Friday, February 16, 2007

Armenian Genocide At The Berlin Film Festival

By Wolfgang Hobel and Alexander Smoltczyk

Der Spiegel Online, Germany
Feb 14 2007

'The Lark Farm' Wakens Turkish Ghosts

The film "The Lark Farm" is sure to stir up controversy at this year's
Berlin Film Festival. It takes a close look at Turkey's most sensitive
taboo -- the 1915 genocide against the Armenians. Extra security has
been brought in for the Wednesday evening premiere.

All that was missing at the Festival Palace was the wave cheer, given
the level of enthusiasm with which Dieter Kosslick, the festival's
director, staged the opening gala of the 57th Berlin International
Film Festival last Thursday. Once again, Kosslick has managed to
position the German capital as a world-class film city, and this
year's Berlinale again vies with past festivals in its relentless
determination to deliver euphoria.

Photo Gallery: Controversial Film at the Berlin Film Festival Click
on a picture to launch the image gallery (3 Photos) The French film
"La Vie en rose," the first film on the festival's schedule, matched
the effusive mood of the event. In the film, director Olivier Dahan
tells the life story of singer Edith Piaf, sumptuously portraying
her descent into drug addiction and disastrous love affairs. The
president of the festival's jury Paul Schrader -- himself a writer,
director and film critic -- has said he sees film as a kind of museum,
or cultural memory bank. It's an interpretation that clearly applies
to this year's festival.

Steven Soderbergh's black-and-white drama "The Good German," provides
a good example. George Clooney portrays an American reporter in
post-World War II Germany who is tragically in love with a beautiful
but mysterious woman (Cate Blanchett). The American thriller "The Good
Shepherd," starring Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon and Alec Baldwin and
directed by Robert De Niro, is a story about the early days of the
CIA. In the historical drama "Die Falscher" ("The Counterfeiters"),
Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky describes how inmates at the
Nazi concentration camp in Sachsenhausen were forced to print British
pound notes in a counterfeiting workshop.

Taboo in Turkey

But there is one film that will encounter little competition for
being the most important and stirring contribution to the culture of
reminiscence. It deals with the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, a
topic that is still considered taboo in Turkey. Indeed, sentiments on
the issue are so strong that representatives of the Turkish government
are still trying to convince others to avoid the topic as well. Last
week, for example, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul made it
clear that relations between his country and the United States could
be seriously jeopardized by a resolution proposed in the US Congress
that would officially condemn the 1915 genocide committed by the Turks.

"If this resolution is approved," Gul threatened representatives of
the Bush administration, which is seeking a strategic partnership
with Turkey, "why should we continue to support one another?"

FROM THE MAGAZINE Find out how you can reprint this DER SPIEGEL
article in your publication. Close to a century after the Armenian
genocide, the issue remains explosive. When Turkish novelist and Nobel
laureate Orhan Pamuk had the courage to write about the genocide, he
was promptly taken to court by ultra-nationalists. After the murder
of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, Pamuk, fearing for his
own life, fled abroad.

The Armenian genocide is sure to become a hot-button issue in Berlin
-- home to about 250,000 Turks -- where legendary directors Paolo
and Vittoria Taviani will premiere their new film "The Lark Farm"
on Wednesday evening. It is a shocking film about the genocide and
the film's distributor is nervous. The festival management, fearing
riots, has hired additional security.

Bundles of flesh

It is a film filled with vivid images and meaningful gestures. In one
scene, a Turkish soldier stands awkwardly next to an opulently set
table. He carefully picks up the soup bowl, lifts it into the air,
pauses for a moment, and then slowly pours the soup over the damask
tablecloth. The horror begins with the insignificant, setting the
stage for the unimaginable in the most polite of ways.

In another scene, Turkish servants suddenly refuse to unload the
truck belonging to their Armenian masters, saying that it's too
late in the day for work. A short time later, the masters, already
earmarked for slaughter as enemies of the people, have been reduced
to sobbing bundles of flesh as they beg for their lives. Such is how
genocide begins.

In their past masterpieces, "Padre Padrone" (1977) and "Notte di
San Lorenzo" ("The Night of San Lorenzo") (1982), Italian directors
Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, both well into their seventies, dealt with
the human effects of persecution and political violence -- and with
the desire to rebel against fate. While "The Night of San Lorenzo,"
an episode from the Italian resistance movement against Mussolini's
fascist militia, managed to describe the senselessness of violence
with the tools of absurdist comedy, "The Lark Farm" is a deeply
dark melodrama.

