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Genocide Documentary: Rare Footage, Great Interviews, Some Shortcomings

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Genocide Documentary: Rare Footage, Great Interviews, Some Shortcomings

By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

Jan 19, 2006

A new one-hour documentary, "The Armenian Genocide," will be broadcast on PBS TV stations nationwide on April 17. It is written, directed and produced by Emmy Award winning producer Andrew Goldberg of Two Cats Productions, in association with Oregon Public Broadcasting. The narration is done in a flat and impassive voice by actress Julianna Margulies.

In recent years, Goldberg has produced three other Armenian documentaries, including "The Armenian Americans," "The Armenians, A Story of Survival," and "Images of the Armenian Spirit." While these previous documentaries contain some background material on the Armenian Genocide, his latest work deals exclusively with this critical issue.

"The Armenian Genocide" features interviews with Elizabeth Frierson of Princeton University; Pulitzer-winning author Samantha Power; Dr. Fikret Adanir of the Ruhr Univ. (Germany); Dr. Taner Akcam of the Univ. of Minnesota; Dr. Halil Berktay of Sabanci University (Turkey); Dr. Fatma Muge Gocek of the Univ. of Michigan; Dr. Israel Charny, the Vice President of International Association of Genocide Scholars (Jerusalem); Dr. Tessa Hofmann (Germany); New York Times best-selling author, Peter Balakian; Dr. Vahakn Dadrian of the Zoryan Institute; Ara Sarafian of the Gomidas Institute (UK); and Prof. Ron Suny of the Univ. of Chicago.

The program also includes recollections by Kurds and Turks, living in present-day Turkey, who recount the stories they had heard from their parents and grandparents about the mass killings of the Armenians.

The documentary features rare footage of the critical events and major figures of that period. It is filmed in the US, France, Germany, Belgium, Turkey and Syria.

The documentary provides a short overview of Armenian history and an in-depth presentation of developments surrounding the Armenian Genocide. It mentions prominently the Hamidian Massacres of 1894-96, during which the Ottoman government killed more than 200,000 Armenians. This was a prelude to subsequent mass killings leading to the Armenian Genocide. Unfortunately the documentary makes no mention of the 1909 Adana Massacre that resulted in 30,000 Armenian deaths!

The 1894-96 and 1909 mass killings debunk the misrepresentations of Turkish revisionists who use the much-abused pretext that the Armenians were killed in 1915 because they rebelled against the Ottoman Empire and joined the invading Russian troops during World War I. There were no wars whatsoever in the 1890’s and 1909, and yet, Armenians were massacred by the tens of thousands. The Ottomans massacred their Armenian subjects from time to time, independently of wars with external powers!

The documentary points out that after the battle of Sarikamis in December 1914, as the Russian Army advanced on Turkey, its ranks included a small contingent of Turkish-Armenian volunteers who had defected to the Russian side. It directly links the Turkish decision to disarm all Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman Army, and indirectly links the subsequent genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, to the pretext that a small contingent of Turkish Armenians joined the Russian Army. Such a linkage may mislead some viewers into thinking that a genocide was actually committed against an entire nation in retaliation for the “disloyalty” of a few Armenian defectors. The documentary makers may have gone somewhat overboard in this segment in trying to appear “fair and balanced."

If the small number of Turkish Armenian soldiers who had defected to the Russian side were perceived as a threat by the Ottomans, why did they deport and kill hundreds of thousands of completely innocent young Armenian children and elderly women from territories utterly disconnected from the theater of war? The only valid explanation is that the Turks intended all along to eradicate the entire Armenian nation from its historical homeland. They exploited the war conditions and the actions of the Armenian volunteers as a cover for their dastardly act. Furthermore, if joining the enemy was the real reason for committing genocide, when Jews and Kurds fought on the side of the British and Russian armies respectively, against the Ottoman Empire, why were these minorities not rounded up and killed off en masse? On the other hand, the documentary does an admirable job of presenting the views of prominent Turkish, Jewish, European, American and Armenian scholars who expose the true facts of the Armenian Genocide and the subsequent Turkish denials. Here are excerpts from some of their interviews:

Prof. Halil Berktay related how, after giving an interview to a Turkish newspaper confirming the facts of the Armenian Genocide, he came under attack from fellow Turks: "It was as if I was yelling very loudly: ‘The emperor has no clothes.’ They started yelling: ‘Traitor. Here is this traitor in our midst. Here is this person who is aiding and abetting the enemy. He should be instantaneously fired from his university. There must be punishment for him.’ Not only, did they organize hate mail and obscenity mail and death threat campaigns, I became this rare animal -- a Turkish historian inside Turkey that has spoken up."

Dr. Israel Charny, the Vice President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, is shown as saying: "Imagine for a moment, the history books of the Western world being printed without having the story of World War I in there. Here is a significant country in our world, spending an enormous amount of its money, of its resources, on one subject! ‘Don't you mention the Armenian Genocide!’ And that's what their Ambassadors, and their designated representatives, including in academia, are busy doing all around the world. And the story gets dirtier. I can tell you, anybody can tell you, of conference after conference, book after book, efforts to produce a TV program, a movie about the Armenian Genocide, where the Turkish government has intervened at every conceivable level."

Probably out of a misguided sense of providing balance, the documentary makers also included highly offensive statements by two infamous Turkish denialists (Gunduz Aktan, a former diplomat, and Yusuf Halacoglu, the head of the Turkish Historical Society). They and other Turkish citizens are shown refuting the facts of the Armenian Genocide. It is noteworthy that those who produce documentaries on the Jewish Holocaust never include denialist statements by neo-Nazis, just to appear "fair and balanced!"

This documentary, despite some of its shortcomings, would contribute greatly to the education of the American public about the Armenian Genocide and would attract the expected hostile reaction from Turkish denialists and their non-Turkish cronies.

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