Thursday, February 01, 2007

Armenian holocaust

Just finished watching the movie Ararat, from writer/director Atom Egoyan.  The movie is about the Armenian holocaust, similar to the Jewish holocaust in that Armenians claim that Turkish Ottomans attempted to exterminate the Armenian people’s during WWI.

(The mountain of Ararat is in Turkey, area of traditional Armenia close to the present day Armenian border.  It is over 16,000 feet high, 5000 meters, is a stratovolcano.  Most Armenian history is centered in the area around the mountain.  It is the traditional location of the final resting place for Noah’s Ark)

The background is more detailed than that, with the Ottomans on the tail edge of an empire that extends back several hundred  years, and after WWI the empire would fall and organize around the Turkish republic that exists today.  Reading the history, it’s unclear how much the Armenians were pushing for more territory, knowing that the Ottoman’s were weakening and they would get support from Russia, and it might be that they were working on the side of the Russians, but the manner in which the Turks responded was devastating.  It’s estimated that almost a million people, men women and children, were killed, allowed to starve to death, succumb to diseases or just outright shot.

You might say that this was a function of Turkey’s effort to fight a Russian front, but the history of Ottoman discrimination against the Armenians because of their Christian heritage is pretty well documented, and the party in power in Constantinople at the time was lead by Ismail Enver, a radical racist.

It’s also documented that there was a system of concentration camps similar in function to the Nazi camps during WWII.  Since the Ottomans were on Germany’s side during the first world war, many Germans recorded the Armenian condition.  Many were disgusted, but the international reaction was muted, and Hitler noted that the world seemed to have forgotten about the Armenians.  He folded that into his worldview about the Jews and justified his strategy of genocide with the adage that “no one remembers the Armenians.”

Actual Hitler quote:

      “I have placed my death-head formation in readiness -- for the present only in the East -- with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space [Lebensraum] which we need. Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The movie wasn’t all that good, in the end.  The story was about Armenian immigrants to Canada, living there but still dealing emotionally with the events of the past in Turkey.  The story centers around a film being made by an old survivor’s son who just wants the story to be told.  However, I found the acting to be sub-par (with exception to Christopher Plummer) and the plot to be scattered at times.  There is no effort given to any treatment of Turkish people, except for a man of Turkish descent who is acting in the movie, characterized by boorish attitude and is gay.

I also thought that there was too much violence and sexual situations.  Do you have to show the sex and the rape and focus on it for more than 30 seconds at a time for this to be a good movie?  No, and the movie lingered too long on scenes like this with no purpose.  It should be enough to say there was rape and murder without having to show so much of it.

Anyway, I won’t be seeing that movie again, and don’t really recommend it.  However, I do recommend reading some on the holocaust materials and learning a little bit about Armenia.  It’s a culture that goes back to Biblical times, during the empires of Sumer, Babylon and Assyria.  The tribes of the region were first united into a nation some time before 1000 BC, but the first well known nation in the region was the Urartu, which caused the empires of the Mesopotamian plains much grief.  They, along with the Hittites of Anatolia, were the reason that the Babylonians and Assyrians never were able to tame the mountains and expand the empires into what is now modern day Turkey.

Armenia, in 300AD, was one of the first nations, if not the first, to recognize Christianity as the state religion.  They have been predominately Christian ever since, resisting conversion from Islamic movements across the plateau for over a millennia.

However, they have come under the rule of many empires in that time, including the Byzantine, Arabic, Persian and Ottoman empires.  In the 20th century, the eastern part of historic Armenia (outside Turkey) became independent for a couple of years after WWI before the Soviet red army took over.  They regained independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved, but still only control an area slightly larger than Maryland.

Armenia today is a republic, with a President, Prime Minster and a single parliament (unicameral).  They’ve done better than some at recovering from the Soviet dominated economic system, moved away from the large agro-industrial system in place before 1991 to a mix of small scale agriculture and service industry.

They have had tension with Muslim Azerbaijan (which is east, on the Caspian coast) over a region called Nagorno-Karabakh, which the Soviets gave to Azerbaijan in the 1920s, but is culturally Armenian.  Since 1991 many people of both cultures have been driven out of their homes one way or the other by both countries.

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