1602) Turkish-Armenian Relationships in Cinema

Historian in Cinema Field

In the manner of showing loyalty to their government, Ottoman Armenians, who were behaved much more tolerated then the other ethnic groups, constituting the Ottoman Empire were able to live together for centuries also by the contribution of “art” from architecture to music, it is possible to see and feel the influence of this all over Turkey..

Anatolia is one of the unique examples in the world history, which indicates how multiculturalism goes together within. That’s why, Anatolia has often been called “Mosaic of Cultures”. The concept of “mosaic metaphor” isn’t adequate in defining Anatolian culture. Because mosaic isn’t something fluid. So, it is inadequate in explaining of mixing of cultures with each others. Cultures that aren’t melted in each other’s can’t create a common culture. Therefore, the best metaphor indicating the Anatolian culture is the art of “marbling”. Cultures in this society, as in the art of “marbling”, have formed “The Anatolian Culture” by mixing in each other’s due to their fluidity. In this common culture, one of the most important aspects which enables different nations to live as a whole with each other on the existing land has been “the art” they created. For instance, we never question or search or care about the importance of the ethnic origin of the songs that have always been in our tongues. We sing them just for getting pleasure.

Art, on one hand, contributes nations with producing common values by closing them to each other, on the other hand it my confront nations with each other with political manipulations and interventions resulting in erosion in cultural base. Therefore, the main point to be highlighted in this context is why the art is questioned, produced rather than how it is formed. Should it never be forgotten that it isn’t possible to intervene with art using political issues. Also, responding to a film using archives documents can not be considered an effective method. Because “art” is of special and convincing universal language.

In the Ottoman Empire, the products which Turks and Armenians created in the art of miniature, architecture, literature and music enabled the two societies to combine with each other and to help with the formation of common art of living played a significant role. However, cinema, which is called the 7th art among the others, plays rather an important role in rotting in the common art of life and in encountering of two nations with each other. But, unfortunate of the art of cinema here is that it absolutely appeared soon after the rising of the “Armenian issue / problem”.

As soon as invented, cinema and its visual, audial and fictional leading effect on communities have resulted it in spreading a specific idea, doctrine, belief, appropriation and forming publicity, which has still been an effective means. These effects of the cinema, which sourced from its own specific structure, have made it an institutional organization from the point of view of nations since the beginning of the 20th century. In the history of the cinema, many propaganda films which both the government did towards its public and the public to its government have been released. Abdülhamit II (the Ottoman Sultan), even realizing this aspect of the cinema, ordered the following statement published on cinema regulation dated 29 March 1903.

“The owner of rights, the pictures showing the owner of the rights, the great official buildings of the government, economical developments and military forces should be displayed to the public in cost of Money, even in the villages which are the most remote parts of the country. And these will enable people in the empire to appreciate their majesty as regards his, companion and authority on them”1 Lenin, emphasizing this aspect of cinema said, “cinema, in our opinion, is the most important one of all fine arts”. In addition, Soviet cinema in the reign of Lenin focused especially on “October Revolution” and by the support of the state some films such as “Potemkin”, “October” were made to to enable the survive of the “Spirit of the Revolution”2

The unity and common values of the two societies seen in the other arts haven’t been reflected on the cinema in the same rate. The art of cinema, particularly by Diaspora Armenians, has been used to propagate against the Turks. In this propaganda “the Law of Deportation”(the law through which Armenians were forced to leave their homelands) which “Ittihat ve Terakki Party” was compelled to apply, was pointed outstand by trying to attract the attention of the Western publicity, Turks were compelled to admit having committed the crime of “Genocide”. Armenian groups, having considered the cinema and art as a political means, have highly damaged the relationship between Armenia and Turkey. Of all the films made have been unilateral and full of hatred” which didn’t question the view of the other side and accused all. Moreover, the element of hatred in these films are rather strange. Armenians, due to 1915 events, not only hated Turks but they also did believe Turks hate them.

