A ‘Promise’ Delivered
Editorial 4-1 April 2017
By Edmond Y. Azadian
While discussing the Armenian Genocide with a close associate of Kirk Kerkorian a few years before the magnate’s death, I was told that he is not a person who deals with the past; instead, he is a man of the future. I was saddened to hear that comment, because I knew that only someone like Kerkorian could deliver our message to the world in a monumental way. It turned out, however, that the storm inherited from his ancestors was fermenting in his brain and eventually he was planning to bring a project to fruition about the subject.
The movie “The Promise” seems to be that message delivered into the future by Kerkorian posthumously.
While there is an overwhelming deluge of documents, films and scholarly books on the Jewish Holocaust, Armenians have to struggle for a sliver of news about the Genocide to catch world attention.
One reason, of course, is the fact that Hitler is not alive to deny the grisly crimes he committed against the Jewish people and the other is that the Jews did due diligence to get the message out to the world. The German state freely acknowledges its sins and has actively atoned for it since its defeat at the end of World War II.
In the Armenian case, Talaat Pasha may be dead, but his legacy is still alive in Turkey. The blow that he dealt to the Armenians was so devastating that they were not able to arise for 50 years after the Genocide to fully put into perspective what had happened to them and to tell their story to the world.
According to the Genocide scholar Taner Akçam, the Kemalists who came together to build the modern Republic of Turkey were the same Ittihadists that had organized and carried out the plan of genocide. Therefore, while enjoying the loot left behind by the deportations and mass murder, they realized it was an existential cause to deny the Genocide.
Even in the 1930s, when Turkey had not yet attained its international clout, the government was able to ban the movie version based on Franz Werfel’s book, Forty Days of Musa Dagh, that was going to be made in Hollywood, because Turkish leaders realized the propaganda value of the venture. Already, the novel itself had stirred so much awareness in the world public opinion since its publication in Austria. And ever since then, they have been vigilant about preventing any documentary or artistic representation of the Armenian Genocide in its proper context.
The 1978 movie “Midnight Express,” helmed by British filmmaker Robert Parker, had nothing to do with the Genocide or for that matter with Armenians, but it brought unfavorable international attention on modern Turkey’s medieval judicial system with horrifying jails and jailers.
Even today the issue of the Armenian Genocide has moved out of its historic venue into the public domain where the truth is tortured and denialism continues with a vengeance.
The fanfare around the anniversary of the Gallipoli defeat in 2015 was an effort to soften the blow of intense publicity regarding the centennial of the Armenian Genocide the Turkish government dreaded through commemorations.
As well, Pope Francis’s visit to Armenia and his pronouncement recognizing the events for what they were at the Vatican were muted in the world press, not necessarily because of neglect but certainly by design.
The parallel context that the Turks have been weaving is revealed vividly when the movie “The Promise” is released next month, simultaneously with a Turkish-funded movie called “The Ottoman Lieutenant.” In the latter film, within the context of a palpable romance, a subtle Turkish narrative is promoted in which yes, Armenians were slaughtered but because there was an insurrection in Van. No one will be sitting in the movie theaters to explain to the viewers that the insurrection was a result of the Genocide, not the cause, and that it was triggered by a need for self-defense.
The Turks realize that they cannot cover up the truth, because the documents are so overwhelming. But it is to their advantage to turn the issue into a controversy, planting a seed of doubt, to promote the presumption that there is “another side of the story.” That is the intent of the “Lieutenant.”
It is an enigma why Kerkorian did not produce the movie in his lifetime. Perhaps he was working behind the scenes to line up support. Even his towering munificence manifested in untraditional way while he was alive.
The achievement of this film is also a sad commentary about an oft-asked question: Why is it that “The Promise,” the Dilijan International College, Tumo Center and IDeA Project are all achieved by visionary individuals and not by traditional organizations? The answer is that the framework of diasporan organizations is outmoded and they are not able to conceptualize such projects, let alone to achieve them. That is why they are being bypassed.
“The Promise,” with a stellar cast and helmed by Terry George who directed “Hotel Rwanda,” opens nationwide on April 21. Armenians in general and friends of truth and justice around the world are urged to support this movie. All proceeds from the box office are going to charity, to help Armenian causes around the world.
Survival Pictures, the studio releasing “The Promise,” realized Kerkorian’s dream in a monumental way, having no shortage of resources and in the process people heretofore unknown have become true heroes.
Dr. Eric Esrailian, previously a relatively unknown public figure in the Armenian community, has helped guide the film through its successful completion, with a true Armenian heart and a broad world view, and epic connections to Hollywood and beyond.
“’The Promise’ means so much personally,” Esrailian has said. “The promise was from us to complete the film. The promise is for us to never forget and the promise is for us also a vow to do something so that it never happens again.”
This message evolves from the specific to resonate universal truths.
It may well apply to the message of the movie delivered from the beyond to living humanity by Kerkorian himself.