The Promise, the first major motion picture to shed light on the Armenian Genocide, premiered this past weekend. Here’s why you need to see it.
The Worst Crime You’ve Never Heard Of
If you’re not Armenian, statistically, chances are good that you’ve never heard of the Armenian Genocide. Between 1915 and 1922, amidst the chaos of World War I, the government of the Ottoman Empire conducted a wide-spread campaign of violence against Christian minorities living in its borders. This included Greek and Assyrian Christians as well as Armenians. As many as three and a half million people lost their lives. The goal of this campaign was to solidify the Turkish national identity by exterminating anyone who was not Turkish.
While discrimination and outbreaks of violence against minorities had been common for many years (such as the Hamidian massacres), the deliberate and organized destruction of the Armenian people began on April 24th, 1915, one hundred and two years ago today. On that day, the Ottoman government rounded up Armenian businessmen, intellectuals, and clergy living in Constantinople in a mass arrest. Most were eventually executed. Over the next several months, the government systematically massacred able-bodied Armenian men and forced women, children, and the elderly on marches though the desert where most died of thirst or starvation. Many were tortured and murdered for sport.
Prior to these events, about two million Armenians were living in the Ottoman Empire, mainly in the Armenian provinces of eastern Turkey (often referred to as Western Armenia). By 1922, approximately 75% of those people had been killed. Of those who survived, some escaped with help from sympathetic Turkish neighbors. Most walked on foot through the desert to Syria, where American and other international aid workers were waiting. None remained in eastern Turkey. Their churches were burned; their homes, farms, and businesses were taken over by Turks.
While many films have been made about the Armenian Genocide (Ararat and Voyage to Amasia, for example), The Promise is the first film out of a major Hollywood studio to take on this forgotten corner of history. The film’s two male leads, Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac, explained why on CBS This Morning.
What about the kids?
While I do think we need to teach our kids true history, even the dark parts, the suffering of the Armenians has been documented through a seemingly endless roll of gruesomely graphic photos. I would not turn a kid loose to research these events under the age of about eighteen.
Though The Promise centers around horrific historic events, most violence in the story takes place off-screen so that the film is not at all graphic. It reminded me a bit of Life is Beautiful in that respect. The emotional impact is intense, but this film will not give you nightmares (unlike Hotel Rwanda, also directed by Terry George, which made me lose sleep for a month the first time I saw it). It is rated PG-13, and if you think your kids are old enough to handle several nail-biting moments of suspense and a generally really sad story, they can handle this movie.
“Our Revenge Will Be to Survive”
When you watch the film, please do me two small favors. First, remember that #Turkeyfailed. My children are descended from Armenians who lived through these horrors and went on to rebuild their lives, their churches, and their futures. Second, go tell a friend to see it, too.