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Sedat Laçiner: Ararat, Art as a tool in propaganda – TDN

Turkish Daily News,
5 September 2002

87-Year Old allegations on cinema screen

Ararat: Art as a tool in propaganda

By assistant professor Sedat Laciner
Lecturer in Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University and the Asam Institute for
Armenian Research, Ankara

The provocative Armenian film, Ararat, which was premiered at the Cannes
Film Festival and caused a sensation and Turkish protests, will open the
27th international Toronto Film Festival on September 5, 2002 and will be
shown in cinemas worldwide in November 2002. The film accuses the Turks of
committing genocide against the Armenians in 1915, while the Turkish
authorities refuse the allegations and argue that, “The film is full of lies
and biases.” It is understood that the hot debates will continue during the
Autumn of 2002 and a thorny, if not incurable, historical problem will
occupy the agenda between Turks and Armenians instead of the real economic
and political problems.

1915 and creating a national identity on communal hate

1915 was a hard year for the Ottoman State: The First World War struck the
economy and social life. Millions of soldiers died on the fronts while more
became orphans and widows in the back yards of the war theatre confronted
with famine, epidemics and bands’ attacks. The State lost control
particularly in security matters. In Anatolia, bands and gangs hit towns
without discrimination for ethnicity or religion. Furthermore ethnic
distrust re-emerged and damaged social harmony. In brief, when the Armenian
radicals rioted in the Eastern provinces of the State, the last thing the
Ottomans wanted was an ethnic uprising under these circumstances. However,
the catastrophe the Ottoman State confronted was perceived as a golden
opportunity by the Armenian separatist groups, and they used this for
propaganda so that the Armenians could be independent with Russian
assistance. It is a well-known fact, the Armenian attempt resulted in a
catastrophe and cost the lifes of thousands of innocent Armenians and
Muslims. It is unfortunate for both sides that, after this date the
nationalists built Armenian identity based on the 1915 events and created a
“1915 legacy” keeping the Armenians on alert regarding the Turkish “threat”.
They first named the 1915 events a “massacre”. As was the Jewish case after
World War I, the radical groups changed the name to “genocide”. Thus the
so-called genocide became the axe of the Turkish-Armenian relations and a
formidable obstacle for reconciliations. The “genocide” legacy particularly
affected those in the diaspora for decades and the new generations who
shaped their Armenian identity on the historical prejudices and hostility
though most of them neither saw Turkey nor met a Turk. Most of the Armenian
artists are no exception, but they have a fatal weapon: art.

Armenian cinema and politics

The Armenian cinema in particular has focused on the so-called genocide and
has helped to shape the national identity of the Armenian youth with
Anti-Turkish elements. Verneuil’s “Mayrig”, Dovlatyan’s “The Yearning” and
Hrayr Toukhanian’s “Assignment Berlin” are just some examples. Most of these
films failed in terms of art and financial figures, yet their political
influence made their directors famous (if not heroes) in the eyes of the
Armenian youth. The most recent example is Atom Egoyan’s film, “Ararat”.
Atom Egoyan is an Egypt-born Canadian Armenian film director, who has lived
in Canada since childhood. In other words, he is a diaspora Armenian and has
deeply felt the assimilation threat during his early age. He even refused to
speak Armenian and made efforts to be a “pure Canadian” until his college
years when he realized that to be an Armenian means to fight against the
“Turkish deniers”. In other words, Egoyan is an “identity convert”. Converts
are generally more radical and they tend to exaggerate the facts in order to
legitimize the revolutionary shift in their way of life. Egoyan is no
exception and after his college years, he fanatically advocated the
historical Armenian claims. Ararat is the latest example of his radicalism.

Egoyan argues that he questioned the hatred among the Armenians and its
reasons in his film. However, it was obvious in the Cannes premier that
Egoyan has succumb to communal pressure from the diaspora Armenians and has
chosen the simplest way to make a film by accusing “the others”, namely the
Turks, as responsible for all the terrible things the Armenians have
confronted.

Egoyan claims that the scenario is based on historical facts and archival
documents, though he has never mentioned any document or proof, just beliefs
and prejudiced ideas. As a matter of fact, neither he nor any member of the
film crew is a historian and Atom Egoyan refused to make a history film when
asked to do so before Ararat.

