Bezjian: Open Letter

I keep my commentaries related to Armenian issues within the frame of social gatherings. But lately a couple of items I read in the news made me think that I should share them publicly.

To start with is news that the director of the state-run Armenian National Cinema Center, Kevork Kevorkian, is in talks with Steven Spielberg and Steven Zailian to produce a film about the Armenian Genocide. What an idea!

The Armenian National Cinema should only be engaged in supporting, nurturing, and promoting Armenian cinema and its makers, and not financing non-Armenian filmmakers. We are talking about state funds and not private funds. If Spielberg or others decide to make a film about the Armenian Genocide, or if an Armenian financier wishes to undertake a film project with any filmmaker, it is their right and prerogative. Zailian, who happens to have an Armenian last name, was criticized in the Armenian media when he received an Oscar for co-writing “Schindler’s List” and did not utter a single word about the genocide in his acceptation speech. It did not matter to him; he is only a technician with an Armenian last name. Mr. Kevorkian knows that the making of “Schindler’s List” took more than 10 years: Spielberg, at first, found himself unable to deal with a subject so close to his heart, and passed it on to Martin Scorsese. Years later he took it back and gave it to Zailian. He couldn’t do the film without external help and a decade of time.

“Schindler’s List” cost more than $20 million to make, although it was shot in Poland 20 years ago (where it was much cheaper to shoot a film than in the U.S.). Today it will cost much more even if the film is made in Armenia. Where is this money coming from? The international audience does not really care for this sort of film; Mr. Kevorkian should know that “Schindler’s List,” for all its fame and glory, was a box office flop. Most of the screenings were sponsored and paid for by Jewish organization, having public education in mind.

Such a budget, if available at all, could be easily spent to furnish film schools in Armenia, where they don’t even have a simple DVD player, let alone professional equipment and studios to learn and practice. It could be spent to empower the younger generation of filmmakers, giving them an edge of competitiveness. Or it could allow for hundreds of films to be made by Armenian filmmakers instead of one that will b shown at a hundred film festivals.

With this, Kevorkian is also telling the world that there is not a single Armenian who is capable of making a film about the genocide. What promotional material for a country that’s trying to propagandize a deeply rooted national issue. This alone will shame every single Armenian filmmaker—known and unknown, talented or untalented, past and present—in front of the world.

For a moment let’s agree with Kevorkian’s logic—that a national cause of such nature needs internationally recognized names to propel political gains. Fine. The extension of this, then, is that Armenia should commission Orhan Pamuk to write “The Armenian Novel,” sponsor Arvo Part to compose “The Armenian Symphony,” appoint Nanni Moretti as head of the Armenian National Cinema Center, or have Mohammad Khatemi as Armenia’s minister of culture. We are not talking about an industrial, scientific, or financial venture, or a professional football team. Film is art, culture, national identity, history. One would think that the head of a national cinema would understand this. On top of it all, imagine the “national embarrassment” if and when Spielberg declines the project.

As a reminder, when the Taviani brothers visited Armenia to prepare the production of “The Lark Farm,” they were confronted by legal hostility in a cinematically speaking backward country, causing them to shoot the film in Bulgaria. And when the Turkish government tried to stop them, the Armenian side did nothing to support them. What, then, is behind this sudden change of heart in enlisting the Hollywood film industry to champion a national cause?

***

Another issue that has raised my ire is the subject of creating a second parliament in Armenia that would include members of the Armenian Diaspora—a sad joke formulated in the president’s office and thrown as a glove to the diaspora by the Ministry of Diaspora.

It would be quite humorous for a pan-Armenian legislative body to pass rules in a country where a hefty percentage of its population lives outside of Armenia. At its best, it is a stillborn idea. I am more surprised at how diasporan opinion-makers are considering the merit of such a congress. By doing so they are already bargaining this non-sensible trickery.

If the intention of unifying all Armenians around the homeland is real and honest, then the government should start by tackling the ways and means to stop massive emigration, and to eradicate unemployment, indifference, and idleness. They should focus on collecting taxes properly, on instituting and implementing law and order (that applies to all citizens regardless of rank). They should work to uphold the rights of women and minors, and wipe out the deep-rooted culture of corruption in the spheres of education, health, law enforcement, the judicial system, social services, environmental issues, the military, and human rights. Centralized power, hyper capitalism, mindless consumerism, and unchecked land grabbing should end. The ruling political parties that function under different names, but are in fact one in sharing mafia-like hegemony and running lucrative businesses, must stop shamelessly auctioning the votes of the hungry, unemployed, and needy, and instead allow democratic reforms. Bring to accountability the morally fallen church and its clergy that, from top to bottom, has forgotten its social and spiritual functions and is immersed in business, finance, and real-estate developments stretching far beyond Armenia’s boundaries.

