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 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.