By: Slewo Oshana, Washington, D.C.
Much digital ink has been spilled over the recent release of The Promise with the recent attempts by trolls of Turkish origin to bury the film in a sea of bad reviews. Now whether the film is bad or good is ultimately up to the eye of the beholder; however, it does need to exist. The Armenian Genocide that occurred at the hands of the Ottoman Empire is largely unknown in the western world. Even with recent acknowledgements by major western countries, it has stayed that way, in large, due to simple distance and the Turkish government’s resistance of acknowledging it even happened, let alone its complicity in the act by attempting to bury it.
Culture, at large, controls how we interface with reality. Simply ignoring something can, unfortunately, be very effective in neutralizing our recognition of it as an event. It’s how historical events can remain in our collective memory decades or even centuries after the fact. Stories are one of the most effective tools there is in allowing something to continue to exist, and if it remains unspoken, that is also a way of counteracting its power. Over the centuries, the Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide, as well as exposed attempts to bar discussion of it overseas have made the world even more so apathetic to the genocide. That’s why having a movie, even one like The Promise that’s framed around a love story is necessary.
When Turkey is doing things like releasing its own counter-propaganda film in the form of The Ottoman Lieutenant to make the public sympathetic to them, there needs to be something, anything, about the slaughter they perpetrated. While I would one day love to see a serious documentary, or Oscar-bait movie that holds Turkey accountable, anything works. Like with any other form of representation, something is better than nothing. Baby steps are necessary in order to get the kind of representation this genocide warrants and deserves.
That being said, one would hope that The Promise is only the start and not a finish on the Armenian Genocide receiving a spotlight. Though given President Trump’s stance towards Turkish President Erdogan, as well as his unwillingness to reverse the federal government’s stance and acknowledge the genocide, it’s going to be an uphill battle. There’s something to be said for the impact of a film when trolls attempt to bury it before its release, and that a government has to release a counter-propaganda film of its own in order to bury it. For that, I do thank the makers of The Promise for bringing this into the light. This battle is going to have to come from culture, as well as from the government. And while The Promise may very well be the fast food of the Armenian Genocide experience, it’s one step closer than the genocide awareness was one year ago.