A new film about the Armenian genocide of 1915-1923 will resonate deeply with Jews worldwide and impel us to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Armenian community, writes Ariel Zohar.
RECENTLY, in Fairfield NSW, a memorial commemorating the Assyrian genocide was desecrated and sprayed with graffiti saying ‘F**k the Jews, Armenians and Assyrians’. The genocide commemorated at Fairfield was that perpetrated against the Christians in the Ottoman Empire – Armenians, Assyrians and Hellenic Pontians (Greeks) – by the nation known today as Turkey. Jews will recall Hitler’s famous words, as he planned the genocide of our people, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) and the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) were recently invited by the Armenian National Committee to attend the premiere of The Promise, a new film directed by Terry George and starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale, set during the tragic events of the Armenian Genocide.
A week after the premiere, the NSW JBOD, AUJS and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry partnered to organise a joint community screening of the film in Sydney with the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian communities.
From a cinematic perspective the film is brilliant. An incredibly gripping, well-told drama of love, sacrifice and survival. But I’m not asking you to go see this film just because it’s a great piece of cinema (although it really is), but because of the deeper poignancy and connection to our own tragic history. This is a history that isn’t well enough known in the Jewish community. It’s not a focus for education with our youth, despite our strong commitment to Holocaust studies.
First, let’s make it clear. Nothing compares to the atrocities of the Holocaust. However, there are bone-trembling similarities portrayed in this film. It was the Armenian Genocide that led historian Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish jurist born in 1900, who studied its impact, to eventually coin the term genocide and recognise it as one of the first genocides of the 20th century.
This genocide saw 1.5 million Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and other minorities deliberately and systematically murdered by the Ottomans in the period 1915-1918. From the initial discriminatory treatment, to the forced marches, to the deportations, massacres and starvations, the similarities are beyond disturbing.
One hundred years on, the descendants of the crimes remember, even in the face of the continuous denial. One hundred years on, they remember, even after its last survivors pass away. One hundred years on, as the Jewish community learns more about their genocide, how long will it be before we acknowledge their suffering?
When one genocide is denied we have an obligation to stand hand in hand together against that denial. This is an appeal that comes out of the values and history instilled in our generation by this community. We have been compelled to question the perils of indifference, we have been compelled to question why the world was silent in the face of genocide, and why today still so many try to deny its occurrence. So now we ask those same questions to those who compelled us to ask. Will we remain silent in the face of this genocide? Will we deny the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek communities the dignity of recognition. And if so, why?
More and more countries around the world are recognising the Armenian Genocide, joining the existing 28, which include the US, Canada, France and Germany. The NSW Parliament, even before it was led by Armenian Premier Gladys Berejiklian, have taken the lead on this issue in Australia. It’s time the rest of our nation follows suit – with the full backing and support of the Jewish community.
The Turkish government and individuals who advocate denial don’t want this film shown. Promise yourself you will see it and make up your own mind.
Ariel Zohar is the National Political Affairs Director at AUJS. The Promise is now showing across all Hoyts and independent cinemas across Australia. You can follow the campaign showing support for recognition of the Armenian Genocide by using the #keepthepromise hashtag on social media.