The Promise: One Young Woman’s Perspective

Still from the movie "The Promise" with Oscar Isaac (right) and Christian Bale
Still from the movie "The Promise" with Oscar Isaac (right) and Christian Bale

Still from the movie “The Promise” with Oscar Isaac (right) and Christian Bale

BY LILYA DISHCHYAN

I exited the movie theater in tears, at a painfully dichotomous loss for words alongside passionate−even angry−thoughts about the injustices that sporadically repeat themselves despite light-years of societal advancement.

The only thing I knew for sure in that moment−really the only thing I ever know for sure−was that I should have listened to my mom when she preemptively attempted to prepare me for the film in all of her maternal wisdom: (1) don’t wear makeup; (2) pack lots of tissue.

The Promise is a portrayal of the Young Turks’ pre-World War I attempt to systematically eliminate a community of a religious [Christian] and racial [Armenian] minority from the Ottoman Empire under the guise of a mandated evacuation to allegedly assist the victims to safety [from what?]. The result was the mass murder of more than one-and-a-half million Armenians. The term genocide was coined years later, the word’s etymology specifically referencing the Armenian Genocide.

Notably, modern relations between Armenia and Turkey are hostile, to say the least. The border between the two countries remains shut. Continued contentiousness presented itself just this week, when one-star-reviews of The Promise flooded the internet by the thousands, only later to be discovered to have been so-called internet “trolls” attempting to tarnish the film’s reputation even before its release. Your guess as to the culprits is as good as mine.

Needless to say, the Turkish government presently denies the events of 1915- 1940 [arguably, -present]. Moreover, the United States has failed to recognize the Genocide, and the present administration is no exception.

The film portrays the plight of a small-town Armenian man’s journey to Constantinople for medical school on scholarship from his future wife’s dowry. Coincidentally, his uncle−a prominent businessman living in Turkey−employs a beautiful and charming French-Armenian governess who has bravely repatriated to Turkey to reconnect with her Armenian roots.

And now, enter Christian Bale, portraying the heroic American journalist who risks his life to inconspicuously report on the killings. His valiant efforts help shed light – albeit dim – upon the killings and his resourcefulness leads thousands of orphans safely to refuge from the aforementioned horrors.

It’s a beautiful sentiment amid a terrible tragedy and actually not historically inaccurate. The United States participated in relief and aid efforts and welcomed several thousand present day American-Armenians to live peacefully and successfully within its borders.

My concern is that presently, the United States president claims to condemn radicalism, specifically of the religious sort. Yet he represents a government which has failed to recognize the mass murder of a minority population due to proven racial and religious motivations. My question is, how can said President truly believe that this pattern of behavior will not continue if it is not uniformly condemned? This is not and should not falsely be a labeled a political issue; it’s a HUMAN issue.

Religious and/or racial tensions in non-homogenous regions of the world [country/state/city/town] prompting nationalism often lead to persecution and war. [Insert countless examples here, i.e. Syria]. Cliche is truth and history repeats itself. Past actions treated with impunity are present; and are on their way to becoming future actions to be treated with impunity.

As such, I plea that we use the voices we have in the communities we represent to advocate for recognition of hate crimes, past and present, for the future.

In other words, The Promise made me laugh and sob, but most of all it made me proud. It is the mainstream depiction of important historical events which are often reduced to a mere footnote in most accounts of the era. It provides a tasteful recount of a tragic time in history while highlighting the Armenians’ will to survive both personally and culturally.

To those who made it this far, thank you for reading my heart’s spiel. I leave you with the words of John Lennon, far more powerful than mine:

“You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one.”

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