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AYF Western United States Issues Statement on the Film ‘The Ottoman Lieutenant’

We write to inform our community about the film The Ottoman Lieutenant, a primarily Turkish-funded production that perpetuates denial of the Armenian Genocide under the guise of neutrality. We urge you to refrain from watching this film in theaters or supporting it in any way, but we do feel it is important for our community to be aware of the fact that genocide denial is present and still a major issue, even outside of the Republic of Turkey.

The theatrical poster for ‘The Ottoman Lieutenant’

The Ottoman Lieutenant, starring Michiel Huisman, Hera Hilmar, Josh Hartnett, and Ben Kingsley, pretends to be an “objective” love story set in Ottoman Turkey during World War I, but in reality, the movie furthers the current Republic of Turkey’s campaign of genocide denial through feel-good historical revisionism. It portrays the Armenian Genocide as a “two-sided” conflict of equal suffering in the fog of war. At face value, this may signal a willingness to discuss the Armenian Genocide. However, this is a new chapter in the classic state-sponsored genocide denial, which seeks to recast the narrative as two-sided suffering.

While one character in this film stated that measures were taken to stamp out the Armenian “rebels” who sided with the Russians against the Ottoman Empire, another character acknowledged that there was, in fact, a campaign to rid Anatolia of its Christian population. It seems the writers of this film aimed to take a neutral stance on the issue, attempting to represent multiple viewpoints. But let this be clear: it is not possible to be neutral on the issue of genocide, and attempting to do so merely supports the modern propaganda of the Turkish government.

A producer of the film is quoted almost verbatim repeating the contemporary Turkish state’s language of genocide denial in a Turkish daily newspaper saying, “As objective and respected to common sufferings of both Turks and Armenians, we wanted to show the audience what happened during World War I in Eastern Anatolia, a subject that has not been handled before.”

While Turks were inherently affected by the state of war in the region—along with all civilians of the Ottoman Empire—their suffering cannot be equated with the systematic massacres and campaign of extermination suffered by the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks living on those lands.

Thankfully, some objective viewers of this film were able to see through the veil of neutrality and soft propaganda it attempts to push. Film critic Dennis Harvey, in a review featured on Variety.com, states: “Violent tensions between Armenian Christians and Turkish Muslims are already beginning to impact this remote area, soon to be exacerbated by the outbreak of WWI. But in this primarily Turkish-funded production, the historical, political, ethnic and other intricacies—not to mention that perpetual elephant in the room, the Armenian Genocide, which commenced in 1915—are glossed over in favor of a generalized ‘Whattaya gonna do… war is bad’ aura that implies conscience without actually saying anything.”

We cannot stress enough that going to see this film in theaters will only give it support and undeserved positive attention in the long run. In the coming days, the AYF will be writing letters to theaters and campuses hosting screenings to educate them about our concerns with this film. We recommend others join us, and we are ready to provide resources and language translations for individuals who wish to do so.

Take the creation of this film as a reality-check. Denial is real and is present, and it is now being pushed in new and subtle ways through avenues one would not expect. The Turkish narrative and strategy of evading reparations has changed multiple times in the last 102 years, and has included everything from claiming Armenians committed genocide against the Turks, to minimizing the severity and describing it with words like “civil war” and “common pain.” We must always remain vigilant, and should never tolerate any form of denial no matter how mild or well-disguised it may be. The softer form of denial this film perpetuates is the most dangerous form of all, and it often goes unnoticed.

Founded in 1933 with organizational structures in over 17 regions around the world and a legacy of over eighty years of community involvement, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian-American youth organization in the world, working to advance the social, political, educational and cultural awareness of Armenian youth.

5 Comments on AYF Western United States Issues Statement on the Film ‘The Ottoman Lieutenant’

  1. A HEAD’S UP:
    The Turks are bringing out this revisionist claptrap film well before THE PROMISE comes out in late April. When THE PROMISE comes out, be sure to write letters to film critics all over the USA that it is a miracle that THE PROMISE found a distributor. Enlighten these same critics that in the 1930s, the Turkish ambassador to the United States put unbelievable pressure on not only our government but on Hollywood not to develop the film: THE FORTY DAYS OF MUSA DAGH. Hollywood caved to the pressure. Ataturk absolutely did not want his own people to see a film about the Armenian Genocide. Our own Armenians in Istanbul even burned copies in a huge pyre of the book to show the government of Ataturk that they were faithful citizens thus denying their own history. NEVER AGAIN!
    ELLEN SARKISIAN CHESNUT

  2. I have written a full length novel ‘Journey of Faith’ to a first draft. It tells the genocide from an Armenian woman’s point of view. In part based on the memories of my Armenian wife’s grandmother and in part inspired by the Australian-Armenian connection from the latter stages of WW1, my novel (currently to a first draft) will speak loudly on the theme of Faith: the power to keep going and the power to believe that justice must happen if we remember and demand it.

  3. Yes, indeed the journey of faith in truth! When truth emerges sooner than later it will lay bare the forgery, deceitfulness and outright lying of the diaspora Armenians.

  4. Congratulations on your statement. I would like to point the Armenian-American Youth Organization to another problematic feature film: Russell Crowe’s “The Water Diviner” (2014) had a less obvious, but similar historical bias and agenda, because it didn’t mention the Armenian Genocide at all, while it focused on the deaths of a few thousand Australian soldiers as the major event. Please read Andrew O’Hehir’s article about the film on Salon.com. It was a Turkish co-production and used Turkish locations, which would have been impossible without approval from the Turkish government. They will read your screenplay first, then they decide if you get a shooting permit etc., therefore they have some negotiation power. Through these pressures and incentives like tax breaks etc the Turkish state has significant influence on international film productions and the representation of Turkish history. The political nature of these so-called ‘artistic decisions’ is usually covered up, therefore you need to make people aware of these propaganda films.
    Thank you.

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