The Promise: What is Ours?

Mother Armenia in Yerevan (Photo: Angela Hassassian)
Mother Armenia in Yerevan (Photo: Angela Hassassian)

Mother Armenia in Yerevan (Photo: Angela Hassassian)

BY ANGELA HASSASSIAN

It’s May 2017 and I can’t seem to shake the feeling of discontentment. The climax of the centennial commemorations of the Armenian Genocide has passed, and the speeches, campaigns and movements have become lackluster. The perspective of the Armenian society has undergone a shift, more prone to building peace and highlighting heroes, and less geared towards demanding recognition and compensation. We have long since stopped expecting the US President to use the term “genocide,” and appease ourselves with the high profile tweets of celebrities like Kim Kardashian. Perhaps this “reframing” was necessary and is not to be received negatively. After all, we had been adamantly playing the same cards for 100 years, bearing no fruit.

This year, the focal point of Armenians everywhere was the release of the movie “The Promise.” Campaigns heavily revolved around fighting back Turkish internet trolls who were slandering the merits of the film long before it was made available for public viewing. The Promise is a romantic historical drama, set to the backdrop of the Ottoman Empire as its government was carrying out genocide against the Armenian population. The film was heavily funded by the late Kirk Kerkorian, who invested $100 million to bring the production to the big screen. Survival Studios’ ticket sales will be donated to the nonprofit group The Sentry (headed by Amal and George Clooney). It is a commendable cause, a huge undertaking and I applaud and support it vigorously.

So wherein lies my discontentment?

The message.

I walked into the theater having no expectations, but I did walk in with the objective to view the film as though I were ignorant to the history, as though I was discovering the Armenian Genocide for the first time. Here were my observations. Tragic moments throughout the movie were muted and diluted in a way that made me think to myself, “well this could have been a potential tear jerking moment, and yet it didn’t really hit me in the gut the way it should.” I was left with a feeling that everything was intentionally toned down. I could almost feel the political discourse which took place while the producers discussed each scene. “Well we don’t want to make the movie too gory,” or “People will not come to watch the movie if they are going to cry.” Except I do cry. I cried during Saving Private Ryan, I cried during The Passion of the Christ and during the Gladiator. I cried watching Bambi as an adult! I did not cry during The Promise. Others cried, and I was close, but it never quite hit me hard enough.

By the end of the film I came to the understanding that this movie was created mainly with the Armenian audience in mind. What’s more, to my mind, it had a very specific set of messages to tell. I walked out of the theater having taken away the following:

You are a descendant of a survivor. You’re a result of their survival, that’s enough. Now make peace with the past, make peace with the world, and be content that you have had your revenge by your mere existence alone. Politics are not important, superpowers will never give the recognition this moment in history deserves. But look, they’ve created a beautiful featured length movie on the subject, isn’t this enough? It’s more than you’re ever going to get, so if I were you, I’d be happy. Consider your survival a victory and let’s call it a day.

There it is again. That shift. The aura I received in the city during April 24, 2017 was one of any other beautiful spring day. When I asked people how they could be so jolly the response was mostly, “we should be celebrating; our ancestors would want us to be happy.” And here at last is why I’m not content. To me survival is not enough. I’m not bloodthirsty for revenge, and I’m not suggesting we beat our heads against the same wall that we have been for the past 100 years. If there is going to be a shift in our approach, fine, but I have a suggestion to tweak it: to make it be more than just being content with the fact that we’ve survived.

We should strive to be strong, we should strive to create, to build, to grow, to contribute. We should fill the gap between our homeland and our diaspora, because as we stand now, we stand divided. We should fight to build a strong, independent nation, free of corruption with the people’s interest at heart, not the pockets of the few. We should breed new writers, artists, scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs instead of leaning on the successes of our past. We should create the conditions to make them want to stay in the homeland. Complacency is a curse that will not give you a sense of revenge or peace. So yes, be a survivor, but I ask that do more with the life that you’ve been given, because you owe more to your ancestors, your nation, and yourself.

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6 Comments

  1. Petra's said:

    Quite right, the message in the movie fell short of the knoc out punch of punch lines. Toning down the stark reality of an unspeakable tragedy it is not art, but a travesty of it. What were the directors afraid of ?.

  2. Սարգիս Տաղտէվիրեան said:

    I fully share the opposition of the author to the message “survival is our revenge” (Anna), because it is not! As long as we are dispersed all over the world, outside of our ancestral lands (Western Armenia and Cilicia), we are condemned to death by assimilation, with the continuation of the Genocide. It will become our revenge when we recover our lands and reach the level of strength to make Turkey restore and compensate our human and national rights.
    Having said that, “The Promise” is a beautiful movie, far better than any prior diaspora Armenian Genocide related movie, the topics presented there are more comprehensive and wide ranged, including and thankfully the notion that some Armenians, not believing in the turkish lies, have recourse to armed self-defense, which eventually saved them.
    On another note, I don’t watch movies to cry. If I do, then the movie is emotional. Is that what I wanted to see in “The Promise”? – Not at all. I wanted to see themes that upset our passive approaches, educate the new generation about the history (not the “survival is our revenge”) with real facts, not geo-politically fabricated ones, also rattle the attitude of the non-Armenian viewer. I believe it succeeded in doing all that; see how extremist Turks and Turkey as a government are annoyed, how they are reacting to stop its distribution, all over the world and working hard to negatively evaluate it on rating sites. As long as it is irritating the denialists (including Turkey), then it has what “we” wanted all along.

  3. Tigranakertzi said:

    My parents and grandmothers survived the Genocide, but only four of nine cousins in the second generation married Armenians. My former wife did not want to have children. Of the three other cousins who married Armenians, not one of their children has married an Armenian. So our family survived but in the final analysis the Turks have accomplished what they set out to do, through our current and future assimilation.

  4. Berj said:

    Thank you for expressing your discontent. Angela. As a filmmaker, I felt the same and refrained from writing a critical review, which would have been more harsh. They got the message out but failed horribly to reach a mass audience, especially considering its wide release, and ruined any chance for a better film to be made about the subject. The lack of experience by the “funder” or Survival Pictures clearly shows their amateur attempt at making a movie about the Armenian Genocide. We deserve better.

    • Hakob M said:

      Berj – I am sure you are an accomplished filmmaker — which is why no one has heard of you. The Armenian Genocide has never had this type of awareness. The funder was a man named Kirk Kerkorian, and you should look him up. I am sure someone in your family has benefited from his generosity, and yet people like you made him reject Armenians altogether. You should be ashamed of yourself. By the way, you should also stop making films no one wants to see…

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