Friday, October 14, 2016

Haytoug Preview: The Psychological Impact of the Armenian Genocide

Artwork by Annie Magdesyan
Artwork by Annie Magdesyan
Didn’t your genocide happen a century ago?
Why do Armenians still care when it was so long ago?
Why can’t you just get over it and move on?
Throughout my life, I have been at the receiving end of many variations of such questions. As a minority, as a child of the Armenian Diaspora, as a descendant of genocide survivors, how do I respond? In my youth, I assumed that educating “odars” about the Armenian genocide would suffice. However, this strategy would often backfire, as I would be confronted with the obvious: I was describing an event that occurred one hundred years ago. An event that I am far removed from, both geographically and generationally. Yet, I continue to be deeply impacted by the events of the Armenian Genocide. How does one explain the amalgamation of emotions – grief and joy, pride and despair, hopelessness and perseverance – we have inherited? How does one describe the physical pain felt deep in the heart, upon learning of the barbaric tortures, rapes, and murders of one’s ancestors? Finally, how does one describe that desperate and frantic need for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915?
The exposure to trauma by the survivors of genocide does not end with them alone, but is passed down to their children and subsequent generations. This legacy of trauma from the Armenian genocide continues to haunt our generation, and will continue to impact the lives of future generations of Armenians. This phenomenon is often referred to as the intergenerational transmission of trauma. The adverse consequences of the traumatic events endured by the victimized group, including symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can carry on for several generations [1]. The traumatic past may be communicated to following generations through empathic connectivity fostered through rituals. The emotional exchange that occurs during ritual observances, including religious observances, cultivates strong empathy and a shared knowledge of the trauma history [2]. The Armenian community is rich with such rituals and traditions, and with each event, we consciously or subconsciously pay tribute to the 1.5 million lives lost. We celebrate weddings, but somehow, our beautiful and elaborate weddings become slightly more joyful when the unity is between two Armenians. Our children are baptized and are proudly proclaimed Christians. Each joyous ritual carries a significant subtext: keep the memory of your ancestors’ alive, fight the “jermag chart,” perpetuate our people, remain Armenian for we are few…. but we sure are mighty.
Trauma may also be transmitted through survivor narratives; even when one is not directly related to a survivor, but is merely a member of the survivor group. However, silence too, plays a significant role in the transmission of trauma. A lack of open discussion about the traumatic experience is a form of communication that functions in an intricate manner. One’s innate imperative to warn succeeding generations of impending danger is compromised by the warning itself, as the warning itself has a potential to harm due to its terrifying nature [3]. For example, a genocide survivor may choose not speak of the experienced trauma in order to shield subsequent generations from the horrors associated with the events, but communicates trauma through actions and behaviors. While many Armenians have collected detailed accounts of their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ experiences during the Armenian Genocide, including stories of escape from persecution and death, many are left with questions. When asked about their knowledge of their grandparents’ experiences, many third generation survivors of the genocide proclaim that this topic was not openly discussed in the home. In fact, many grandchildren of survivors maintain that they learned about the Armenian genocide within the safe confines of Armenian schools or Armenian organizations. The past generations’ silence permeates one’s subconscious as an evident and undeniable indication of a poignant and mournful past.
Furthermore, descendants of genocide survivors may continue to experience the anguish related to the collective victimization. The transmission of trauma from one generation to the next promotes the group’s sense of re-victimization (and ultimately, re-traumatization), especially when the historical trauma is transmitted to subsequent generations as a social construct representing the unjust and cruel intentions of the perpetrating group [4]. The intentions of the Young Turks is indisputable; in their efforts to wipe out an entire race, the Young Turks, led by the malevolent triumvirate, deemed the Armenians as subhuman and stripped them of their basic human rights. The dehumanizing tactics utilized by these perpetrators infused sentiments of shame, guilt, anger, sadness, and fear within the psyche of each survivor. These sentiments continue to be stirred within the collective psyche of our generation.
The consequences of the Armenian Genocide are visible within the Armenian community. Armenians have adapted to centuries of oppression and opposition, and this adaptation has developed into a significant aspect of the Armenian Ethnic identity. When a group of people are shamed through dehumanization, they develop a strong desire for revenge [5]. Therefore, Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide continues to perpetuate psychological victimization and persecution. When a generation is unable to restore equality, it becomes the legacy of subsequent generations. Armenians continue to be re-victimized by the Turkish denial of the facts surrounding events that conspired in April of 1915. Consequently, we seek vindication for our ancestors, and our individual and collective histories. The Sisyphean fate of the Armenians, the ongoing struggle for recognition and justice, appears to be embedded in our DNA.