Only then can Armenians of the diaspora think about repatriating to their homeland to live in a civilized society where democracy really functions instead of being shallowly imitated. Where their rights are safeguarded, opportunities are given, and their dignity is protected, then they will happily contribute to building a healthy, strong, and secure Armenia. And only then will a single, freely and democratically elected parliament be just enough for everyone, and maybe then will Armenian become the country where even non-Armenians dream to live.

Yet, the recent announcement by the three political parties that they’ve agreed to nominate the current president as a candidate for the 2013 presidential election does not leave much room for hope. The Prosperous Armenia Party, Country of Law Party, and Republican Party seem to ignore the fact that at present, Armenia is not prosperous and not republican. The only true common denominator among the three is the “party” factor.

Incidentally, while having lunch in a Beirut restaurant today, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of two Armenian businessmen next to me. One was trying to keep the other from doing any business in Armenia. “Corruption is a king,” he said. “They look at you as an outsiders who speaks Armenian, then you are one of the three, a spy, a milking cow, or an idiot. And if that doesn’t satisfy them, then you are a disguised partner with the power, or a liar, or at best a failed dreamer. And many other things, draconian business laws and endless bribes, archaic tax rules… Forget it, you have nothing to do there.”

Surely this does not apply to everyone and everything in Armenia, but common and repeated experiences usually come together to form an inescapable general reputation.

Few countries in the world, like Lebanon, Israel, and Syria, have a Ministry of Diaspora, but why do they have a diaspora to start with? A shaming question no one wants to ask and no one wishes to answer. And yet I am not aware of any country that has a secondary house of parliament composed of “native” and “diaspora” members.

Sad but true. Please take note.

avatar

Nigol Bezjian

Nigol Bezjian is a producer, director, and a graduate of UCLA film school and School of Visual Arts. His work has been based in Beirut, Lebanon for the past several years. His most recent film is "Broken Kisses, Postponed Kisses."
avatar

Latest posts by Nigol Bezjian (see all)

12 Comments

  1. Abriss Nigol!
    100% right on everything….Armenians don’t even have ONE decent museum ANYWHERE in the world, it is pathetic, for apeople so proud to be so backwards i so many ways…we have a LOT of work to do…

  2. I guess N. Bezjian has missed the fact that the proposal about an upper house (which would include Diaspora representatives) in the Armenian parliament was made by ARF-Dashnaktsutyun Bureau chairman Hrant Margaryan in his ARF Day address in Toronto, Canada, on December 5, 2010 http://www.arfd.am/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=536, that is before the Minister of Diaspora’s announcement in Los Angeles. 

    At least one country, Italy, has representatives elected by and from the Diaspora in it’s parliament’s upper chamber. Also, not too many countries have the reality that we have, namely the fact that two thirds of the people live outside the Republic of Armenia, even though not all are citizens of Armenia.

    I’ve said before, that it really is not clear why the Minister of Diaspora made the announcement she did, because soon after the spokesman of President Sargsyan said that that [upper house] option was one of the options the President is considering. One possible explanation could be that the Minister’s announcement was meant to be used to discredit the whole idea, just as Bezjian is doing by criticizing the message because of the messenger: “If the intention of unifying all Armenians around the homeland is real and honest, then the government should start by […]”.

    As for the ARF-Dashnaktsutyun Bureau chairman’s address, it was made when two approaches were being formulated in regards to organizing the Diaspora around the Republic of Armenia or on it’s own: a) Being discussed in the Diaspora, “Support[ing an] elective diaspora leadership” 
    https://armenianweekly.com/2010/11/23/sassounian-conference-participants-support-elective-diaspora-leadership/ ; b) Being discussed by the Ministry of Diaspora, to create “A national assembly led by the the President [of the Republic of Armenia].” http://www.mindiaspora.am/am/Activities

  3. Hi Nigol, you have given us a lot to process outside the confines of the private sphere.. On a more positive note, a few years ago I was asked by the organizers of the Yerevan film festival to facilitate an invitation to the New Mexico based director, and an old  friend, Godfrey Reggio who was not responding to their inquiries. He asked me to tell them that he cannot accept unless Pelechian is also invited and honored. He obliged Armenians to value their own and both requests were fulfilled. Let’s hope Spielberg and others like him have similar integrity. Wishful thinking aside, I heard Eric Boghossian speak at NYU couple of weeks ago. Apparently he is researching a book/film project on the life of Soghomon  Tehlirian and Operation Nemesis, even though some of the archives remain a ‘secret’ he also mentioned that he was in touch with Zailian. Hopefully the latter would reconsider his options.