In all the films which have been made, starting from the last years of “The Ottoman Empire” to present time, the deportation,whose previous story (flashback) hasn’t been gone through, has been focused on. The first cinema film made on this topic was the which was made to by Diaspora Armenians in the U.S.A in 1919.3

1 Otoman Archives of Prime Ministry,.PRK. AZJ, Document No: 46/16, 29 March 1903.
2 Ali Özuyar, Cinema in Babıâli, İstanbul, 2004, p. 109.
3 Özuyar, p. 116.

Auctions of Souls4

By means of this first film, which was also known as “Crucified Armenia” or “Auctions of Souls”, America and European publicity was introduced with types of Turks who were defined as “carnivorous” and “barbarian” by Armenians. The film was adapted from a diary of on Armenian girl called “Aurora Mardigarian” as (the names of the film) “Attacked Armenia” or “Aurora Mardigarian, a Christian girl, who survived the big holocaust.” Diaspora Armenians, in order to strengthen the reality of the film, involved “Henry Morgenthau” (the former U.S.A Ambassador in the Ottoman Empire) as a assistant role.

In the film in which 1915 events takes places, “Ittihat and Terakki” government migrated Armenians claiming they have cooperated with Russian forces against Turks. During the deportation, many Armenians, including women and children, are killed. While these are happening, on Maria’s not accepting the offer of the governor of “Harput”, her family are massacred. Mardigarian shelters an English mission. She escapes from there as Turks having raided there. Then, she is caught, raped and taken to harem. On trying to escapes from the harem, she is sent to slave bazaar to be sold again. Later, she is raped by Turks who have caught her. In order to prevent her from escaping, Turks show her many girls crucified naked in a monastery to frighten her. In the end, Aurora, also with the help of the missionary, goes to the U.S.A to run an aid campaign for her massacred people.

This film, whose financing is provided by “American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief ” is ordered to Seling Studio. Then it was released first in the U.S.A later in Europe. The tickets of the film, whose distribution was supervised by “Associated First National Pictures”, were sold 10 dollars each in the U.S.A. The profit of the film was left to “Committee for the Relief of the Near East” and “Armenian War Relief Association”. Related to the success of the profit of the film, Lewis Jacobs (A historion of the American cinema “Moving Picture World” magazine) 4 “Auctions of Souls”, Directed: Oscar Apfel, Screenplay: Frederic Chaplin.

Cast: Aurora Mardiganian Herself (as Aurora Mardijanian), Irving Cummings (Adranik), Anna Q. Nilsson (Edith Graham), Henry Morganthau Himself (as Ambassador),Black and Silent, Production: Selig Studios, USA / 1919, 73 min. made such a comment; “…Then, all over the country (the U.S.A) there were cries as ‘Help Armenians!’ And, as a dramatic representation of the famine in the East, it became very useful to collect fund for the victims of the Turks. The film has been the most striking factor in the success of the Chority campaign.”5

The film, as in the U.S.A, attracted attention in Europe, particularly in Switzerland. The release of the film was tried to be prevented by ‘Münir Süreyya Bey’, the Ottoman Ambassador in Bern. But, in reply to him by Swiss government had vaid “Unless it is against the neutrality of Switzerland, we can not ban such kind of demonstrations or propagandas” He also added “It is impossible to ban a film in Switzerland telling the truth taken on the spot.”6 Münir Süreyya Bey, after the reply sent to him by the Swiss Government, he explains the approach of the Swiss Government in his message sent to “The Foreign Ministry of the Ottoman” dated 12 Oct. 1920 saying “The Swiss Government generally won’t do or doesn’t want to do anything for the things that don’t damage Swiss people. Because, if they banned the release of such film against Turks, they would offend many ethnic people in their homeland. Because Armenians and Greeks in the Empire formed a strong anti-Turkish movement (for both Turks and their government) for years by spending money, talking over round or propagating on them.”7 (a direct quote).

Behind the determination of the year 1919, for taking and releasing the film, there was an essential political aim. In this term, Armenian committees were pressing on the U.S.A government for Armenia being accepted to American mandate. In order to mobilize their purpose, “American Committee for Independence of Armenia” had been founded by Vahon Kardashian and James W. Gerard, in 1919.8 The aim of the committee was to add a part of “Caucasia”, “Eastern Anatolia” and “Çukurova” to the borders of “the Republic of Armenia”, which was centrally established in Yerevan on 28 May 1918 with the help of the U.S.A.