Why can’t we just get over the genocide? Because we are born with a metaphorical scar. The psychological impact of the genocide subsists within our generation, and manifests itself in ways we are unable to explain, or even understand. We continue to reiterate historical facts, but often overlook the psychological implications of this massive trauma. The denial of the Armenian genocide does not only rebuff historical facts, but rejects our ancestors’ persecution and suffering at the hands of the Turks. Consequently, our inherited trauma is also discounted. Why can’t we just give up and move on? Because fortunately, we have also inherited our ancestors’ strength, resilience, and determination.
Yehuda, R. (2002). Review: Post-traumatic stress disorder. New England Medical Journal, 346, 108-114.
Jacobs, J. (2011). The cross-generational transmission of trauma: Ritual and emotion among survivors of the holocaust. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 40, 342-361.
Giladi, L. & Bell, T.S. (2013). Protective factors for intergeneration transmission of trauma among second and third generation holocaust survivors. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Practice, Research, and Policy, 5, 384-391.
Casoni, D., & Brunet, L. (2002). The psychodynamics of terrorism, Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis, 10, 1, 5-24.
Volka, V.D., Ast, G., & Greer, W. (2002). The Third Reich in the Unconscious: Transgenerational Transmission and its Consequences. New York: Brunner Routledge.
Haytoug is published by the Armenian Youth Federation Western US and distributed free of charge within the community. The opinions expressed in Haytoug are not solely and necessarily the opinions of the Armenian Youth Federation. Haytoug encourages all Armenian youth to express their thoughts in this publication. Financial contributions may be made to the following address:
104 N. Belmont St. Suite 313
Glendale CA, 91206
If you would like to contribute to Haytoug, please submit your articles to You can also submit your material directly on our website at:

Haytoug Preview: Confiscated Armenian Properties

On 27 May 1915 the Ottoman government, using the ongoing world war as a pretext, made the decision to deport its Armenian citizens to the regions of Syria and Iraq, which at that time were Ottoman provinces. However, the true aim was not to change the locations of the Armenians, but to annihilate them. This deportation and destruction also gives rise to an important question: What was going to happen to the properties the Armenians left behind? How would they be administered?
A series of laws and decrees, known as the “Abandoned Properties Laws” were issued in the Ottoman and Turkish Republican periods concerning the administration of the belongings left behind by the Ottoman Armenians who were deported in 1915. The best-known regulation on the topic is the comprehensive Council of Ministers Decree, dated May 30, 1915. The Directorate of Tribal and Immigrant Settlement of the Interior Ministry (İskan-ı Aşâir ve Muhacirin Müdiriyeti) sent it the following day to relevant provinces organized in 15 articles. It provided the basic principles in accordance with which all deportations and resettlements would be conducted, and began with listing the reasons for the Armenian deportations. The most important provision concerning Armenian properties was the principle that their equivalent value was going to be provided to the deportees.
The importance of the decree of May 30 and the regulation of May 31 lie in the following: The publication of a series of laws and decrees were necessary in order to implement the general principles that were announced in connection with the settlement of the Armenians and the provision of the equivalent values of their goods. This never happened. Instead, laws and decrees began to deal with only one topic: the confiscation of the properties left behind by the Armenians.
Another regulation was carried out on June 10, 1915. This 34-article ordinance regulated in a detailed manner how the property and goods the Armenians left behind would be impounded by the state. The June 10, 1915 regulation was the basis for the creation of a legal system suitable for the elimination of the material living conditions of the Armenians, as it took away from the Armenians any right of disposal of their own properties. Article 1 of the June 10, 1915 regulation announced that “committees formed in a special manner” were going to be created for the administration of the “immovable property, possessions, and lands being left belonging to Armenians who are being transported to other places, and other matters.”
HaytougPreviewUmitKurt1The most important of these committees were the Abandoned Properties Commissions (Emval-i Metruke Komisyonları). These commissions and their powers were regulated by Articles 23 and 24. The commissions were each going to be comprised of three people, a specially appointed chairman, an administrator, and a treasury official, and would work directly under to the Ministry of the Interior.
The most important steps toward the appropriation of Armenian cultural and economic wealth were the Sept. 26, 1915 law of 11 articles, and the 25-article regulation of Nov. 8, 1915 on how the aforementioned law would be implemented.
Many matters were covered in a detailed fashion in the law and the regulation, including the creation of two different types of commissions with different tasks called the Committees and Liquidation Commissions (Heyetler ve Tasfiye Komisyonları); the manner in which these commissions were to be formed; the conditions of work, including wages; the distribution of positions and powers among these commissions and various departments of ministries and the state; the documents necessary for applications by creditors to whom Armenians owed money; aspects of the relevant courts; the rules to be followed during the process of liquidation of properties; the different ledgers to be kept, and how they were to be kept; and examples of relevant ledgers. This characteristic of the aforementioned law and regulation is the most important indication of the desire not to return to the Armenians their properties or their equivalent value.
