The biggest budget picture about the Armenian Genocide yet, funded by the late MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian was released on April 21. “The Promise,” stars Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac. Screening in over 2000 theatres across the states.
The movie details the torment Armenians endured for years in the hands of the Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century. That dark period in Eastern European history is known as the Armenian Genocide.
Watching “The Promise” and other movies that depict the horrors inflicted on the people of Armenia – a small country that neighbors Turkey, Georgia, Iran, and Azerbaijan – has a strong emotional impact on me and many other Armenian Americans. It’s a feeling I’m certain is similar to what African Americans experience when they watch “Roots,” “The Color Purple” or either of “The Birth of a Nation” pictures; movies that display how African Americans and their ancestors have felt the boot of America’s history due to slavery and racism.
I’ve felt a kinship with African Americans for as long as I can remember. An unspoken understanding of each other’s pain.
My Armenian American friends in Southern California refer to it as “kindred spirits.” Sharing histories that cannot be compared, yet unavoidably feeling we not only understand you, but we stand with you.
Los Angeles-based actor and writer Armen Babasoloukian, an Armenian American, believes Blacks and Armenians “have an unresolved trauma that keeps us in arrested development. Both are insulted and demeaned at every opportunity and yet are told to ‘get over it’,” he said.
My good friend Jaivon Grant feels a bond and commonality with Armenians as a Black American.
“Beyond our differences in skin colors are the similarities of our ancestors being subjected to harsh treatment and conditions,” he said. “Sometimes, you'll find connections in the people and places you least expect.”
The United States has continuously denied the first genocide of the 20th century. An organized massacre by the Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1923 designed to cleanse the Armenian people. Over 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the Armenian Genocide by soldiers representing the most powerful of empires at the time. Women were rapped and children were starved to death. Those who survived fled to adjacent countries for a chance of a better life.
The Ottoman Empire was a Muslim state and wanted to exterminate the Armenians who were considered inferior due to their Christian beliefs. Turkish soldiers forced people out of their homes and acquired a good portion of Armenian land.
As an Armenian-American living in Los Angeles, I can trace my roots back to the genocide where my great-grandmother, Astghik Chashudyan, experienced the horrors of a lifetime that shaped and molded her existence.
I grew up listening to stories my grandmother would tell me about the hardships her mother endured. Astghik’s family was forced out of their home by Turkish fighters armed with guns. The men and women were separated and sent in different directions.
When Astghik was seven, she escaped with her sister and begged Turkish villagers for food after marching in the torrid sun for days. The family took them in and provided food, shelter, and protection.
Turkish forces raided the homes to make certain people were not protecting or sheltering any Armenians. My great-grandmother and her sister would hide in barrels in order to evade them.
The stories are endless. Family members set to be drowned in the Araks River by Ottoman government military, placed their babies under a tree on the shores of the river in the hopes someone would rescue them.
Towards the end of the genocide, word spread that ferries were taking Armenians to neighboring countries and so, my great-grandmother and her sister fled in the middle of the night. They journeyed through the Aegean Sea and arrived in Greece where they took shelter at an orphanage.
In 1947 my great-grandmother returned to Armenia and worked tirelessly to create a new life for her children. Reality was the country never recovered from the genocide, so in1989 my grandfather, Akop Grgodjaian, made the decision to move our family to the U.S.
Due largely to the genocide and its repercussions many Armenians are scattered all over the world in countries such Canada, Syria, Iran, France, and the U.S. In California, a large contingent of Armenian Americans live in Glendale, just outside of Los Angeles.
Although several European countries have recognized the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, now present-day Turkey, as genocide, the U.S. refuses to do so, even though staggering evidence proves otherwise. Historians, scholars, the European Parliament, and the Vatican, have roundly recognized the atrocities as the 20th century’s first genocide.
It is no secret Turkey is a longtime American ally and houses two U.S. military air bases. Election after election presidential candidates promise to recognize the genocide, but never follow through given Turkey’s threats to shut down the U.S. air bases and more.
The American government has repeatedly let Armenian Americans down. Therefore, year after year we ensure our voices get louder and are not silenced. Bringing to light our history and sharing it vastly amongst non-Armenians across the globe.
Kerkorian had been trying to make “The Promise” since the late 1960s. Inevitably Turkish propaganda and funding stood in the way. Kerkorian pledged $100 million to create the movie.
“He felt if we don’t shine a light, we’re doomed,” said Eric Esrailian, a lead producer with Survival Pictures, Mr. Kerkorian’s production company.
While filming the movie, documentarian Joe Berlinger included behind the scenes interviews with the actors to embed in the documentary, “Intent to Destroy.” Highlighting the events of the Armenian Genocide, which is currently being screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Another documentary shedding light on the Armenian Genocide and various other carnages will be released in October. Executive produced by Montel Williams, the “Architect of Denial.”
“We're committed to telling the truth about the Armenian Genocide - the 20th Century's first mass genocide and one too often ignored or denied by too many,” said the television and radio talk show host on his Facebook page.
Every year, Armenians around the globe commemorate the genocide on April 24. Marking the day Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested, and deported nearly 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders from Constantinople, known as Istanbul today, to the region of Ankara, where they were executed.
Year after year, we march hoping that the human life outweighs monetary gain. We march because we believe if the Armenian Genocide is recognized it will pave the way for current and future genocides not to go unnoticed. We march because we seek justice, accountability, and truth, which has been suppressed for over a century.
African American brothers and sisters, it wasn’t long ago when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. joined by other civil rights leaders, marched for righteousness, truth, and equality.
We may share different histories, but we have experienced inhumanity, inexorably leaving a scar. This may seem as a thing of the past, but reality is racism and discrimination are very much alive and loud.