5 Giovanni Scognamillo, Turks and Turkey in Western Cinema, İstanbul, 1996, p. 23-24.
6 BOA. HR. SYS., Document No: 2886/27, 11 Oct. 1920.
7 Same document.
8 Prof. Dr. Ercüment Kuran, On Turkish-Islamic Culture, Ankara, 2000, p. 69

The film (Auctions of souls) was the first cinema film produced or made to produce by Diaspora Armenians aiming propaganda. Until today, this film (The Forty days of Musa Dagh), which was planned to have been taken, while it was in the process of production, was hindered until 1982 by the diplomatic efforts of the Turkish Government, (The Last Outpost-1935), (Karot -1990), (Mayring- 1991) and (Ararat-2002) were released/ made.

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh9
After the release of the film “Crucified Armenia”, another one (was) tried to be made by Diaspora is “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.” It was tried to be adapted to cinema in 1935 with his original name from the novel of “Franz Werfel”, an Austrian writer and also one of the greatest supporters of “Armenian claims” Taking of this film of which production was undertaken by “Metro Goldwyn Mayer” was stopped in the same year by means of the efforts of “The Turkish Government” and “Münir Ertegün, the ambassador of Washington”10(10) The film whose taking was stopped was constantly kept alive / fresh by Armenians and organizations that supported them. Only after 47 years it was able to be taken silently in the U.S.A in 1982.

Gabriel, completing his master in Sorbonne and devoting himself to Archeology and Art History, is the son of “Bagratyanlar” who is one of the wealthiest Armenian families living in Istanbul. The life of Gabriel, who has been living in Paris for 23 years, is changed by a letter sent to him by his older brother Avedis, living in Istanbul. Avedis, in his letter, remarking that he is ill, asks his brother for taking over their company in Istanbul. Upon his brother’s request, Gabriel comes to Istanbul with his wife Juliette (Originally French) and his son Stephan. When they came, his older brother Avedis has already gone to Beirut where he will spend his last days.

9 “40 Days of Musa Dagh”, Directed: Sarky Mouradian, Screenplay: Alex Hokabian, Cast: Kadir Bedi (Gabriel Bagradian), Ronnie Carol (Juliet), Maurice Sherbanee (The Governer), Michael Constantine (Talat Pahsa), Produced by: John Kurkjian, USA / 1982, 143 min.
10 Kuran, p. 71. Bkz. The Goverment look precaution to obstruct the realese of the film, Cumhuriyet Newspaper, 4 Sept. 1935.

Gabriel, who can’t stand the hotness of Istanbul, after arranging his jobs, goes to a mansion in Yoğunoluk (a region in Antalya which was inherited by his grandfather). Meanwhile “The 1 st World War” has started. Gabriel Has already once joined “Balkan War” as a volunteer and has been discharged from Ottoman army with official rank.

Gabriel, who doesn’t want to be deserter of army, wants to surrender himself to bureau of need. However, he isn’t joined the army as he is an American originally. Meanwhile, there are rumors around Armenia people about which they are to be on the point of massacre by Ittihad and Terakki supporters. Soon after the events/ things Armenians are afraid of become true. Ittihad and Terakki declares the “Law of Deportation” in May 1915. According to the law, all Armenians will compulsorily be migrated to the Mesopotamia and Syria regions. The law is put into application in June 1919. During the migration compelled to walk in the bad climatic conditions, as a result of the attacks of both Turkish and Kurdish bandits for the purpose of booty, thousands of Armenians lose their lives. In order to protect his family and peasants from migration, Gabriel has a meeting with notable people of the seven villages in the region. In the meeting, the decision of struggle of Yoğunoluk Armenians who will climb Musa Dagh against Turks, will be taken. With the application of the decision the resistance against the deportation which lasts for forty days in Musa Dagh begins.