The Temporary Law of Sept. 26, 1915 is also known as the Liquidation Law (Tasfiye Kanunu). Its chief goal was the liquidation of Armenian properties. According to its first article, commissions were to be established to conduct the liquidation. These commissions were to prepare separate reports for each person about the properties, receivable accounts, and debts “abandoned by actual and juridical persons who are being transported to other places.” The liquidation would be conducted by courts on the basis of these reports.
The temporary law also declared that a regulation would be promulgated about the formation of the commissions and how the provisions of the law would be applied. This regulation, which was agreed upon on Nov. 8, 1915, regulated in a detailed fashion the protection of the movable and immovable property of Armenians who were being deported, the creation of new committees for liquidation issues, and the working principles of the commissions. The two-part regulation with 25 articles moreover included explanatory information on what had to be included in the record books to be kept during the liquidation process, and how these record books were to be used.
It is very important to note that these laws and statutes were known as the Abandoned Properties Laws, which was the official euphemism and an established term in the CUP propaganda to characterize the expropriation of the Armenians, and were merely applied to deported Armenians.
Movable and immovable properties of Armenians who were not deported were not subjected to the Abandoned Properties Laws. As known, there were some Armenians deported from Istanbul—of course, very limited compared to Western Armenia—and properties of those deported Armenians in Istanbul also went through this process of confiscation, expropriation, and liquidation of their properties.
The total destruction of the Armenians marked the fact that a government tried to eliminate a particular group of its own citizens in an effort to settle a perceived political problem. Between 1895 and 1922, Ottoman Armenians suffered massive loss of life and property as a result of pogroms, massacres, and other forms of mass violence. The 1915 Armenian Genocide can be seen as the pinnacle of this process of decline and destruction. It consisted of a series of genocidal strategies: the mass executions of elites, categorical deportations, forced assimilation, destruction of material culture, and collective dispossession. The state-or-chestrated plunder of Armenian property immediately impoverished its victims; this was simultaneously a condition for and a consequence of the genocide. The seizure of the Armenian property was not just a byproduct of the CUP’s genocidal policies, but an integral part of the murder process, reinforcing and accelerating the intended destruction. The expropriation and plunder of deported Armenians’ movable and immovable properties was an essential component of the destruction process of Armenians.
As Martin Dean argues in Robbing the Jews: The Confiscation of Jewish Property in the Holocaust, 1933-1945, ethnic cleansing and genocide usually have a “powerful materialist component: seizure of property, looting of the victims, and their economic displacement are intertwined with other motives for racial and interethnic violence and intensify their devastating effects.” In the same vein, the radicalization of CUP policies against the Armenian population from 1914 onward was closely linked to a full-scale assault on their property.
Thus, the institutionalization of the elimination of the Christian-Armenian presence was basically realized, along with many other things, through the Abandoned Properties Laws. These laws are structural components of the Armenian Genocide and one of the elements connected to the basis of the legal system of the Republican period. It is for this reason that we say that the Republic adopted this genocide as its structural foundation. This reminds us that we must take a fresh look at the relationship between the Republic as a legal system and the Armenian Genocide.
The Abandoned Properties Laws are perceived as “normal and ordinary” laws in Turkey. Their existence has never been questioned in this connection. Their consideration as natural is also an answer as to why the Armenian Genocide was ignored throughout the history of the Republic. This “normality” is equivalent to the consideration of a question as non-existent. Turkey is founded on the transformation of a presence—Christian in general, Armenian in particular—into an absence.
This picture also shows us a significant aspect of genocide as Lemkin pointed out. Genocide is not only a process of destruction but also that of construction. By the time genocide perpetrators are destroying one group, they are also constructing another group or identity. Confiscation is an indispensable and one of the most effective mechanisms for perpetrators to realize the aforementioned process of destruction and construction.
Most of the Armenians properties were distributed to Muslim refugees from the Balkans and Caucasia at that time. Central and local politicians and bureaucrats of the Union and Progress Party also made use of Armenian properties. The exhaustive process of administering and selling the property usually involved considerable administrative efforts, employing hundreds of local staff. Economic discrimination and plunder contributed directly to the CUP’s process of destruction in a variety of ways. At the direct level of implementation, the prospect of booty helped to motivate the local collaborators in various massacres and the deportation orchestrated by the CUP security forces in Anatolia in general.
The CUP cadres were quite aware that the retention of the Armenian property would give the local people a material stake in the deportation of the Armenians. In many cities of Anatolia, especially local notables and provincial elites who had close connections with the CUP obtained and owned most of the properties and wealth of Armenians. This process was realized in Aintab, Diyarbekir, Adana, Maras, Kilis, and other cities in the whole Anatolia.
Similar to the policy of Nazi leaders regarding the “Aryan”ization of Jewish property in the Holocaust, the CUP aimed to have complete control over the confiscation and expropriation of Armenian properties for the economic interests of the state, but could not prevent incidents of corruption from taking place.
