“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
There seems to be some debate about whether it was Joseph Goebbels or Adolf Hitler who said it – or whether either of them did. Some people say Hitler claimed inspiration for his Jewish Holocaust from the Ottomans’ treatment of their Armenian citizens. That certainly, we know to be untrue.
A new film, The Promise, is attracting some media attention in the USA. It premiered last year but its producers waited until this month (April 21) to release it in the United States, for reasons that will become obvious. The New York Times and Time Magazine have published sympathetic reports – but the response from film critics and at the box office has been less positive:
“It is bombs away at the Friday box office. The $100 million movie is projected to earn $1.5 million-$2 million Friday from 2,251 theaters for a $4 million-$5 million launch – a sobering start considering the movie’s hefty budget.”
“’The Promise’ ends up feeling very old fashioned in a bad way. It’s bloated, it’s sweeping, there’s a love triangle, and there are four-too-many endings. But since there’s so much movie there, there’s also quite a bit that works – including lead performances from Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale, and Charlotte Le Bon. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to save the whole ship, and in the end, the film turns out to be disappointingly unremarkable.”
The NY Times piece leads the reader in gently, noting that the film’s “director Terry George figured there’d be weirdness around [it]”. Gradually we learn that the subject of The Promise is the alleged “Armenian genocide” of 1915 – and the “weirdness” is the response it has elicited from Turkish ambassadors and others. One example of the “weirdness” is that another film, The Ottoman Lieutenant, dealing with the same historical events, appeared around the same time. Possibly the most interesting thing about the two films, neither of which seems destined for cinematic glory, is that the former was financed by a mega-rich gentleman of Armenian descent; the latter, allegedly by Turkish sources – probably true, although I have been unable to verify the claim.
The NY Times writer asserts that “The battle over these two new films represents just the latest front in Turkey’s quest to control the historical narrative.” We may think that claim debatable at least, given that the $100 million to make The Promise was provided by the late Kerkor Kerkorian, an American of Armenian descent featuring highly on the Forbes Rich List. The Wikipedia link to the production company, Survival Films, took me directly to the late Mr Kerkorian’s page. The company spokesperson is named as Eric Esrailian, and Kim Kardashian West has been tweeting enthusiastically about the film. The “genocide scholar” Taner Akçam, notorious for playing fast and loose with historical data, is also quoted; and the US release of The Promise was deliberately timed to coincide with the date chosen by the genocide lobby to publicise their cause. But it would be wrong, of course, to suspect the Armenian diaspora of trying to “control the historical narrative”.
Nevertheless, the Times writer, Cara Buckley, seems all too ready to reiterate the one-sided arguments aimed at holding the modern Republic of Turkey responsible for a “crime” that took place eight years before it came into existence. She quotes people associated with the film as expressing “nebulous fears” about their safety, implying that sinister Turkish forces may try to silence them – breathing not a word about the 31 Turkish diplomats assassinated in the 1970s and 80s by Armenian terrorists pushing their own agenda. In the interests of fair play you may like to check out this report in the NY Times of 29 January 1982.
Fair play is not something you’ll get much of in Buckley’s article. “The United Nations” she says, “the Roman Catholic Church, the European Parliament, historians and scholars have roundly recognized the atrocities as a genocide, the 20th century’s first.” In fact the United Nations has never recognised the “Armenian genocide”, nor has the United States government, despite incessant lobbying; and the French Constitutional Court ruled recently that their parliament did not have the authority to legislate on such issues.
Another gentleman Buckley quotes extensively is “Advertising executive-turned-documentarian Joe Berlinger.” Berlinger, maker of a recent pro-genocide documentary “Intent to Destroy” apparently worked closely with Promise director, Terry George. Well, I don’t want to belittle advertising executives in general, but selling their services for a fee is what that business is all about I guess.
Inspiration for The Promise is said to have come from a 1933 novel, “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” “based on true events that took place in 1915”. According to the Wikipedia entry, the book “achieved great international success and has been credited with awakening the world to the evidence of the persecution and genocide inflicted on the Armenian nation during World War I.” A NOVEL, remember. An earlier production stirring up American emotions on the subject was the 1919 Hollywood movie “Ravished Armenia” or “The Auction of Souls”, stills from which are frequently passed off by pro-Armenian lobbyists as actual photos of Ottoman atrocities (see below).
The Time Magazine report is headed “The real history to know before you see ‘The Promise’“. The writer, Olivia B Waxman, seems to have sourced her “facts” from one Peter Balakian, a poet and translator of such balanced works of history as Armenian Golgotha and The Ozone Journal – based on the account of an Armenian survivor and a recent excavation of bones in Syria.
Well, my purpose here is not to make light of tragic events that undoubtedly happened during the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire, as its leaders struggled against forces within their borders and beyond determined to tear it apart. Justice is rarely served, however, by viewing historical events through the filter of narrow national interests. To anyone interested in a more balanced view of those years, I recommend the American historian Justin McCarthy. He, and others like Stanford Shaw have indeed received serious threats aimed at shutting them up.
Decide for yourself – but don’t believe something just because it is constantly repeated.
You’ll see this image again and again on sites arguing for the Armenian “genocide. Compare it with the film poster image above.
This was one caption: “Taken by a German officer in 1915 showing a row of young women who had been hanged upon crosses in mockery of the Crucifixion of Jesus because they had refused to convert.”