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.