It should be emphasized that corruption was fairly rift among bureaucrats and officers of the Abandoned Properties Commissions and Liquidation Commissions who were the responsible actors for administering and confiscating Armenian properties under the supervision and for the advantage of the state, as did happen in the “Aryan”ization of Jewish property.
Despite the widespread incidence of private plunder and corruption, there is no doubt that the seizure of Armenian property in the Ottoman Empire was primarily a state-directed process linked closely to the development of the Armenian Genocide. However, the widespread participation of the local population as beneficiaries of the Armenian property served to spread complicity, and also legitimize the CUP’s measures against the Armenians.
A number of leading members of the Central Committee of the Union and Progress Party, as well as CUP-oriented governors and mutasarrıfs, seized a great deal of property, especially those belonging to affluent Armenians in many vilayets. In addition, according to one argument, CUP leaders also utilized Armenian property and wealth to meet the deportation expenses.
Also, it is worth mentioning an important detail on the National Tax Obligations (Tekâlif-i Milliye) orders. This topic is important to show the Nationalist movement’s viewpoint concerning the Armenians, and also Greeks and the properties they left behind. The National Tax Obligations Orders were issued by command of Mustafa Kemal, the head of the Grand National Assembly and commander-in-chief of the Turkish Nationalist army, to finance the War of Independence against Greece. The abandoned properties of Armenians were also seen as an important source of financing for the war between 1919 and 1922.
After the establishment of the Turkish Republic, in 1926, Turkish Grand National Assembly passed a law. This law was promulgated and enforced on June 27, 1926. According to this law, Turkish governmental officers, politicians, and bureaucrats who were executed as a result of their roles in the Armenian deportations or who were murdered by Dashnaks were declared “national heroes,” and so-called Abandoned Properties of Armenians were given to their families.
And finally in 1928, the Turkish Republic introduced a new regulation that granted muhacirs or Muslim refugees who were using Armenian properties the right to have the title deeds of those properties, which included houses, lands, field crops, and shops.
It is obvious that the material stake for the average Turk played a significant role in his/her participation in the destruction process of Armenians. Economic motivation was always present and enabled CUP central actors to carry out their ultra-nationalist ideological policies against Armenians in terms of gaining the support and consent of average Turkish-Muslim people.
To have a better appreciation of the motivation of the average Turk, one should look at what happened at the local level—which means we need more local and micro studies in order to understand how the deportation and genocide alongside the plunder and pillage of Armenian properties took place in various localities in Anatolia.
The process of genocide and deportation directed at the Armenians was, in fact, put into practice by local notables and provincial elites. These local actors prospered through the acquisition of Armenians’ property and wealth, transforming them into the new wealthy social stratum. In this respect, the Union and Progress Party’s genocide and deportation decree on May 27, 1915 had a certain social basis through the practice of effective power, control, and support mechanism(s) at local levels. Therefore, a more accentuated focus on the local picture or the periphery deserves closer examination.
The function of the stolen Armenian assets in the Turkification process makes the confiscation of Armenian properties a social matter. In this respect, the wide variety of participants and the dynamic self-radicalization of the CUP and state institutions at the local level need to be examined. Although the CUP was involved throughout the confiscation process and was fully in charge of it, the collaboration of local institutions and officers also played a considerable role. The local institutions and offices could not operate in complete isolation from their respective societies and the prevailing attitudes in them.
The expropriation of the Armenians, therefore, was not limited simply to the implementation of the CUP orders, but was also linked to the attitude of local societies towards the Armenians, that is, to the different forms of Armenian hatred. As in the empire, the corruptive influence that spread with the enrichment from Armenian properties in Anatolia could also have led to various forms of accommodation of CUP policies. The robbery of the property is also a useful barometer to assess the relations of various local populations toward the CUP, to the CUP central and local authorities, and also toward the Armenian population in each city.
With regard to the widespread collaboration of parts of the local populace in measures taken against the Armenians, the distribution of a great amount of the Armenian property provided a useful incentive that reinforced hatred for the local Armenians as well as other political and personal motives.
One should keep in mind the fact that the participation of local people is a necessary condition to ensure the effectiveness of genocidal policies. Planned extermination of all members of a given category of people is impossible without the involvement of their neighbors—the only ones who know who is who in a local community.
Therefore, the entire process of confiscation can be evaluated and construed as both an ideological principle and economic motivation. These two aspects cannot be separated from each other in our analysis. In my view, the ideological principle was hugely supported and complemented by economic motivation and material stakes. In some instances, ideology played a more significant role than economic motivation, and in other instances economic interests came into prominence vis-à-vis ideology. Yet, in any case, these two parameters were on the ground and constituted effective mechanisms and dynamic in the confiscation, plunder, and seizure of Armenian material wealth.
