The Armenian Youth Federation – Youth Organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Eastern USA (AYF- YOARF Eastern USA) strongly condemns the selection and screening of the film “Zangezur” (1938) at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington DC. The film, chosen by the Armenian Embassy with the intention to represent the views of Armenia and its diaspora, instead glorifies the repressive Bolshevik forces that brutally forced the First Armenian Republic to forgo its independence and national identity and become a member of the communist USSR. Hundreds of Armenian civilians, intellectuals, political and cultural leaders were killed, jailed, or removed as the Bolshiveks consolidated their power.
It is appalling that the Armenian Embassy and Smithsonian chose blatant communist propaganda in a half-hearted attempt to highlight Zangezur’s cinematography, as well as its utilization of the celebrated Armenian composer, Aram Khachaturian’s, music as the soundtrack. As it stands, however, the film’s aesthetic and musical qualities cannot be separated from the very specific message the film intends to portray – one of explicit support for Communist ideals (and the era of repression that followed) and the overt attempt to slander the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) forces and national hero, General Garegin Njdeh, who were, in large part, the reason why an Armenian Republic exists today. In fact, the justification provided is analogous to supporting an airing of “Triumph of the Will,” a 1935 film celebrating Adolph Hitler and the genocidal, racist, and repressive Nazi party, under the pretense of its “cinematic excellence.” A film’s “quality” is no substitute for a functional intellectual and moral compass.
Zangezur deliberately distorts and slanders the legacy of General Garegin Njdeh (the founder of the AYF) and the Tashnaktsoutioun (the main political party of the First Republic), who fought valiantly to protect the First Republic of Armenia from losing its newfound and hard-fought statehood mere months after the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turks. For 90 years, the AYF has followed in Garegin Ndjeh’s footsteps advocating tirelessly for the freedom and security of the Armenian Republic. The film’s screening is a clear slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of AYF members and alumni in the United States who proudly serve the Armenian-American community, and who wholeheartedly support the Republic of Armenia and the principles of life, liberty, and self-determination. In addition, as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Sèvres this year, which established the American Mandate of Wilsonian Armenia in modern-day Eastern Turkey, the film instead glorifies the communist takeover of an independent nation, rather than the true American ideals of life and liberty.
The insensitivity of such a screening while dozens of members of the Washington DC Armenian community stood in protest at the Embassy of Azerbaijan to demand justice for the 1988 Pogroms in Baku, Sumgait, Kirovabad and Maragha, is both baffling and shameful. It is an affront to those who perished during the Pogroms and to everyone who has since fallen prey to the decades-long terror campaign perpetrated by Azerbaijan’s oppressive Aliyev regime.
In sum, Zangezur, intended as a representational piece for Armenia and its diaspora, is an affront to both the Armenian people and its diasporan community. We are the descendants of the millions who died during the Genocide, and the thousands more who fought with General Garegin Njdeh in Zangezur, with no food, supplies or support, so that the Armenian nation and its people could survive and be free.
The AYF-YOARF Eastern USA calls on the Armenian Embassy and the Smithsonian to carefully consider the factors and priorities involved in choosing relevant cultural pieces intended as representational of the Armenian community and diaspora. Furthermore, the AYF-YOARF Eastern USA calls on the Armenian Embassy and Smithsonian to apologize for showing this incredibly offensive and insensitive film on March 1st, 2020.