The ANCA Eastern Region’s prestigious Freedom Award is given annually to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions toward issues that concern Armenian-Americans. Previous ANCA-ER Freedom Award recipients include: U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John M. Evans; Pulitzer Prize winning author and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power; U.S. Senator Robert Menendez; the late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy; U.S. Senators Robert Dole and Elizabeth Dole; Baroness Caroline Cox; author Chris Bohjalian, renowned lawyer Robert Morgenthau and the Morgenthau family; Former House Majority Whip David Bonior and lawyer, writer, and human rights activist Fethiye Çetin; President of Artsakh Republic Bako Sahakyan; U.S. Senator Mark Kirk; U.S. Senator Christopher Van Hollen, Jr; U.S. Senator Ed Markey and U.S. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas.
The Armenian National Committee of America-Eastern Region (ANCA-ER) will honor “The Promise” Director Terry George with the Freedom Award at its 12th annual gala October 13th at the prestigious Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City.
George was recognized internationally for his groundbreaking film, “Hotel Rwanda”, in 2004, and along with Executive Producer Eric Esrailian helped fulfill the vision of the late Kirk Kerkorian, educating the public about the perseverance of the Armenian nation through “The Promise.” The film screened in the Vatican, the United States Capitol, various venues worldwide, and most recently, at the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
George took on the Armenian Genocide-era epic with prior knowledge of the history of the Armenian people. He had traveled to Yerevan and Turkey to do research in the past.
“I know slightly more than most people because of research I had done for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ and when the opportunity came along I jumped at the chance to do it. Knowing how much the genocide has been suppressed since 1915, I couldn’t give it up,” George said.
He understood that the Armenian people had yearned for genocide recognition for more than 100 years and acknowledged how important having a benefactor like Kerkorian was to Armenians and society as a whole.
“Hollywood doesn’t make films like this anymore. I admire the passion of the Armenian community and having the possibility to create this was important,” George said.
He noted that most of the actors in “The Promise” were not familiar with the genocide but when they come to a new project they do extensive research regardless. George and others created volumes of material for the actors to read that detailed the horrors of the genocide and prepare them for filming.
The ANCA was one of the many Armenian organizations to help promote the film, but they were at the forefront. And I want to thank the ANCA for giving me this award and for the opportunity to renew my commitment to values and aspirations tied to genocide
George was aware of the ongoing denial and animosity the Turkish government had for the genocide, and he was not at all surprised by Kerkorian’s request to keep filming quiet for as long as possible. That, along with intimidation of actors after the film was released, was a major challenge during production.
“We flew under the radar and kept publicity to a minimum. We had just two Turkish actors in the whole film, but we wanted more. Even Turkish people sympathetic to the Armenian cause were afraid to be involved in the film,” he said.
The script that Esrailian commissioned was quite different than what ended up on screen, according to George. The scope of the story had to be broadened beyond just a love story between Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac’s character) and Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon). George said the film evolved into an epic that told the story of the genocide within the context of major political issues of the time (Talaat Pasha’s role, etc.).
He credited the ANCA with promoting the release of the film, attending functions and mobilizing the community to fill theaters.
“The ANCA was one of the many Armenian organizations to help promote the film, but they were at the forefront. And I want to thank the ANCA for giving me this award and for the opportunity to renew my commitment to values and aspirations tied to genocide education,” George said.
George is soft-spoken, but his passion for genocide education rings loud and clear. He proudly speaks of The Promise Institute of Human Rights at the UCLA School of Law, which was established in April 2017 with proceeds from the film. Esrailian is a faculty member at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and spearheaded the donation effort on behalf of the team at Survival Pictures, according to the Institute’s website.
“We set out to educate schools and provide a whole program of literature, media and forums that put this firmly in the center of genocide education, along with Holocaust museums and institutes. It’s a multimedia education tool that will be there for centuries that allows the public to experience 1915,” George said.
The Institute “will train the next generation of human rights lawyers and leaders, generate vital scholarship, and develop programs for on-the-ground assistance to address the most pressing contemporary human rights concerns of our times – including genocide studies, international migration and refugee crises, and post-conflict human rights”, per its website.
As a spinoff of the film, George notes that the Institute has been the most fulfilling part of his career.
“Human rights are more important than ever today given the hostility toward refugees and conflicts in the world, some of which are occurring where genocide happened 100 years ago. Having seen what happened to Armenians, you hear people say ‘never again’ but we’re in situations where conflict can still lead to mass slaughter,” George said.
“The Armenian diaspora is an inspiration to the world to say look what happened to these refugees. They’ve gone around the world to create vibrant communities. All of this is an ongoing situation we have to keep contributing to,” he noted.
The ANCA ER Gala will take place on Saturday, October 13, 2018 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in NYC. To purchase tickets or for more information on our honorees please visit https://ancaef.org/gala/ or call 201-788-5425.