Haytoug is published by the Armenian Youth Federation Western US and distributed free of charge within the community. The opinions expressed in Haytoug are not solely and necessarily the opinions of the Armenian Youth Federation. Haytoug encourages all Armenian youth to express their thoughts in this publication. Financial contributions may be made to the following address:
104 N. Belmont St. Suite 313
Glendale CA, 91206
If you would like to contribute to Haytoug, please submit your articles to You can also submit your material directly on our website

Azerbaijan Should be Recognized as War Criminal

Naira Zohrabyan, member of the Armenian delegation to PACE, presenting at the plenary session on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016 (Photo:
Naira Zohrabyan, member of the Armenian delegation to PACE, presenting at the plenary session on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016 (Photo:
STRASBOURG, France (ArmRadio)—“The genocides we witnessed, the crimes committed against ethnic Yezidis, military crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Islamic State in Northern Iraq unfortunately continue today,” member of the Armenian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Naira Zohrabyan said, addressing the Parliamentary Assembly on Thursday.
In this context she stressed the importance of elaboration of more flexible mechanisms of cooperation with the International Criminal Court to fight against impunity.
Zohrabyan reminded that during the April military aggression unleashed by Azerbaijan against Artsakh soldiers and civilians, including children were severely tortured, killed and beheaded. She added that the actions constitute a gross violation of international humanitarian law and amount to war crime.
“Both the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Armenia, as a guarantor of Artsakh’s security, will do their best to have Azerbaijan recognized as war criminal,” Zohrabyan added.
She reminded that Azerbaijan unleashed a military offensive against Artsakh, violating the territorial integrity of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic – a party to the trilateral ceasefire agreement of 1994.
“Azerbaijan should be recognized as war criminal and most of you are aware of the Azerbaijani atrocities,” Zohrabyan told PACE.
Vice-Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly and PACE, head of the Armenian delegation to PACE Hermine Naghdalyan has handed over a report to PACE Secretariat, in which she sharply criticizes anti-democratic processes in Turkey after coup d’etat, at the same time opposing the statements voiced by the Foreign Minister of Turkey Cavusoglu. During the plenary session on Thursday, PACE held a debate on the situation in Turkey in the light of the attempted coup d’etat.
Below reads Naghdalyan’s speech to the plenary session.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today’s discussion is the best evidence that the situation in Turkey remains one of the “hot spots” of the international community attention. We all realize that the volatile situation in the country can be explosive not only for the region, but in a larger sense.
I am from Armenia, a country directly bordering Turkey, a country that felt negative consequences immediately.
What is the situation today – after the coup d’etat attempt…?
The scope and depth of President Erdogan’s reaction is devastating, leaving no hope to country for any democratic processes to take place. The Turkish authorities started to use the coup attempt as an excuse for the crackdown in the country. Thousands of military officers, judges, educators and civil servants have been abruptly arrested or fired. The recently prolonged state of emergency means the suspension of basic human rights, while the death penalty is being discussed to be re-imposed.
The authorities closed several Kurdish TV and radio channels, including one for kids. Can you imagine – Turkey sees a source of threat in a cartoon channel?
The conclusion is inescapable, Dear Colleagues – Turkey is becoming more autocratic and unpredictable, which results in separation of the society.
Just very recently, we were discussing the state of play with regards to functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey. As you remember various standpoints have been expressed during our debates; we were much concerned with the misdevelopments in the country and supported the idea to re-open the monitoring process. Today this issue is more crucial because of the U-turn that Turkey made in its democratization path.
The Turkish authorities totally disregarding the rule of law are using the situation to fight their political opponents and national minorities in the country.
So, Minister Cavusoglu would better concentrate on these serious problems rather than sharing with the Assembly his personal stories.
Another reference to Minister’s yesterday’s misleading remarks – his vision on Nagorno-Karabakh negotiation process lies in a parallel reality with illusive withdrawal from five regions. Whereas in reality the settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh issue is aimed at the determination of the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh through the legally binding expression of will of its people.
One more attempt of misleading: the Minister also touched upon the Armenian-Turkish relations. If Turkey intended to normalize the relations with Armenia it would have then ratified and started to implement Zurich Protocols signed in 2009: the only closed border of Europe will be open.”

The Armenian Genocide Finally Gets Its Due With the Film ‘The Promise’

 An epic motion picture, it will introduce general audiences to a tragic chapter of history that has been shamefully denied for far too long.

By Pietro A. Shakarian


Every year, on April 24, a solemn procession of men, women, and children commences in Yerevan, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Armenia. A sea of sad Armenian faces makes its way up to the hill of Tsitsernakaberd to the Armenian Genocide Memorial. It is here that every year the victims of one of the 20th century’s greatest crimes are quietly honored.
An ancient Christian country located just south of Russia and east of Turkey, Armenia has seen much suffering in its long history. However, of all the tragedies experienced by this small yet resilient nation, none compares to the enormity of the Armenian genocide of 1915. The genocide was committed by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Possessed by a fanatical nationalism, the ruling Young Turk government accused its Christian Armenian subjects of sympathizing with the hated Russian enemy. What followed was the planned, systematic, and ruthless mass murder of as many as 1.5 million Armenian civilians.