  4. Having spent almost 40 years in human rights endeavors spanning the globe, I am a little taken back by this article.  As an Armenian Orthodox Christian by choice and conviction the issue for me and for many others who work in the area of human rights is: The importance of basic human rights for every man, woman,child, regardless of race, religion, or nationality.  I have spent countless hours working on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, South Africa, North Korea, and yes, Armenia.
    I have worked within international organizations and independently. What I have learned is this: In this inter-connected world the oppressed, imprisoned, discriminated against, slandered, enslaved, starved, can not get their point addressed without some measure of international awareness and support.   And, those within the oppressed community must at some point return the generosity which has been given them if their cause of injustice needs to be carried into the present.  And here rests what I think is a mistaken policy of our leaders past and present.  In our pain today; the denial of truths we hold so precious and dear to our hearts: We have retreated into ourselves; thinking we are the only persons who can clearly represent ourselves in the court of international opinion.  This is not the truth.  There was a time when the nations of the world, the major Christian denominations of the world, rose in anguish and anger over our genocide.  Our much delayed rescue, by any calculation, was not perfect nor complete: Fatal flaws were incorporated into the final outcome.  But at the time people, governments, and religious organizations responded to our cries for help. These groups spent years supporting and encouraging us.  And perhaps it needs to be said bluntly and forcefully: we had our 15 minutes at center stage before others screamed from the depths of their hell for our God to save them.  And in justice and in mercy attention has been turned toward them.  And in some measure, I believe, there are those among us who feel we somehow forgotten.  And time and more time passes and now, I believe, we think only Armenians can understand, comprehend, our past and ongoing indignities; the sufferings of our people.  And once again I believe we are mistaken because, I believe, the world’s rules for acknowledgement and redress of our concerns have changed.
    This is what I have learned: The people of the world understand suffering but their attention span is short.  Our call for them to focus and refocus on our long standing injustices is an error of judgement.  And I further believe, by claiming our injustice we ultimately play the hand given us by those whom would deny our existence.  We are all very well aware of those who work hard on the world stage to ignore our strategy of truth speaking to power.  Truthfully, I believe these powers and entities actually encourage our self defeating strategies. The more we succumb to the effects of the denial of truth: We somehow grow in powerlessness among ourselves.  While we strive for an end to our helplessness: We defeat ourselves when we argue and fragment.  What I am certain we do is play the hand given us by those who tried to eliminate our existence. We play their hand given to us and I say there must be a better way to redress our issues.
    I truly believe by standing in the court, witnessing, telling the stories of the world’s oppressed, acting as a witness to acts of injustice: The world pauses, even for a moment, to remember our past.  And in that present moment: It is our past which adds support and weight to the need for justice and mercy in the here and now.  The Jews cry Never Again !  And what can we say: We witness the truth, with the simple truth revealed by the uniqueness of family names.  And in our names we say we understand the truth of genocide, of oppression. Who better than an Armenian to understand the conditions of the worlds oppressed.  Who better than an Armenian to speak on behalf of the weak and powerless.  The world community remembers us, knows us, knows our story.  There is power granted for justice and mercy, but we can not ask for it.  No, it must be given freely to us.  The world owes us no obligation to do anything.  What they can offer us is so subtle that it defies description: Remembering the past, I believe, they can offer us respect, honor, admiration.  And, they offer it by perhaps asking us this question: So… what can you do this day to shed light on suffering and injustice?  If we respond with the wisdom God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has imparted to us we will have a great deal to say.
     
    And how to uncover the wisdom to do this?  To garner the worlds attention to suffering, to redress injustice, we must return to our Christian roots.  Re-think the life of the Suffering Servant; to live and work in the fields of human rights and human dignity.  By doing this we proclaim wisdom of the life of Christ Crucified, the resurrection.  We proclaim the Kingdom of God is here, now: And whom better to proclaim it to: The long suffering, those denied justice, the hated, the despised of the world.  And why should we be given the privilege of proclamation and redress?  Because we are the Armenians.

  5. “Mr. Kevorkian should know that “Schindler’s List,” for all its fame and glory, was a box office flop.”

