Rating: PG-13, Time: 2hr 13min, Director: Terry George, Cast on IMDb
Did they do a good job covering the genocide?
I think in an event of historic weight and tradegy on an inhuman scale of 1.5 million deaths by the Ottoman Empire, you need a simply story line to be able to relate such an event. The director uses a love triangle that violates a promise made by the lead Mikael played by Oscar Isaac in exchange for becoming a doctor. It captures the traditions of marriage within the Armenian community that bind and keep true love from thriving. This love kind of reverberates through the plot as the characters face an ever, ramping up of violence by the emerging Turkey. The lead starts his dream of studying medicine and meets the bride of the American reporter Chris Meyers played by Christian Bale.
How well do they explain how the Turks went from living with the Armenians before the war to a genocide?
This is a huge task to try to cover the historical attacks on Armenians by Turks and then the worsening hatred brought out by entering WWI and losing ever more territory to the Allies through the war. The Turks start to become very nationalistic and assume the Armenians are like a fifth element as they are a different people with their own language and even religion, Eastern Orthodox. Part of the reason for the rising hatred was the disintegration of their empire as the Greeks broke off and Saudis in the south. Basically they were losing their whole empire piece meal and started to blame the minorities. As well the new party that came to power in 1918, the youg Turks were behind a pan-Turkish idea that sprung from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. We see a similar disintegration in the Austria-Hungary empire aligned with Turkey and Germany in WWI, that led to the splintering the Austrian-Hungary Empire into: Austria, Hungary, Czechoslavkia. Romania, Western Ukraine, Yugoslavia and part of Italy. Ottoman Empire disintegrated into Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Greece, Macedonia, Iraq and Palestine.
In the movie, I think they cover the quick transition between peaceful coexistence and then battles all over the country as the country is marched to death, forced into slave labor camps,, transported in trains to their death and shot all over the country side. As well as end in the battle of Musa Dugh, one of the few resistence battles fought by the Armenians as they were slowly whittled down over time.
One off the critical element in the film is Chris Meyers trying to document the genocide as it happens being an American reporter and being able to reach into areas that Armenians may have been fearful to cover. Another key player was the US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau played by James Cromwell. In reality, there were many publications covering the atrocities towards the Armenians dating back to the early 1890s. A lot of the critics say this film just skims the surface or that the love story is unebelievable, but I don't buy it. When the film ended, almost all the audience was glued to their seats to watch the credits. Very few films have that kind of impact. I also think that because no film had covered the Armenian Genocide, it had big shoes to fill. I think they did a good job and there are likely more stories to tell over time.
What do you think of the importance of the news in today's world?
The news reporting leads to outrage and civilians to eventually vote in resolutions to massacres although in many times a little too late. We saw in Rwanda no western government lifted a finger to stop the massacre of millions or in Cambodia the same thing happen. A film on the massacres in Africa by Kony were put together into a film by Jason Russell led to thousands of people writing their congressman and eventually to Obama to call a private militia to try and capture Kony. Unfortunately, he was not found and the director was made to look the fool, so the public would forget about the massacre and stop wasting US military resources.
Currently, you have the sitting US President attacking the press as "Fake News" and even saying they should change the libel laws so he can personally sue them over any topic he doesn't want covered or is a flimsy story. While I agree that the press has an obligation to cover real news vs. rating chasing, they act as the 4th pillar of government keeping politicians in check. My work below "Fake News Press Blues covers that issue directly.
Fake News Press Blues - 24x36
Have you done work directly related to the Armenian Genocide?
I did title one of my works dedicated to the Armenian Genocide "Atrocious Armenian in the Ottoman Autumn" to suggest the hatred the Turks began to feel as their empire collapsed and they led to extreme nationalism that led to the creation of Turkey. I thought the painting really captured the complexity, pain and sadness of the event.
Atrocious Armenian in the Ottoman Autumn - 24x36
What do you think could have prevented this genocide?
It's hard to say as racism builds up and whole populations get affected. It's like the effect of slowly boiling the lobster, he won't complain until its too late to resist death. It's very important that national leaders take a stand against racism, classism and other forms of hatred that can spin out of control.
As the population under attack, keeping arms is likely one of the best deterents to being wiped out if you realize that is what is exactly happening.
As far as why Turkey doesn't realize the genocide, think about the Trail of Tears and the rest of the Native American genocide that happened in the US. Its barely covered in history books children learned about and people think it was the Indians fault for defending themselves and using tribal warfare to survive. Some things are hard to see if you are the victor.
How have you personally experienced genocide?
Well, when I lived in Poland I visited Auschwitz death camp where 1.1 million minorities were killed by the German Nazis. It was very unnerving and really struck a nerve. It strikes you so hard that when you see other ficitionalized films on this event or others, you don't even cry as other audience members do as you have seen the reality which is even worse than portrayed in the films. The films never show the actual real starvation and complete depraved nature these people have lived through and have almost forgotten their humanity.
My other experience of genocide is via reading about Stalin, Lenin and communism besides having lived during the last year of Communism in Poland. The scariest part of reading about those atrocities is that people living in today's world don't see the parallels to how a Stalin, PolPot, Kony, etc. rise to power based on extremes of giving the government too much power. As much as I think Trump for example is over stepping grounds with the press, he is limiting some government over reach and narrowing the base of power, which is what you want. For example, under Obama many department heads were called "Czars", which is a historical term for dictatorship. So be wary of the candidates and parties you vote for. They are not always what you think they are.
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