The film, which was produced by John Kurkjian and directed by Sarky Mouradian, and 141 minutes long, is one of the most significant films that mentions “Armenian claims”. In the billboard, of the film, the first holocaust of the 20th century and also in its advertisement it is stressed that Armenians were caused to “Genocide” and “Torture” by Turkish troops. In the film, it is remarked that Turkish troops realized the massacre “with pleasure” and that Turks are the biggest enemy. The film mentioned was criticized by “Atom Egoyan”, the director of “Ararat”, as “horrible”, “too stereotyped” and “not worth watching.”11 The criticism of Egoyan was not about the plot in the film but the way

11 Ayşegül Koç, Interview With Atom Egoyan – On How Denied Influenced The Soul, Subtitle Cinema Magazine, May 2003.

how it was reflected. Egoyan, who said that Armenians made superficial
too and too simple films, remarks that he tried to do his best to overcome
this deficiency.12

The Last Outpost 13

Despite all the efforts of Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Armenians in the U.S.A, the novel of Franz Werfel (Forty Days of Musa Dagh) wasn’t taken as a film in 1935. But, not having been taken of the film, made the novel of Franz Werfel and “Armenian Migration” popular in the U.S.A.14 After Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Paramount, another big production company in Hollywood paid attention to this issue. The author decided to take a film of the novel (The Last Outpost) written by F.Briten Austin and whose themes are love, jealousy and revenge all of which were blended in the atmosphere of the First World War.15 In the film, which was completely commercial and a Hollywood production, Armenian migration was used as a background as it was popular.

Andrews, who is an English officer during the First World War, is captured by Kurds in Musul region. Stevenson, who has taken over the leadership of a Kurdish tribe with his dress in an Arabic Sheikh, saves him from prison when he understands he is an Englishman. Stevenson’s main mission is, in fact, to surrender on Armenian group, who were tortured by Turks, kidnapping and yielding them alive to the English in Egypt. The group, as planned, was taken to Egypt. Thus, the Armenians on the way to migration are saved from cruelty of Turks. In the second part of

12 Seme ınterview.
13 “The Last Outpost”, Directed: Charles Barton and Louis J. Gasnier, Screenplay: F. Britten Austin’in romanından Charles Brackett, Cast: Cary Crant (Michael Andrews), Claude Rains (John Stevenson), Gertrude Michael (Rosemary Haydon), Kathleen Burke (Ilya), Cary Grant (Michael Andrews), Claude Rains (John Stevenson), Gertrude Michael, Produced: E. Lloyd Sheldon, Production: Paramount, USA / 1935, 72 min.
14 Turkish Enmity Again, Cumhuriyet Newspaper, 5 Sept. 1935 / Volume: 6, 7, 10,Sept.
15 Holivut Cinema Magazine, Volume: 26, 38, 50, 53.

the film the relationships Andrews, (who has later) fallen in love with
Stevenson’s wife), Stevenson’s wife, Rosemary and Stevenson.

Karot 16
Another film made soon after (Last Outpost) is “The Yearning, Karot”. In the film, the homesick of “Arakel Aloyan”, who has escaped to Russia from the cruelty of Turkish, is expressed. Also in this cinema film, an Armenian product with 137 minutes, Turks, as in the other films, are demostrated as “barbarian addicted to rape”. “Karot”, directed by Frunze Dovlatyan, a typical propaganda film with its plot, theme and expression. In the beginning parts of the film the burn of an Armenian village, the massacre of Armenian people without making a women-child distinction, are displayed in a striking way to show “Turkish Wildness”. In the propaganda of the film in which the expression used as “The tragedy of a nation who was separated as West and East”, Turkey is said to be “West Armenia” in fact.

In the film, the village where “Arakel Aloyan” had lived was burned up and all the women in the village were raped by Turks. “Aloyan, who wants to avoid Turkish cruelty, escapes to Russia even though he doesn’t wish it to be so. Even though years have passed, he can never forget his village and what he has done there. His purpose is both to be able to visit the graves remained from his family and to kiss the ruins of the walls of the church where his wedding ceremony was realized. Aloyan, not being able to stand his homesick, passes the Russian border with totally humanistic emotions. However, Soviet Government considers this event as an enterprise of agency, and the plot is developed through this direction.