    I wish to make a correction since this is simply not even remotely the case. “Schindler’s List” was very widely seen, grossing $96 million in US and over $321 million worldwide. In fact, it was the fourth biggest movie in the world in 1993. In addition, not only were screenings not paid for as the movie received tremendous amount of attention, especially in Europe, the film itself established the Shoah foundation, which aims to collect testemonies on all genocides.

    This is not at all a bad example or trajectory for such a film.

    This is to say that this article, misses the point entirely. assure you that Spielberg does not intend to direct the movie personally. His involvement, if inedeed he is to be invlovled, is no way intended to replace any Amenians and is mainly there to provide support for whichever Armenian filmmaker will eventually helm the project. As such it would be an extension of his humanitarian work and incredible expertise, which is probably why he was approached and accepted in the first place.
    In any case, there is no doubt that this will largely be an Armenian based movie.

    If Spielberg chose to collaborate with Zillian on his movie then why can’t the collaboration continue?   

    I believe this open letter spends way too much time on poundering wether the people behind the movie are all Armenian and rather ignores the importance of the message and awareness that such a film could bring and how that film itself is handled.

  6. It is very easy to ensure box office success. Make the movie, call it How to Murder Christian Armenia OR Islamic Murder of Armenia OR Turkey Murders a Nation and the RENAME it after the media hype dies off.

  7. We are sick and tired of this rhetoric about diasporans being ripped off in Armenia…I would like to invite Mr Bezjian to come to Armenia so I introduce him of many Hayasdantsis who were ripped off and bluffed by diasporans…..Moreover it’s very funny when a businessman from Lebanon talks about corruption and bribery!
    So what’s the purpose of this article? Forget about Armenia? don’t move there?
    Diaspora cannot survive without strong Armenia -this is where you are a respected citizen. In fact, this is the only place where nobody will discriminate you because you are an Armenian.

  8. Read this story: about an Armenian man now 130 years old change his religion to stay near a village in Van

    ارمني: اضطررت الى تغيير ديني للبقاء في قريتي بتركيا
    24/05/2011 16:06

    وان24أيار/مايو(آكانيوز)- قال مواطن ارمني يبلغ من العمر 130 عاما ويعيش بقرية يايلاكوفاك (تيرماخ) التابعة لبلدة باهجا سراي ضمن مدينة وان التركية انه اعتنق الدين الاسلامي للبقاء في قريته.

    وتطرق جيلهو كاراجي الذي غير اسمه الى حسن، في حديثه لوكالة كردستان للانباء (آكانيوز) عن الاحداث التي عاشها واسرار عمره المديد قائلا “في عام 1915 لقي مئات الالاف من الارمن مصرعهم ورحلوا من قراهم ومدنهم، وقد نجوت من الموت لانني كنت بمدينة بيتليس وقتها وعدت بعدها الى قريتي”.

    وتابع كاراجي يقول “عندما رجعت الى قريتي كانت خالية تماما من سكانها وقررت اعتناق الدين الاسلامي خوفا من القتل وطردي من قريتي التي ولدت بها وتزوجت بعدها من امرأة مسلمة”.

    واضاف يقول “لايوجد بالقرية سوى قبر والدي ولا اعلم ماذا حل بافراد عائلتي”.

    واشار كاراجي الى ان سر عمره المديد يعود الى فضل تناوله الاعشاب الجبلية ومشتقات الحليب والعسل وعدم ركوبه السيارات والأحصنة والمشي.

    من عادل خرمانجي، تر: عبدالقادر الونداوي

     

  9. Nigol’s observations are reactionary without taking into full consideration political interests of the west, its treatment of the Armenian Genocide, and the reality of a country with limited resources. He encourages the mob mentality by discussing how a reputation of Armenia is formulated.

