyan’s movies have small budgets, their influence has been much greater than most big-budget movies.

EGOYAN’S OPINIONS ABOUT THE ARMENIAN PROBLEM
After examining Atom Egoyan’s art and movies, another important issue in the context of Ararat is his opinions about Armenian problem. First of all, as mentioned earlier, Egoyan’s stance during his university years and his stance before are completely different. We can say that this transformation radicalized him. When one experiences a transformation as great as he did, in order to justify ones identity, a person moves to the edge and his or her emotions and thoughts become more radical. We can also see similar changes in Egoyan. His wife, who is known to have radical opinions, has not helped him in his transformation. She even encouraged him to be more radical. Arsinee Khanjian was so radical that she could legitimate terrorism for her political aims: As known three armed Armenians stormed the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa, and they killed a Canadian security guard and the ambassador was badly wounded. The attackers took his wife and daughter as hostage. When asked her about this terrorist attack Arsinee Khanjian said “it really put the Armenian genocide on the table” (Dealing With The Ghosts Of Genocide’, Toronto Star, 5 September 2002). It can be understood from these words that she is obsessed with the 1915 events and she could not see the evil behind a terrorist attack
.

Media learned about Atom Egoyan’s radical opinions about Armenian problem in 1999. (Bob Thompson. ‘Egoyan to Produce Film on Genocide’, Toronto Sun, 1 November 2000). Around those times, Canadian officials discounted the ‘genocide’ claims of the Armenian lobby and a member of the Parliament from Liberal Party Julian Reed took a openly hostile stand against Armenian accusations. Egoyan in response reacted surprisingly and entered an aggressive discussion. (Bob Thompson. ‘Egoyan to Film Armenian Tragedy’. Toronto Sun, 31 October 2000). On February 15, 1999, Parliamentary secretary of Foreign Minister Loyd Axworthy, deputy Reed made a speech in response to the special proposal made by the House of Commons under the direction of Armenian lobby. In the speech he stated that, arguments and counter arguments made by both Armenians and Turks made it impossible to discern between the right and wrong and had placed the Canadian Parliament in an uncomfortable position. Reed, in his speech stated that, ‘These days there is a tendency to use the word genocide outside of its meaning, sometimes even figuratively... What happened in 1915? Both sides take a different view and each tackle different events.’[7] He said that around 700,000 Armenians had died as a result of these vents. However, he continued, most had died from illness, hunger, harsh weather conditions and to have had to survive in open air. According to Reed, it is unacceptable for the Canadian government to pick a side or to take a stand where Turks would be accused of being guilty. He added that, the proposal would not solve the problem. Because, Reed said, the proposal forces us to choose a side to be hostile to the other. (Jonathan Gatehouse, ‘Egoyan ‘Appalled’ by comments on Genocide’, The National Post (Canada), 25 February 1999). Egoyan’s reply to Reed was very harsh. Famous director, in a statement to the media, openly accused the Canadian Government and Deputy Reed as:

“To form a cloud of misinformation around the problem, to bend the truths and to make it harder to ffind the real answers is to ignore the seriousness of the is¬sue at hand... It appalls me to see that an issue that has had a great influence over my and other families to be discussed in such an old-fashioned way... I always tried not to get involved with politics. However, these actions have shocked me... Armenians believe that there is signifficant evidence to convince the most cynical observer that this genocide really took place... Reed’s statement seems to approve the Turkish governments point of view... An issue as important as this cannot become a tool for propaganda.” (Gatehouse, ‘Egoyan...’).

Another occasion that Egoyan conveyed his thoughts on Armenian accusations is 1999 Cannes Film Festival. The director, who attracted attention with his movie Felicia’s Journey, stated that Turkey had to accept the ‘Armenian genocide’ and added that his struggle would continue until this happened. Egoyan, who was interviewed by an Italian journalist, continued:

‘I have lived my life always feeling the wounds of the genocide. However, the world still does not acknowledge the Armenian genocide. This is the reason why my struggle continues.’ (‘Egoyan Discusses Genocide at Cahnes Film Festival’, Asbarez, 20 May 1999).

Though Egoyan claims that his film, Ararat, is not a propaganda film, his words quoted above clearly prove that he is not open to question his belief about the 1915 events, he just tries to persuade the other people by filming that period, not to examine the reasons of the events and the tragedy that the Turkish and Armenian people had shared.
Egoyan continued to express his views anytime Ararat was discussed and stated that he had made this film in order to make the Turkish government to accept the ‘fact’ and his only desire was Turkish recognition. (‘Atom Egoyan: Türkiye Soykırımı Tanısın’, (Atom Egoyan: Turkey Must Recognize The Genocide), beyaz Perde, 7 November 1999). In another interview about Ararat, he said that he felt this project to be a great responsibility for him and added that all Armenians had been waiting for decades for a big movie about the Armenian ‘genocide’ and it was his desire to response that call:

“I think, as an Armenian filmmaker (he was born in Egypt and raised in Canada but is of Armenian heritage), you’re always wondering about this film, because it has never really been made, as such. It is a unique piece of history. The crime has never been admitted by the Turkish government that perpetrate it so, that makes for a very interesting dramatic situation, dealing with issues of denial. “ (Bruce Kirkland, ‘Egoyan Mounts Testament; New Film Ararat A Personal Take On Genocide’, The Toronto Sun, 8 June 2001).

[1] Stressed by the author.
[2] ‘Diaspora’ means to enjoy diaspora and to accept what it stands for, ‘Assimilation’ means to accept being assimilated.
[3] About the interpretation of the movies success as Canadian success see: Brian D. Johnson,’ A Celluloid Circus’, Maclean’s, Vol.10 (20), 19 May 1997; Brian D. Johnson, ‘champagne Dreams’, Maclean’s, Vol. 110, No. 21, 26 May 1997.
[4] The novel was purchased by the director’s wife and was given to him as a present.
[5] For additional information on Sweet Hereafter: Susanna Haas, ‘Atom Egoyan’s Sweet Success’, The Peak, vol. 97, No. 7, 13 October 1997, John McKay, ‘Sweet Genies’, Calgary Herald. 15 December 1997, p.89. Geoff Pevere, ‘Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter: Death, Canadian Style’, take One, fall 1997, p.6-11, Gillian Roberts, ‘Spec¬tacle Matters: Titanic, The Sweet Hereafter, and the Academy and Genie Awards’, Canadian Review of American Studies, 2000, Vol. 30, No.3, p.22.
[6] In the movie Felicia is played by Elaine Cassidy and the murderer is played by Bob Hoskins. For a detailed review of the movie: Patricia Hluchy, ‘Starvation of the Soul’, Maclean’s, Vol. 112, No. 44, 15 November 1999, p. 148. For a psychological analysis of Felicia’s Journey: Carrie Zlotnick-Woldenberg, ‘Felicia’s Journey: An Object-Relati¬onal Study of Psychopathy’, American Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. 55, No. 1, 2001, p.40. The movie was shown in the Istanbul and Izmir Film Festivals.
[7] While Reed’s statements are found to be conciliatory, we have to say that Turkish researchers find the figure of 700,000 incorrect. Considering that there is a large gap between the sides, we can see the figure as an attempt by Reed to find a halfway point.

Copyright © 2005 Journal of Turkish Weekly http://www.turkishweekly.net

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