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An Irish director wants to capture the Armenian genocide the way Schindler's List did the Holocaust

Terry George says telling a historical stories through film is vital.

The promise stars Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale.
The promise stars Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale.
Image: Twitter/thepromisefilm

IN A DECADE marked by a succession of historic centenaries, one of the most shameful episodes of the previous century has received relatively little remembrance.

The Armenian genocide by Ottoman forces which began during the First World War saw an estimated 1.5 million people systematically slaughtered.

Historians have pointed to evidence which suggests that the Armenian population of nearly 2 million people in the Ottoman Empire was almost wiped out.

A century on, international recognition of this as a genocide has been painfully slow.

Now, a Hollywood film by an Irish director is attempting to tell the story in a way that makes it impossible to deny the scale of what happened.

Terry George, who made his name making films about The Troubles before receiving further acclaim for Hotel Rwanda, says motion pictures have a unique way of telling historical stories.

“People’s understanding of the Holocaust is I think defined by Schindler’s List, the TV series caused the Holocaust originally. The Killing Fields also defines the Cambodian genocide and I suppose Hotel Rwanda for the Rwandan genocide,” he adds.

“The popular culture wants to take on board the information through this medium.”

I think it’s a very powerful way that you can have your audience empathise with characters and then have those characters walk the audience through the event from the inside.

Source: Open Road Films/YouTube

The film boasts an impressive cast with Oscar Isaac playing an Armenian in Constantinople who is sent to a labour camp .Christian Bale plays an Associated Press reporter covering the war.

The pair are two-thirds of a love triangle with female lead Charlotte Le Bon.

The love story is set against the backdrop of this huge event and the film was bankrolled by Armenian-Americans who have long sought to see the genocide get international attention.

The film is timely as it comes in the week on which the genocide is remembered on 24 April. That date is significant as it marks the day in 1915 when close to 300 Armenian intellectuals were deported from Constantinople (now Istanbul).

George told that sticking close to historical accounts was important to him in writing the film. He points to his previous films in arguing that this decision is usually vindicated:

I was sort of driven that the veracity of the film in terms of events couldn’t be challenged. In the past we had complaints about In The Name of the Father that it was biased, and then lo and behold Tony Blair apologises to the families and stuff. So you know automatically that the veracity of the film is going to be challenged. So you’ve got to get this right.

PastedImage-86988 Source: Facebook/ThePrimse


International recognition of the mass slaughter as a genocide has been patchy.

The UN has not used the term ‘genocide’ in referring to what happened while the European Parliament has done so.

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The three devolved legislatures of the UK have formally recognised it as a genocide while the UK government has not.

The United States and Ireland are among the other countries who don’t formally recognise the genocide.

In total, 29 countries have recognised it as such.

PastedImage-37246 The outdoor scenes in the film were shot primarily in Spain. Source: Youtube

George describes the differentiating positions as “cowardice” and points to Turkey’s geographical position and its influence as the reason why the global community can’t unite.

President Obama promised before he was elected that he would recognise the genocide and said it was beyond denial. Then when he gets into power he couldn’t say the ‘g word’.
Because Iraq was ongoing and an Afghanistan, everyone had to bow down to President Erdogan. And that’s the position we’re in today. And look what’s happened, Erdogan’s basically turned into a dictator because no one is prepared to challenge him on any level.

When Donald Trump’s White House released its statement earlier this week on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day it also omitted the word genocide.

“Donald Trump has a big hotel in the middle of Istanbul, he ain’t saying the g word that’s for sure,” George said.

The Promise is on general release from 28 April.

Read: President Higgins to join William and Kate at Battle of the Somme memorial >

Read: Check out this fascinating World War I recruitment poster targeting Irish men >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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