  10. While I read this article with great interest I cannot say that I agree with the author completely. I find the overall tone to be pretty negative. I do not see any problem in having an upper house or better yet representatives in parliament from Diaspora. As to “A shaming question no one wants to ask and no one wishes to answer” , many people have asked and many have answered this question. And the answer is Armenian diaspora was created as a consequence of massacres and deportation of Sultan Hamid and Ottoman empire in the past and the immigration of Armenians to more developed countries in the present. While we cannot do much about the past other than pushing the Genocide recognition and requesting  compensation,  we certainly can control the present immigration. And blaming Armenian government as a sole culprit is not right either. As much as I do not like current government I do not have many hopes from a new government. Why? Because we have to understand that our country is sick and needs help and treatment. People in Armenia lived in Soviet Union when everything belonged to the government and it was fine to “steal” and give bribes. Now they have that mentality or shall I say they suffer from that corruption disease. Now, what you or that gentleman is saying is that we do not want to do anything with a sick person. How humanistic is that? You want Armenia to be a perfect, democratic country only then diaspora Armenians will go and invest money there. And, who is going to create that country for diaspora to invest? Armenians from Armenia leave and Armenians from Diaspora do not want to go there. So, who is going to create that great country again? Isn’t it funny that we are crying that all our lands were taken from us and yet the lands that we have we do not take care. What’s the difference it is Eastern or Western Armenia? The land is a land. What’s the difference you were born in Armenia or not? As long as you feel and consider yourself Armenian then you are Armenian. There are brave and patriotic Diasporan Armenians who still invest in Armenia and I salute them. For example Tufenkian and many others. However, investing  100 or 200 million dollars will not help Armenia too much. Armenia needs investments of billions of dollars. I really think that we have to stop nagging and finding excuses. We have to look at the facts straight. Yes, Armenia is not the best country to live or to do business with but it can become one  in the future. I think every Armenian, be it in Armenia or or in Diaspora, should stop endless nagging and blaming the government and ask themselves one simple question;  taking everything into account what I can do for my homeland with my limited resources? For some it could be investing money, for some it could be just visiting Armenia, for some it could be donating money for Karabakh resettlement, for some it could be returning to Armenia, for some it could be buying Armenian products, for some it could be just writing songs, some just singing those songs, for some it could be making films about Armenia, for some it could be sending their kids to Armenia for summer camp or teaching them Armenian and this list can go on and on. After doing something for Armenia you will also feel  good and your conscience will be clean. By boss told me one wise thing-finding a problem is not enough you have to find a solution to that problem.  Let’s just unite, stop the negativity about our homeland and do the best we can to make it a better place for us and our future generations.           

  11. Van Armenia,

    Dear Vanoohi
    Please do not use world Muslim…Arab Muslims care for Armenians…
    Religion nothing to do with ethnicity…Turks entered Islam at 13th century.
    See USA and British Parliament are christian states …did they recognize our genocide…?  
    Arab Muslims call us the most trustful people, We never had problems in Arab countries …the problem started by new invaders…and new generation fed from outside…
    Do you know that the principles of Al-Qaida started, because Turks  invaded Saudi Arabia and started insulting Arabs in 18th century… 
    The recent movement from Turkey stimulated many Arab honest writers to remind Arabs what Turks did to them…delayed them 500 years…The newspaper are full of old and new information…
    See how they are playing with Syria…and the Kurds…Both are Muslims…

    I will remind you once again what the Arab poets wrote about Turks when they hanged their friends in Lebanon and Syria in May 1916…

     Assad Rustom, who lived in Washington, USA, heard that his friends were hanged, he wrote the famous poem, sharply criticizing, insulting Jamal the butcher:
    The Sons of Turks You are Never Muslims
    “Jamal—Sir! Your name means beauty
    But you’re awfully ugly
    Your tongue and palms are fully dirty.
    You are senseless, criminal, full of sins
    You have no spirit, no clean soul,
    Deficient of manhood humanity.”
    ~~~~~~~~ T
    he Syrian poet, Nasseb Areedah (1888-1940): Living in America wrote his untitled poem:
    “Coffin his body
    Bury his soul In the deepest grave
    Don’t feel sorry
    Don’t lament
    Who is disloyal
    Remain soulless dead
    Can never wake up to feel
    Yet to regret.”

    The poet, Khayr-eldeen Al-Zarkali, wrote his titled poem:
    The Arabs and the Turks
    “Those Turks the grandsons of Genghis Khan.
    Took young Arabs pushed them to a slave bazaar.
    Promised statements changed abruptly,
    Acting exactly the opposite for those held in custody
    Torturing, humiliating, insulting the braves.
    Yet on what they swore, pretending agreed.
    They are dishonest, soulless, enjoy greed.”
    ~~~~~~~~

    The Lebanese poet, Fuad Al-Khateeb (1880-1957), wrote his untitled poem, blaming the Turks,
    “You Turks harmed our people in their joints so hard
    Till swords blade awoke to vengeance sharply shard.”

    If you want more information read the book 
    ISBN: 978-1-4568-4513-1 

     
     

     

  12. Sylva-MD-Poetry

    Some 2 millions of Arab visited Great Turkey in 2011. They are very happy being in Great Turkey. They will come here again and again. Please Spew your hatred elsewhere. Please also translate your Arabic texts next time so we can read and understand your news.
    Best Regards&Many thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*