In the political inferno the film portrays, Moritz Bleibtreu and Paz
Vega are perfectly cast as tragic lovers. "It is not a film against
Turkey, on the contrary," they say, and rightfully so. But the editors
who published the Danish cartoons that so inflamed the Muslim world
were also in the right. "The Lark Farm" could well become the political
scandal at this year's Berlinale.

Obedience, cowardice, expediencey and vileness

The screenplay, based on a novel by Antonia Arslan -- a literature
professor who now lives in Padua -- deals with the history of Arslan's
family. The novel portrays the Avakians, a respected middle-class
Armenian family that lives in a provincial city, hoping that things
will not take a turn for the worse. The film begins with intimate
scenes of beautiful faces and women wearing long dresses, filmed
in the light of a Vermeer painting. The family patriarch has died,
and even the Turkish Colonel Arkan (Andre Dussollier) bows to pay
his respects to the deceased.

NEWSLETTER Sign up for Spiegel Online's daily newsletter and get the
best of Der Spiegel's and Spiegel Online's international coverage in
your In- Box everyday.

But then Arkan receives his orders from Istanbul, orders he promptly
obeys. In only a few scenes, the directors depict the mixture of
obedience and cowardice, of expediency and vileness that has always
made ethnic cleansing and pogroms possible.

The men and boys are crucified, castrated and hacked to pieces, and
the women are sent on a starvation march into the deserts of eastern
Anatolia. Nazim, a beggar (played by Palestinian filmmaker Mohammed
Bakri), betrays his masters but then regrets it and attempts to at
least help the women. Youssuf (Moritz Bleibtreu), a Turkish soldier,
is drawn to the family's proud surviving daughter (Paz Vega) and falls
in love with her. In an attempt to flee, Nunik sacrifices herself
to enable her nieces to escape. When Youssuf receives his orders --
"Throw them into the fire first, then cut off their heads" -- he
decapitates Nunik to save her from being burned alive.

The outstanding performances -- and the sheer incomprehensibility
of the events -- keep the film from descending into sentimentality,
despite the costumes and the over-abundance of stage blood. The
Tavianis have managed to produce images the film's viewers will regret
having seen, because these are the kinds of images one has trouble
forgetting. This is both the film's achievement and its curse.

Watching the film is almost unbearable. According to some eyewitnesses,
soldiers gave Armenian mothers the option of killing their newborn
boys themselves. Others say that women were forced to place their
babies in a rucksack and stand back-to-back with another woman,
their arms interlocked and... One doesn't want to know or see what
actually happened.

A muffled silence

This is what Vittorio Taviani has to say about it: "The murder of
the innocent has been a part of theater history since the Greeks,
since Shakespeare. Three years ago we discovered the Armenian tragedy,
almost by accident, when we read the book by Antonia Arslan. We wanted
to tell it with the means at our disposal."

Arsinee Khanjian, a Canadian of Armenian heritage who lost part of
her own family, plays the role of Armineh Avakian. In one scene the
severed head of her husband is thrown into her lap. "She was adamant
about acting in our film. She felt that it was a sort of obligation
to her murdered great-grandparents. We promised her that we would
only shoot this scene once, and without rehearsal," says Paolo
Taviani. "According to the script, she was supposed to scream. But
all that came out was a muffled silence. We left it that way."

The Armenians were Christians, often educated and affluent. As such,
they made for the ideal fifth column when the Ottoman Empire attacked
Russia. But the Ottomans lost the war. According to the official
version in Ankara, the Armenians had to be resettled during the war,
and most of them died as a result of disease and at the hands of
Kurdish tribes. But many contest that version.

"One million Armenians were murdered. This is something hardly anyone
dares to say," said Orhan Pamuk prior to his winning the Nobel Prize in
Literature. His words immediately made Pamuk the victim of nationalist,
hate-mongering propaganda. The persecution and murder of the Armenian
minority remains the foremost trauma of the founding of modern Turkey.

It was, in fact, the "young Turks," those who were eager to found a
new and modern state, who issued the orders which led to the deaths
of the Armenians. Recognizing the genocide as such would be tantamount
to admitting that the spiritual founders of modern Turkey were men who
today would be easily convicted of war crimes by the International War
Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. And yet the majority of officers charged
with crimes against the Armenians were promptly released after the war.

Efforts in vain

For the past 70 years, Hollywood studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has had
plans to film the Armenian epic "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh," by
Czech-born poet, playwright and novelist Franz Werfel. And Sylvester
Stallone has likewise recently indicated he would be interested
in making the movie. But the project was repeatedly shelved for
political reasons. Keeping NATO's eastern flank happy was apparently
more important that bringing justice to a minority that had already
been heavily decimated.