16 “Karot”, Directed: Frunze Dovlatyan, Screenplay: Ruben Ovsepyan, Cast: Rafel Akoyan (Arakel), Galya Novents (Sanam), Ashot Melikdzhanyan, Aram (as Ashot Melikjanyan), H. Kartashyan (Hasmik), Production: Armenfilm Studios, Soviet Union / 1990, 136 min.

Mayrig 17
Another interesting feature seen in Diaspora Armenians is the grief of paying off their duty to their origins ancestors. This grief can easily be seen in the discourses of the films “Ağrı”, by Egoyan and “Anne” by Henry Verneuil. Both directors, in order to perform their duty to their origins/ ancestor, carried these films to the cinema without showing the preceding of 1915 events.

Verneuil, who has taken many films in which there are many stars of French Cinema such as “Jean Gabin”, “Jean Paul Belmondo”, “Alain Delon”, explains his aim for taking the film in the press bulletin of the film as this. “What Turks did to Armenians in 1915 is one of the biggest genocides in history”. I’ve lived with this pain for sixty –five years. I haven’t got a problem with anyone. Making this film was a responsibility for me towards the people who I also belong to. There are many dark pages of nations through history: Germans have had, The French have had... etc.

Germans admit they made mistakes but Turks don’t. The way of being a great nation passes through the admittance of historical responsibility. All I want is that Turks should admit what they committed. They should say “Yes, we did”, “We made a mistake” and apologize to the graves in Arabian deserts by kneeling in front of them.18

Verneuil, the director who died on 11 Jan 2002, and whose real name was “Ashot Malakian”, adapted his film “Mayrig” from his life story to the cinema, which he had already written before. In the film the story of Azat Zakaryan, (actually the director of the film) who wanted to settle to France to have a good position there, whose Armenian family escaped from Anatolia to Marseille, is told. In the film, however, there are scenes focusing on Turkish and Kurdish Ottoman soldiers to attack Armenian trails walking in deserts and massacre them. Also, in the film, produced in 1991 and released in English with French subtitles, Turks are acted as Vandals whose eyes were covered with blood.

17 “Mayrig”, Directed: Henri Verneuil, Screenplay: Henri Verneuil, Cast: Claudia Cardiale, Araxi (Mayrig), Omar Sharif (Hagop), Isabelle Sadoyan (Anna), Tom Ponsin (Azad), Produced: Tarak Ben Ammar, Fransa / 1993, 157 min.
18 Scognamillo, p. 134.

Ararat 19
“Ararat” directed by Atom Egoyan, who is Canadian but originally Armenian, is almost a composite of such sort of films that have ever been made. The saddest issue seen in the film is the denial of a truth that should have been seen. The main common aspect of “Ararat” and other films is this. The mentioned truth is that both nations have lived together in the same region for centuries. So, the relationship between two nations has been based only on one problem (the deportation of Armenians). The situation what history has shown us, however, is the opposite of this.

(the relation is not only considered only in the base of deportation but should be worked out through a long historical interaction period). As in “Ararat” all the other related films can be characterized as “unilateral”, accusing a whole nation without negotiating the other side’s views; that is “full of hate or hatred”. The films that have been made or are made, succeed in this aim. They enable Turks to be hated, however saying Turks also hate Armenians.

Saroyan, the director of “Ararat” emphasizes this situation in one scene of the film. He also asks Raffi, one of the production assistants of the film, “Do you know, young man, what causes so much pain?” Neither the people we lost nor the land, it is to know to be hated so much... “Who are those people and why do they hate us so much?” Why do they still deny this hate so much and still hate us?”

