A few days prior to the film’s screening, there were fears raised over possible disturbances of public order, and over the protests expected from the substantial Turkish community in Berlin. The day of screening finally arrived, the crowds flocked to see this film – which tells the story of the deportation and massacre of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire, between the years of 1925 and 1917 – but there was no disruption of public order. All the noise, in fact, was being made by the critics, who were divided in opinion. Of those critical of the film, many in particular argued that such a dramatic true-life story ought to have been told with a more factual, documentary-like language, and less of an inclination towards television fiction. “I have seen the film, and I liked it”, Arslan told us. “I think that the Taviani brothers’ work is very coherent, and I think that some of the accusations made against them are absurd. The historical truth of the genocide has been verified and accepted by almost all historians throughout the world; indeed, documents, texts, diaries and eye-witness accounts continue to come to light. I don’t see why this can’t be the subject of a film, even if cinematographic language obliges actors to sacrifice and simplify certain aspects of the story.” Her book has sold 100,000 copies in Italy, has won numerous literary prizes (including the Campiello), and boasts translations in a number of different languages, of which the most recent is Japanese.
Some of the most resolute of criticisms have come from Ahmet Boyacioglu, the Turkish representative of Euroimages (the body which allocates funds to European cinema projects), who defined the film as “racist, one-sided, and of which the only consequence will be to stir controversy”.
These are not new criticisms. This same person who you mention voiced the full force of his dissent last year, when the Euroimages committee almost unanimously approved the financing for this film, considering it to be a useful means to bring to light a historical truth. What would you like me to say about the comments that have been made? Should I perhaps explain that there is not a single word of hatred expressed in either the film or the book, and that there are also Turkish characters which are positively portrayed? If the Turkish government’s official stance is one of denial, this person obviously cannot adopt any other viewpoint.
Mez Yeghèrn, the Great Evil, is how Armenians define this tragic episode of their history. The Shoa, and the great debates on Holocaust denial. The stances of those who will not accept that these crimes have been committed. Why is it so difficult to affirm and verify historical memory?
The assertion of ‘historical memory’ depends on who argues it, and on the political motivations of those who support it. Arguing and preserving the memory of the Shoa, thankfully, were those nations who came out victorious from the Second World War. As far as the Armenian genocide is concerned, all attempts to achieve justice dwindled to nothing after the end of the First World War. Certain documents were published in the official Turkish state newspaper up until April 1919, and a few sentences were passed. In spite of this, however, whether through condemnable negligence on the part of the victorious nations, or because of events within Turkish history, the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne silenced any further debate on this poor little people, chased from its ancestral homelands, and for sixty years nothing more was said about it. But it isn’t the only case of genocide or mass murder known only to scholars. The twentieth century, unfortunately, is full of similar cases.
How, then, can we break the taboo? How can we find the words to open a dialogue to offer a glimmer of hope for the assertion of a historical truth, to which so many people refuse to open their eyes?
Unfortunately, I don’t think that there are shortcuts or magic solutions, but sometimes an event like the murder of Dink can unexpectedly offer a glimmer of hope. I’m referring here to the fact that over 100,000 Turks chose to follow the funeral of a journalist killed because he demanded the truth be told for the Armenian people. There weren’t many Armenians at that funeral; it was Turks who turned out in the streets, shouting “We are all Hram Dink, we are all Armenians.” Such a scene would have been inconceivable ten years ago. There has been some progress, therefore, and it is thanks to people who, like Dink, want to speak without hatred but with precision, those people who seek the space for a common language, who continue to look for words which, like small drops, are gradually wearing away the stone and offering glimmers of hope. I believe that in this way we can gradually arrive at an acceptance of a fact that many Turkish intellectuals today already affirm as a truth. Like the writer Elif Shafak, for example, the historian Taner Akçam, and Kemal Yalçin, the author of a book entitled Con te sorride il mio cuore (‘With you my heart smiles’), for whom I have recently written the preface for the Italian edition. It is a text which recounts the journey of the author, a Turk, across Anatolia, in search of lost Armenians. A journey which is, in fact, an attempt to fill a void that Turks feel in their own history, through the reconstruction of their own past.
Vartan Gregorian has said: “Diasporas are not ghettos, rather they are connecting bridges to larger communities”. There is a vision in these words which confers upon those peoples marked by diaspora the role of witness to intercultural dialogue, and to an opening, however forced it may be, of the meeting with the Other.
It’s a lovely quote, and one particularly directed to Armenian communities, which are well integrated into the realities in which they live. Here I’m thinking particularly of the situation in France, where the Armenian community is quite considerable, but we can also look at the Armenian diaspora in Syria or in the Lebanon, where it is the only minority to have almost been untouched by the war because it has learnt to interact with both parties in the conflict. There are also some countries in which Armenian communities live with difficulty, but in general, as far as I’m aware, the Armenian diaspora has produced communities which are open to other, very different cultures.
Translation by Liz Longden