“Of all the sufferers of the war,” wrote American diplomat Lewis Einstein in The Nation in 1920, “none have endured more than the Armenians, victims less of its horrors than of the Turkish Government’s diabolical policy of murder.” To this day, Turkey continues to deny the historical reality of the genocide, despite overwhelming scholarly evidence. After over 100 years, the denial of this horrific crime has left the Armenian people in state of incomplete mourning.
Terry George’s forthcoming film The Promise captures the magnitude of this history in a way that no prior film on the genocide has done before. With its sweeping cinematography, powerful acting, and all-encompassing story, it is a truly epic work that effectively and humanely conveys the story of the tragedy.


Given Turkey’s continued stance of denial, making a film about the genocide has never been an easy task. Efforts to produce such a film in Hollywood were consistently blocked by the Turkish government. The most infamous instance of this was in the 1930s, when Ankara pressured MGM into abandoning plans for producing an adaptation of the novelThe Forty Days of Musa Dagh, by Austrian-Jewish writer Franz Werfel. The novel was based on real events in which a small community of Armenians living in the mountains of Turkey’s present-day Hatay Province (on the Syrian border) defended themselves against deportation by Ottoman authorities.
Due to Werfel’s Jewish background, the novel was banned in Hitler’s Third Reich and subject to mass book burnings. The book eventually came to the attention of MGM’s Irving Thalberg, who bought the rights and decided to have it produced as a film. Pre-production began in 1934. Clark Gable was to be the star. However, due to pressure from the Turkish government (including anti-Semitic threats by Ankara against MGM as a “Jewish studio”), Louis B. Mayer canceled the project.
“There are numerous reasons why a film like that has not been made by Hollywood over the past century,” said Eric Esrailian, a UCLA doctor who played a major role in the production of The Promise. “It is not as though people have avoided spending money producing other films for all these years. All elements—from studios to producers to actors to crew—have felt pressure or intimidation in one form or another.”
There were indeed films produced about the genocide. The earliest of these, Ravished Armenia (1919), starred a survivor of the genocide, Aurora Mardiganian, and was produced by MGM at a time when Turkey did not have the clout to stop such productions. The box office proceeds went to the aid of Armenian orphans through the Near East Relief. Unfortunately, the film was eventually lost and only recently turned up as a fragmentary copy in post-Soviet Armenia.
The films that followed, such as Henrik Malyan’s Nahapet (1977), Atom Egoyan’s Ararat(2002), Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s Lark Farm (2007), and Fatih Akin’s The Cut (2014), were unable to reach a mass American audience. Distributed by Warner Bros., Elia Kazan’sAmerica America (1963) vividly depicted the persecution of Armenians and Greeks under Ottoman rule. However, its main focus was the protagonist’s quest to emigrate to the United States.
Given this history, Armenian-American philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian believed that the time had come .for a Hollywood film on the genocide. Kerkorian, who passed away in 2015, first conceived of the idea in 2010, but it acquired momentum in 2012 when Kerkorian set up Survival Pictures. He entrusted his close friend Eric Esrailian to the task of bringing the story of the genocide to a general American audience, and enlisted veteran producers Mike Medavoy and William Horberg.
“We wanted to carefully find the right people—committed people with sincere intentions in their hearts—to come together,” said Esrailian. “Thankfully, we were successful, and the result has been everything we hoped for. In addition, we also grew together as a family of people, both in front of and behind the camera. The entire project is thanks to the courage and dedication of Kirk Kerkorian, and people around the world will be thanking him for generations to come.”


The Promise is an all-encompassing epic that captures every aspect of the Armenian genocide and of the historical time and place in which the tragedy was situated. Early proposals for films on the genocide tended to focus on specific subjects and stories, such as the heroic defense of Musa Dagh or the suffering of the Armenian composer Komitas.The Promise does not limit itself in this regard. Instead, it presents an entire composite picture of the history. All elements of the genocide are brought together into one concise narrative. Ara Sarafian, the director of the Gomidas Institute in London and the leading authority on the history of the genocide in the English language, noted that The Promise“encompasses specific events, as well as generic ones, that defined the destruction of the Armenians.” “The geography of the film, the locations, the movement of people, were all in good order,” he noted. “The cinematography is amazing, and the actors are really good. They hold the narrative together. However, most importantly, the key themes were historically accurate. The producers did not take license to go beyond the historical material at hand yet they managed to capture much of the enormity of the Armenian genocide.”
The film’s story centers on the aspiring doctor Mikael Pogosian (well-portrayed by Oscar Issac) who leaves his native village in southern Turkey to study medicine in Constantinople. Betrothed to a young woman in his village, Mikael falls in love with the beautiful Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon), a French-Armenian woman, in Constantinople. However, she is also involved with Associated Press reporter Chris Myers (Christian Bale). In the midst of this love story, all three of the characters personally experience the genocide unfolding before them in different ways. Overall, though, it is clearly Isaac’s character, Mikael, who emerges as the main protagonist of the film. He is almost like a hero in a work by one of the great Armenian national writers like Raffi or Khachatur Abovian, yet his experiences are based entirely on actual historical events.
