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Arts & Entertainment

'The Promise' and 'The Ottoman Lieutenant' take the Armenian-Turkish conflict to the big screen




"The Promise" was funded privately and is the first large budget film about the Armenian Genocide.
Jose Haro/Survival Pictures
(L-R) Charlotte Le Bon, Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale star in "The Promise."
Jose Haro/Survival Pictures


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April 24 marks the 102nd anniversary of what Armenians worldwide consider the first stage of a genocide carried out by Ottoman Turks.

The historical narrative is hotly contested by Turkey's government, which argues there was no systematic targeting of Armenian Christians during World War I.

The recent film, “The Promise,” has become embroiled in the latest dispute over Turkey's history and the question of who is responsible for the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians. The story begins in 1914 as the Ottoman Empire enters World War I. 

However, another movie about Turks in World War I, called "The Ottoman Lieutenant," was released just a few weeks before "The Promise." It’s been criticized for erasing the brutality of the treatment of Armenians.

Cara Buckley, a culture reporter for The New York Times, says it's uncertain whether or not "The Ottoman Lieutenant" was backed by Turkey's government.

Speaking to people who were involved with the film, they're not sure. They did say that they felt like the final cut of the film, which was not in the director's hands, cut out a huge amount of footage that showed Turkish violence against Armenians. Whether or not the Turkish government was involved, it certainly reflected Turkey's stance on what happened and what they say didn't happened. 

Buckley also discussed with us some of the ways in which these films represent a larger political battle that's playing out in Hollywood and online.

With IMDb, it was kind of an amazing proxy war of, Who's going to get the most votes, the Armenian side or the Turkish side? "The Promise" premiered in September at the Toronto Film Festival. It had three public screenings, a couple thousand people see it, and then all of a sudden it's got 80,000 votes on IMDb — and 55,000 are 1-star and a lot of them are coming from out of the country. So people thought, clearly it's either Turkish bots or Turkish interests because hardly anyone has seen the movie yet.

"The Promise" is now playing in theaters.



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