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February 8, 2023

A bloody phantasm

Among other roles, the cinematography played that of history teacher. Events and phenomena of the past, otherwise largely ignored, let thus reached the conscience of a sometimes very broad public. From Biblical prophets, such as Moses, to grans wars, from crusaders to Nazism, there were numerous pages of history adapted into cinema stories. As there are usually events that had involved huge crowds, a frequently used genre was the colossal. It is the case of Fatih Akin’s new film “The Cut”, dedicated to Armenian genocide. Akin, the German son of Turk immigrants, had already explored the parallel universes of characters moving between Germany and Turkey, witnesses of a relative exodus of a tempered tragedy. This time, the drama is radical, and wandering all over the world seems apparently endless. From many points of view, the film was esthetically unconvincing, and one of the reasons was the script, that intended to be as efficient and exhaustively didactic as possible.

It meant to illustrate all implications of that immense massacre that occurred in the Ottoman Empire during WW1. Among the advisers involved in creating the film, there was Taner Akcam, the Turk historian that wrote a fundamental work researching the respective events,  “A shameful act” – an expression used by Mustafa Kemal himself, the creator of lay Turkey, whose role was still ambiguous regarding the genuine assumption by the Turkish public conscience of the responsibility over the things that happened. “The Cut” thus throws in the game many of the aspects of this dramatic phenomenon: the lie of the false enlisting of men in the Army – to limit panic and revolt -, using them for forced labourm followed by their brief execution, the occasional use of convicted criminals as professional murderers, the offer of turning to Muslim faith as the sole chance of survival, deportation of women and children, usually subjected to rape, cruelty, and, most of all, starvation, “saving” a few of them by turning them into slave wives or prostitutes, the high number of orphans, the new traumas of immigrants experienced by those who had managed to run away in the wide world. When talking about the genocide, we must take into account this revolting panorama. Just like in the case of Nazi concentration camps or of the Soviet Gulag, the state crime regards not only executions, but the entire strategy of “slower” crimes, that first dehumanize victims radically, and afterwards destroys them with exhaustion, starvation and epidemics. Responsibility is even bigger, and it is mere hypocrisy and cynicism to attempt to present the situation differently. Just as Akin’s film tries to show us, there were Muslim Turks or Arabs who had tried to save Armenians – although this kind of gestures were officially punished by death and burning the person’s house. Yet, an important aspect is granted less attention: the large scale spoliation, as many possessions of massacred Armenians have become a base, as Taner Akcam mentioned, for the new bourgeoisie of the Turkish state that appeared after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The image we get when faced with such collective drama – the estimations of victims reach 1.5 million deaths – is a discouraging one: history is based on too much blood. Basically, the political thoughts of people who have conceived the genocide was simple: due to a numerous Armenian population, the future Turkish state risked being considerably smaller. Today’s national Turkish elation is nonetheless based on a massive crime. It is not an isolated case: deportations and the stimulation of migration by discrimination, sometimes doubled by massacres, kept changing the ethnic composition of states and regions. Europe itself is a tragic example. The appearance of the new national states of the modern age occasionally imposed strategies of ethnic purification. Yet, the Armenian case also illustrates a different purification; the religious one. Grand secular – and even millennial – Christian communities almost disappeared in the last few years. It happened while the Muslim immigration constantly increases towards countries of Christian tradition. This unsymmetry should be food for thought not just from the perspective of a conflict of civilisations, but also from that of a lack of geopolitical balance that threatens to increase. The phantasm of exclusive identities will continue, unfortunately, to generate numerous victims. The fact that sometimes there is n more than mere phantasms is also demonstrated by a present phenomenon in Turkey. There are Muslim Turks accidentally discovering that they had had an Armenian grandmother. More accurately, one of those stolen women, forcefully coverted to Muslim faith, the most numerous category of survivors. Some of these Turks discovering their Armenian origin even end up converting to Christianity. Here is an example that reminds us one more time that a state of a sole ethnicity or a sole religion is merely a bloody phantasm.


Catalin Bogdan


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