“The film’s main characters are fictional, but they are an amalgam of profiles,” said Esrailian. “We wanted to involve the viewer in the film’s story and to open the door to interest in historical events that have been denied and suppressed for decades. We also wanted to highlight the patterns of man’s inhumanity to man that are sadly being replicated in the world today.”
Director Terry George succeeds masterfully in concisely capturing the entire scope of the history of the genocide. The fictional village of Siroun (meaning “beautiful” in the Armenian language) in Southern Turkey, in an area that Armenians know by the name “Cilicia,” perfectly represents the pre-genocide Ottoman Armenian village life. It captures an idyllic time, highlighting the continuity of local Armenian life and customs before they were destroyed. The aspiring doctor Mikael represents the hope of the Armenian community for a better future in the Ottoman Empire.
Mikael’s journey to Constantinople (Istanbul) reveals yet aspect of Ottoman Armenian life before the genocide: the prosperous intellectual, political, and financial class of Armenians in the Ottoman capital. The film shows their prosperous homes, churches, and trading communities. Sporting the latest European fashions, yet part of the fabric of Ottoman cultural and social life, these Armenians lived between Europe and Asia in a city straddling both continents.
The film also alludes to the prosperous life of the historically significant Armenian diaspora community in France, as personified by Charlotte Le Bon’s character, Ana. However, Ana’s character is representative of even more. Just as Mikael represents the aspirations for Ottoman Armenians, so does Ana represent the affinities of the prosperous Armenian urban class for Europe. Although played by a French actress, Ana’s distinctive “Armenian” appearance also adds to the sense of idyllic, almost melancholy nostalgia of pre-war Ottoman Armenian life.
Another character, Mikael’s friend, the Turkish playboy Emre (Marwan Kenzari), represents the friendships that existed between Armenians and Muslims before the genocide and those Muslims who, later, went out of their way to save their Armenian friends and neighbors. “The inclusion of righteous Muslims as represented by Emre who saves his Armenian friend and is shot or the sub-governor (kaymakam) who helps Armenians escape was a historically important aspect of the film,” noted Sarafian.
However, it is against this backdrop of the pre-war Ottoman Empire that storm clouds begin to form. At a party overlooking the Bosphorous, a drunken Chris takes aim at Ottoman officials and their German guests for the entrance of German ships in Turkish waters leading up to the Ottoman entry in the war. When the Ottoman Empire does enter the war, the angry demonstrations in the streets against the Entente foreshadow pogroms against Armenians in Constantinople later in the film. Soon, arrests against Armenian elites begin in Constantinople, including the arrest of Komitas, which is also highlighted in the film. In a village in the interior of Turkey, Chris finds traces of a massacre against Armenians and photographs the carnage, recalling the work of Armin T. Wegner, a German medic who documented the genocide in photographs. Off in the distance, he sees a caravan of Armenians being marched to their death into the desert.
As the film progresses, the grim reality of the full scale of the genocide becomes even more apparent. Basic humanity is openly disregarded. Mikael is eventually arrested and, with other Armenians, forced into slave labor to build a railroad in the Amanus Mountains. In these scenes, Armenians are wantonly shot and beaten. A former Armenian clown from a Constantinople circus has become reduced to a sad shadow of his former self. Mikael escapes, but encounters cattle cars transporting Armenians to the so-called “resettlement zone” in the Syrian Desert. From these cattle cars spring forth hands of thousands of Armenians, men and women, young and old, who desperately relish the mere touch of rain water. It is a powerful, yet chilling image.
One of the film’s saddest and most difficult scenes depicts the massacre of the Armenian villagers from Siroun, causing Mikael to break down and sob. Such scenes are sensitively and tastefully done, but in the words of Sarafian, are “not ‘toned down’ to accommodate Western sensibilities.”
If nostalgia and suffering are major themes of the film, then so is courage. The film depicts the experience of American and European Christian missionaries in saving Armenian orphans and of righteous Muslims and Turks who protect Armenians. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau Sr. also appears in the film and engages in a tense discussion with Talaat Pasha, the architect of the genocide. The film also depicts perhaps the greatest act of bravery of all: the defense of Musa Dagh by a hundreds of Armenian men, women, and children. The final scenes illustrate the French rescue efforts to save these Armenians. The frantic escape of these refugees to the Mediterranean coast and onto the French ships is a story familiar to most Armenians who fled the genocide. Although a more hardened and mature Mikael contemplates revenge for everything he has experienced, Ana insists that “our survival will be our revenge.”
