Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

People of good will

Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian celebrates an Egyptian foray into Armenian history

People of good will
People of good will
Al-Ahram Weekly

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ast week two Egyptians – filmmaker Mohamed Hanafi Nasr and TV anchor Myriam Zaki – received the Republic of Armenia’s 2015 Presidential Award for a significant contribution to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. It was in recognition of their documentary Who Killed the Armenians? “The Armenian nation is grateful to you for this enormous undertaking,” Armenian President Serge Sarkissian said in his welcome speech. “Mr Nasr, Mrs Zaki, you have proved clearly that the Armenian Genocide is not an Armenian issue exclusively but a great pain for the people of good will all over the world, regardless of their nationality or religion.”

For her part Zaki explained, “This is the highest prize or award we have earned throughout our career. The importance of producing such a documentary in Egypt is that it gets at the roots of today’s Middle East conflict. The film was appreciated by Armenia because it gives a narrative of the genocide through an outsider’s lens. I believe the importance of the film lies in the fact that the Armenian Genocide is no longer just important to Armenians but to the rest of the world as well. It has served as a model for every other genocide that followed, though each case had its own blueprint. However, it is my belief that had the Armenians not kept silent for a decade, had the perpetrators paid for their crimes rather than being tried in absentia, it would have been an important deterrent to later perpetrators of ethnic cleansing and genocide. We might have seen less suffering in the world.” 

In his award-ceremony speech at the presidential palace in Yerevan, Hanafi said he made the film not for the benefit of history but “for the sake of resurrecting history’s lessons. Let history admit to its crime, which was silenced for a hundred years; let it acknowledge the right that lost its way to justice.” 

The first Egyptian film on the Armenian Genocide, the 70 min, Arabic language Who Killed the Armenians? premiered last November at the Heliopolis Library. It was filmed in Armenia, Egypt and Lebanon, and it incorporates documents collected from the archives of the countries visited which prove the Ottoman Turks’ barbaric acts against Armenians, beginning with the Hamidian Massacres (1894-1896), through the Adana Massacre (1909) and onto the 1915 Genocide. Those documents were revealed to the Arab audience for the first time. The film also includes survivor testimonies, notably from the Davtashen district in Armenia. It features interviews with Armenian and non-Armenian public figures, activists, genocide scholars, lecturers and clergymen, such as Richard Hovannisian, Vera Yacoubian, Haig Demoyan, Mohamed Refaat Al-Imam, Rupen Safrasdian, Ashod Melkonian, Taner Akçam, Catholicos Aram I and Catholicos Karekin II.

According to Zaki and Hanafi, it took 10 months to produce the documentary: 600 hours in preparation time. Armenian music is heard throughout the film – including Gomidas’s masterpieces Groung and Dle Yaman – in addition to Zaki’s touching voice. Zaki believes that the information presented in each and every segment of the documentary deserves a film of its own. The filmmakers were keen to reflect on the genocide issue towards the centennial. “Reflecting on the Armenian Genocide was a way of understanding our own history and introspecting with a deeper sense of identity,” Zaki explained. “The Arab Spring, which was by no means rosy except for the colour of blood, forces us to re-evaluate. Many masks have fallen in the last few years; and it is always a duty to search for the truth.” The production, what is more, is important to the entire Arab world:

“To draw some parallels: when you share a common invader you face the same strategy. In the searching process, we learned that on his arrival in Egypt Selim I,” Ottoman Sultan in 1512-1520, who conquered Egypt and the Levant, “he wanted to ethnically cleanse it of Copts, he wanted to send some of us to the south of Egypt. It is the Muslims of Egypt and Al-Azhar who fiercely opposed his plan,” Zaki told Al-Ahram Weekly. She also feels there is an important lesson in the history of the Armenian nation and the identity of its people. “I think we are at a stage when we must look at the facts whatever they are, and seriously discuss concepts if we plan to face the challenges of today.”

Also worth noting is that the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning Armenian-American poet Peter Balakian too received the presidential award for his work Ozone Journal (University of Chicago Press). A collection of poems that bear witness to the old losses and tragedies, the book poignantly captures the spirit of global danger and uncertainty that characterises the age. In March, what is more, Who Killed the Armenians? was screened in New York at the Socially Relevant Film Festival and won the Audience Award as well as the Vania Exerjian: Empowering Women and Girls Award. At the festival, another Egyptian film was screened, Before the Spring, directed by Ahmed Atef, which won the festival’s Grand Prize for Best Narrative Feature Award. 

“Allow me to bow with respect to your great history,” Hanafi said in Yerevan. “Allow me to dedicate this honour to every martyr and every life lost to injustice in its own homeland. To the million and half saints who were victims of the genocide. To all the martyrs of Egypt, past and present. To every woman and man driven out of their homeland and losing life under the tyranny of oppression and occupation…”

Hanafi and Zaki then flew to Lebanon for another screening which took place at Cinema City, in Beirut, organised by the ARF (Armenian Revolutionary Federation) Party’s National Committee of Lebanon.

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