Even today the European Union avoids using the word "genocide,"
anxious not to cast a shadow on the negotiations over Turkey's bid
for EU membership.

The film is an Italian-French-Bulgarian-Spanish co-production.

Turkey's delegate to the European film fund Eurimage attempted to
put a stop to the Taviani project. But this time Turkey's efforts
were in vain.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan,1518,466427,00.html

Friday, February 02, 2007

Does UN act in Turkey's favor?

Does UN act in Turkey's favor?


    Does UN act in Turkey's favor?

    Does it really make any difference how many people
    were killed - one and a half million, six, or even if
    only one person? Genocide is genocide, arithmetic is
    not needed here.
    31.01.2007 GMT+04:00

    On January 25 the UN General Assembly adopted a
    Resolution condemning the denial of the Holocaust as
    of a historical fact. The Document was supported by
    103 countries out of the 192 Member States, no voting
    was held. The Resolution was submitted for
    consideration on Tuesday by the US representative, it
    contains a call to all the UN Member States for the
    absolute denial of any doubts of the indisputability
    of the Holocaust.

    /PanARMENIAN.Net/ No definite country was mentioned in
    the document, however it was mentioned that `ignoring
    the denial of the historical fact of the terrible
    Holocaust runs the risk of its repetition'. The date
    was chosen in honor of the liberation day of the
    prisoners of the largest concentration camp Oswiecim,
    January 27, 1945. Laws banning the Holocaust denial
    are applied in 9 EU Member States - Austria, Belgium,
    Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Rumania, the Slovak
    Republic, France, and the Czech Republic.

    The adopted Resolution causes embarrassment. On the
    one hand everything is quite obvious - genocide, in
    its any kind of manifestation must be recognized and
    condemned. On the other hand it is a double standard
    policy, which by the way shows its worth in its most
    obnoxious form. The slaughter and deportation of 2
    million Armenians in the Ottoman Turkey, which was
    placed on a national basis, is considered only `tragic
    events of 1915'. Bewilderment is caused by another
    article of the Resolution, which says that `ignoring
    the historical fact of the terrible Holocaust runs the
    larger risk of its repetition'. This is what Armenia
    has just been talking about for so long, mentioning
    that if in due time the League of Nations had
    recognized `the events of 1915' as a Genocide, it
    could have helped to avoid the Holocaust, or at least
    the later wouldn't be on such a large scale. However
    it did not, and thus impunity of the murders on racial
    grounds followed one another. Nevertheless Hitler's
    famous phrase, which is denied by the Turkish
    historians, was uttered. One very essential detail
    should be mentioned here; according to some sources,
    the slaughter of the Armenians, was `provoked' by
    Germany, which was Turkey's ally in the First World
    War. The German advisors of course didn't call the
    Turks to exterminate the Armenians, but they didn't
    display great efforts to stop them from doing it
    either. In 1915 the German Ambassador to Istanbul,
    Wangenheim was asked to stop the deportation, for he
    was able to do that. But he didn't, grounding on the
    absence of the instructions from Berlin. By the way,
    according to some sources in 1915 Wangenheim died from
    cardiac rupture. It is said, he couldn't endure the
    stories about the horror in Western Armenia. But all
    this is already in the past, and we are more concerned
    with the present, which is full of anti-Armenian
    propaganda disseminated by the Turkish Government.
    `Historical indisputability of the Holocaust is
    nothing but reality, and it must be condemned, but the
    denial of the Armenian Genocide, which is still
    continuing on a rather large scale, is of more vital
    importance than any case of the Holocaust denial. Here
    the real point is that the Armenian Genocide must not
    be disregarded. The Armenian Genocide was the first in
    the XX Century and is immediately linked with the
    Holocaust, dated later. One should not put any
    difference between them, as the denial of the Armenian
    Genocide is the denial of the Holocaust. Besides, the
    hypocrisy is obvious - even today Genocides are
    committed in Darfur, Rwanda and the international
    community does very little to stop them', says expert
    Richard Giragosyan. Another question that comes to
    mind is; what are the politicians guided by while
    adopting such Resolutions? Maybe by the number of the
    victims? Does it really make any difference how many
    people were killed - - one and a half million, six, or
    even if only one person? Genocide is genocide,
    arithmetic is not needed here. Or else once again the
    Armenians become victims for the Turkey's sake, whose
    turning its back to the West is completely undesired.