Although The Promise is a masterfully done film, it will undoubtedly face challenges. Even prior to its US release, Turkish nationalists have already taken to IMDb, Twitter, and Facebook to block and downgrade the film as much as possible.
“Whether or not the filmmakers managed their blend to appeal to today’s easily distracted audiences is something that the box offices will show,” said Sarafian. “Undoubtedly, the final result will also depend on the success (or failure) of misinformation campaigns that the denialist lobby will organize. After all, the denial of the Armenian genocide, unlike the denial of the Holocaust, is unfortunately still fair game.”
Still, for many Armenians who have long awaited a Hollywood film on the genocide, this is it. The Promise is an epic motion picture that will introduce general audiences to a tragic chapter of history that has been shamefully denied for far too long. It is an accomplishment to which many Armenians will respond with a rousing “apres” (“well-done”). 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Journey of Activism: Garo Paylan’s Quest for Justice

Ethnic Armenian Member of Turkish Parliament Speaks in Belmont, Mass.

Special for the Armenian Weekly
BELMONT, Mass—A little over a century ago, Armenian lawyer and writer Krikor Zohrab was a member of the Ottoman Parliament where he vehemently defended the rights of Armenians and their interests. Fast forward to 2016, ethnic Armenian member of Turkish Parliament of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Garo Paylan has without a doubt personified the legacy of Zohrab with his charismatic nature and valiant spirit.
Garo Paylan (Photo: Hurriyet)
On Oct. 4, the Armenian community of Greater Boston gave an overwhelming welcome to Paylan at the First Armenian Church of Belmont, as he continued his visits to various Armenian communities across the United States. The event was sponsored by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR)/Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Lecture Series on Contemporary Armenian Issues, and co-sponsored by the Kaloosdian-Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University, the Hamazkayin Armenian Cultural and Educational Society, the Society of Istanbul Armenians of Boston, and the Tekeyan Cultural Association.
Paylan’s presentation centered around the recent developments in Turkey and the current situation of the Armenian community there, during which he described the realities that Armenians in Turkey face, while highlighting the resilience of the community in their pursuit of justice.
Paylan set an example for not just Armenians around the world but to all those who are pursuing a path to justice by any means. With his grandparents being genocide survivors from Malatya, and settling in Istanbul, Paylan discussed different experiences from his childhood—when he first heard the story of his grandparents’ survival to when he was required to hide his Armenian heritage in the public to avoid being treated differently.
Paylan brought to surface the harsh realities that exist in the modern state of Turkey and explained that the current situation is not too different than how our ancestors were treated under the Ottoman Empire over a century ago. He stressed that for the minorities and the oppressed in Turkey, their rights are limited, they have no protection, and they experience constant injustice. The lack of democracy and democratic values—among other things—has caused Turkey to enter one of its darkest periods in history, according to Paylan.
However, witnessing these hardships, listening to the stories of his grandparents, and experiencing the lack of fairness as an Armenian all became motivation for Paylan to become a tireless activist in pursuit of human rights, justice, and democracy in a country where he feels a sense of homeland.
Paylan emphasized how nothing will change for the Armenians in Turkey unless Turkey becomes a democratic state. And in order for this to take place, all the minorities must care about each other and learn from one another. “To only care for your identity is a disease,” said Paylan.
It was with this conviction that Paylan and group of likeminded leaders including Kurds, and Turks came together to establish the HDP with the mission to fight for all minorities and make sure all of their concerns equally get heard.
During his presentation, Paylan addressed the circumstances following the attempted coup in July, explaining that its only result was an even more gruesome government, whose focus has become to remove anyone they see as a threat to the current government. Coups have become recurring events in Turkey and have not lead to any uniting factor, and instead have become a tradition.
Paylan called on the diaspora to play an active role in the struggle for rights for the Armenians in Turkey because they too have roots and distinct ties in Western Armenia. He stressed that when most of the Western world plays politics in the Middle East turns a blind eye to the values of freedom and basic rights, it should be the responsible of all Armenians to support each other and stand strong in our pursuit for democracy and justice. “Armenians have a right to the Western Armenian world,” said Paylan, while stating that Armenians must be more organized as a nation if we want any rights to Western Armenia.
When asked whether he is concerned for his life in Turkey or if he might suffer the same fate as Dink, Paylan answered that simply being an Armenian in Turkey is enough of a reason for his life to be in danger and that in the pursuit for justice and activism in the realm of human rights, there is no room to be afraid.
Despite all of the challenges and obstacles that has come his way, Paylan has stayed true to his principles and has demonstrated that there is no room to fear when defending the very basic foundation of human rights. He brought with him a rare breed of activism in Turkey that has challenged all that is corrupt in Turkey.
His bravery has inspired many around the world and continues to do so through his relentless journey of activism. And he has showed the global community of Armenians that Armenians in Turkey are equally as invested in Hai Tahd—the Armenian cause—and are willing to achieve their goals by any means necessary.