Another important scene related to hate in the film happens in the dialogue between Raffi and Cevdet Bey, who acts as a bad Turkish commander named Ali. While leaving Ali on his way home after the shooting, Raffi tells him “I grow up with these stories; Bad Turks... However, I wasn’t able to imagine those in my mind until I saw what the character you acted did. My father was killed by police fifteen years ago as he was getting ready to assassinate a Turkish Diplomat. I had never understood then what The Turkish Diplomat stood for and what made my father

19 “Ararat”, Directed: Atom Egoyan, Screenplay: Atom Egoyan, Cast: David Alpay (Raffi), Charles Aznavour (Edward Saroyan), Eric Bogosian (Rouben), Elias Koteas, Ali (actor playing Jevdet Bey), Chirstopher Plummer (David), Produced: Atom Egoyan and Robert Lantos, Production: Tele Film Canada and Alliance Atlantis Communications, Canada-France / 2002, 115 min.

want to kill him. But, today, you have shown me what he might have felt. Thank you!” As reply to his thank, Ali says “I didn’t grow up with such kind of things. I just did research for my act/ role. What I inferred from what I read is there was a migration there and lots of people were killed. It was during “The First World War”. Raffi, getting furious by Ali’s point of view, goes on to defend remarking a quotation by Hitler.

He says, “But Turks weren’t at war against Armenians as Germans weren’t against Jews then... Do you know what Hitler told his commanders to convince them so that his plans became true? “Who remembers the murderers of Armenians?” Raffi’s severe words not only finishes the dialogue based between them, but also it becomes the beginning of “Armenian thesis” admitted by Saroyan, who tried to draw a character of a producer to understand what happens, until this scene. In the rest scenes of the film, Turks are granted for vandals who are fond of torturing, killing or massacring. A German woman, in one of the scenes of the film, tells an event she claimed to have witnessed saying” I saw a group of dark people or crowd whipping a group young Armenian women in a courtyard. A man roared like an animal saying “You will dance as long as the drum is played”. Women, they are naked... Then a part of the women was gathered. They were poured gas on. Then, they set them on fire with a torch.”

As parallel to the scene of the terror described by the German woman, this table is animated one by one by Saroyan. Another Striking and blood-freezing scene is shown to the audience in the gala performance of the film. Turkish soldiers. Turkish Soldiers attack the Armenians on the way to migration. Without making distinction, child or women, they kill everyone. Some women are raped. A Turkish soldier has been raping a young Armenian girl on an ox-cart. When the camera was taken away back from the face of raped woman, a small girl is seen under the cart.

The raped woman, with one of her hands, has been holding the hand of the girl whom she hid under the ox-cart.

One anoter grave point of the issue is the belief of Armenians taken for granted. Again, another scene in the film is based on this belief. In the film, the dialogue between Ali and the director is a significant sign of this belief. Ali asks Saroyan, “While acting, you never asked me neither what my view on the history was nor whether I did really believe what all happened was a genocide or not”. “I don’t think it will ever change anything” replies Saroyan. In reply Ali says “I don’t mean to waste your time but things must be sincere while getting ready for the role. Therefore, I did some researces as I was getting ready for it. I think Turks did have enough reasons to perceive Armenians as a threat against them. Eastern borders were being threatened to capture by Russians and they believed Armenians did betray them. If so, it was a war...” Saroyan leaves thanking Ali. Because in Saroyan’s opinion it is of no importance. Ali tells the events in a way he believes. Anyway, in the beginning of the film he, himself, was one of those who survived the genocide. He explains his aim to him saying “I always wanted to make a film which tells her story (his mother’s story)”.

In his film, Egoyan, who based its dramatical structure on views of five characters on 1915 events, supports his thesis/ claim something by putting flashbacks by going ahead or by adding scenes from Saroyan’s films. In his film, Egoyan, sometimes, trying to behave objectively and sometimes giving the impression to find out the events, displays himself clearly not to be objective about this matter. After the last scene of the film gets dark, comes up a script saying, “Turks still deny having committed the Armenian genocide.”

All these hate films mentioned in the declaration, as opposed to the aim and topic of the symposium, has denied the truth both nations lived together without contravening each other’s rights in the Ottoman Empire for centuries. This situation has created the impression in the world of both nations have lived hating each other for centuries and this hatred was turned into a “Genocide” committed by Turks in 1915.

1915 events made the things lived before 1915 forget by political maneuvers and propaganda films and led in two nations have always been the enemy of each other in their memory. The relationship between two nations, surely, can not be defined or focused on a single problem. Such a situation would be denying historical truth an common way of living of art created by the two nations.

Source: © Erciyes University 2006


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