Egoyan in his film accuses the Turks of massacring Armenian women, children
and men with no real reason. For Ararat, Turks committed genocide against
Armenians because they hated them, and Turkish hatred created hatred among
Armenians. Obviously Egoyan has no proof for his accusations, if not insults
to a whole nation, but he does not actually need any proof (!) because he
has a “poetic license”, like the director of the film within his film. The
1915 Van Uprising, as mentioned, is well documented by the Ottoman and
foreign observers and none of the documents draw such a picture as Egoyan
does in his history-film (!). As a matter of fact, many scenes in Ararat
contradict other parts of the film. On the one hand, it is argued that the
Armenians made a peaceful defense; on the other hand the scenes show
well-armed Armenian military forces. In the film, the Van uprising is “the
heroic defense of Van” (Film’s Script, 54. Ext. Van), yet the director does
not question why the Turks attempted to reoccupy their own territory with a
mainly Muslim population. The reality is that the armed Armenian military
forces backed by the Russian army had occupied the province of Van and
massacred thousands of Turks and Kurds while thousands more civilians fled
to other provinces to save their lives. The Armenian forces were led by the
revolutionary and nationalist Armenian bandits and they dreamed of an
independent Armenia under the Russian support. They were waiting for the
Russian troops to help them against the Ottoman security forces and in a few
weeks the Russian troops came to the province. Before the Russians came, all
of the Muslim quarter of the city was set on fire by Armenian bandits.
Turkish-Armenian relations is one of the most problematic relations in the
world despite the fact that both nations need each other. The main problem
in the relations is not the facts but the perceptions. The Armenians believe
in a legacy which they created themselves and the radicals nourish the
hatred among the Armenians. On the other hand, the Turks do not give enough
attention to the Armenian issue by underestimating its importance for Turkey
and the region. Both sides accuse each other and nobody listens to the
other. Under these circumstances the Armenian and Turkish artists have a
great tool to destroy the prejudices and illusions regarding the other side.
Atom Egoyan was one of these “lucky” men, yet he did not use the opportunity
and transferred the problem to future generations instead.
As a result, it can be argued that Ararat is a masterpiece propaganda film
directed by a talented and radical-nationalist Armenian director, financed
by Armenian lobby groups and supported by the Armenian Culture Ministry. It
is a film well-packed with cinematic tricks, but it is not impossible to see
the director’s hatred behind the cinema curtain.

Turkey marks 83rd anniversary of Sivas Congress

Turkey celebrated yesterday the 83rd anniversary of the Sivas Congress,
which was a landmark meeting before the War of Independence that gave birth
to the Republic of Turkey.
This meeting was instrumental in the establishment of the Turkish grand
national assembly, which was the driving force of the War of Independence.
Representatives from all around Turkey attended the Sivas Congress, the
Turkish grand national assembly was not formally opened until seven months
later, on April 23, 1920, in Ankara.
“The Sivas Congress took its place in history as a turning point when the
foundations of the Republic were laid and the principles of the War of
Independence were determined,” President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said in a
celebration message.
Sezer said in his message that the movement of liberation which started with
Ataturk’s arrival in Samsun, was endorsed by the entire society with
important decisions taken in Amasya, Erzurum and Sivas.
Celebrating the anniversary of the Sivas Congress, Parliament Speaker Omer
Izgi also issued a message stating that Turkey had a secular and democratic
system thanks to the decisions taken at the Sivas Congress 83 years ago.
Meanwhile, the anniversary of the congress was celebrated in Sivas with
various activities. Starting with the laying of a wreath in front of an
Ataturk Monument in Sivas, the ceremony occurred at the square in front of
government building in the city.

Addressing the ceremony, Agriculture Minister and Nationalist Movement Party
(MHP) deputy Husnu Yusuf Gokalp said that some circles wanted to wear out
the national sensitivities and values of the Turkish society. Gokalp stated
that the Turkish nation should always live and support the national will put
forth in Sivas 83 years ago, urging the nation to remain cautious and
determined against its domestic and foreign enemies.

Ankara – Turkish Daily News

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