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Gray Wolves Spoil Turkey's... 01/15/2004
Gray Wolves Spoil Turkey's
Publicity Ploy on 'Ararat'

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
The international press published in the past two weeks dozens of articles
regarding the cancellation of the screening in Turkey of Atom Egoyan's movie
In order to understand why the showing of "Ararat" was canceled, we must
first understand what prompted the Turkish authorities to take the
unprecedented step of allowing the screening of a movie on the subject of
the Armenian Genocide. We must remember that we are dealing with an
extremely intolerant government that goes to great lengths to obstruct all
references to the Armenian Genocide anywhere in the world. This is the same
government that a couple of years ago considered suing Egoyan in order to
prevent the making of this movie in Canada.
Not surprisingly, "Ararat" was banned in Turkey. The Turkish officials could
not have shown a movie within their own borders when they were adamantly
opposed to its screening in other countries. The Turkish company that had
imported "Ararat" encountered many obstacles, including demands to delete
scenes that were deemed offensive to Turkish sensibilities, repeated denials
of a screening permit from the government's cinema watchdog, and court
action to overturn the commission's rejection.
However, the persistent efforts of the Turkish distributor were not the
reason why approval was finally granted to show the movie.
The Turkish leaders, who are desperately trying to qualify their country for
membership in the European Union, realized that the outright banning of a
Canadian movie would make Turkey look bad in the eyes of the Europeans. They
came up with a clever ploy. They first chop off from the movie, scenes "of
offensive quality," in the words of the Minister of Culture and Tourism
Erkan Mumcu. They then allow its screening in a couple of theaters for a few
days. This way, they could claim to be "tolerant" without giving a chance
for too many Turks to see a movie on this taboo subject. Minister Mumcu
proudly told reporters two weeks ago: Turkey "can easily tolerate such
things. If some people are curious, they can go and see it.... According to
the information I have, it is a film which is very didactic and can even be
described as ridiculous propaganda."
The Turkish trick worked for a short while. For example, a Canadian
newspaper, Ottowa Citizen, published a lengthy article on the planned
screening of "Ararat" in Turkey, commending the new open-mindedness of the
Turks. "The Canadian director Atom Egoyan will be among the first
beneficiaries of Turkey's pledge to expand freedom of expression as part of
its bid to join the European Union," the Ottowa Citizen wrote.
Unfortunately for the Turkish officials, their clever propaganda designs
were cut short by a fanatical Turkish ultra-nationalist group that took a
more honest, but less diplomatic approach. The Ulku Ocaklari, also known as
the Gray Wolves, harshly demanded the banning of "Ararat." They called on
the government, the Minister of Culture as well as the Turkish distributor
to take "our warning seriously," otherwise, they said, "they should be ready
to pay a price!" The group flooded the streets of Istanbul with anti
"Ararat" posters. Citing these threats, the Turkish distributor immediately
canceled the showing of the film.
I would like to make the following observations regarding the cancellation
of "Ararat":
* While the Turkish government was playing political games trying to impress
the Europeans with the screening of the movie in a couple of theaters, the
ultra nationalist group that forced its cancellation reflected more truly
the long-standing denialist views of most Turks on the Armenian Genocide.
* Contrary to the Turkish Minister's assertion that Turkey "can easily
tolerate" this movie, its forced cancellation left no doubt that Turkish
society is still far from exhibiting any tolerance on the subject of the
Armenian Genocide.
* Even when the Turkish government was trying to impress the Europeans by
feigning tolerance, it still resorted to censorship by cutting several
scenes that depicted the rapes of Armenian women by Ottoman soldiers. These
scenes were chopped off without Egoyan's approval. So much for respecting
artistic rights and freedom of expression in Turkey. Furthermore, these
scenes were deleted allegedly because it is against the law in Turkey to
show Turkish soldiers committing crimes. If there is such a law, it is
noteworthy that the Turkish government is equating the laws applicable to
today's soldiers to those of the Ottoman Empire. If the position of the
Turkish government is that the soldiers of the Republic of Turkey and those
of the Empire are one and the same, then Turkey is legally responsible for
all the acts and atrocities committed by the Ottoman soldiers against
millions of Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and Kurds.
* It is significant that the Turkish government did not take any legal
action against the extremist group that threatened physical violence against
all those who supported the screening of "Ararat" in Turkey. Devlet
Bahcheli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the parent
group of the Ulku Ocaklari group, in lashing out at the government for
approving the screening of "Ararat," said, "this country [Turkey] is not
without a master." He is right! It is a well-known fact that the elected
officials in Turkey are not and have never been the masters of the country.
As Henchal Uluch wrote in the Turkish newspaper Sabah, "Zorbas" (thugs)
continue to rule" Turkey!" The military and the extremist groups that enjoy
their blessing and protection are the true masters of Turkey. That's the
reason why "Ararat" got cancelled with impunity despite the permission of
the government!
* In order to expose as many Turks as possible to "Ararat" (its uncensored
version), a campaign should be undertaken by the distributors of the film to
publicize the fact that a DVD copy could be ordered by anyone in Turkey via
the internet ( In addition, free copies should be mailed to
members of the Turkish media and other leading opinion makers in Turkey.
It is indeed fortunate that ultra nationalist Turks forced the cancellation
of "Ararat" in Turkey. Otherwise, by showing this movie in a handful of
theaters for a couple of days, the Turkish government would have been able
to claim that Turkey is a tolerant nation and ready for membership in the
European Union. The cancellation of "Ararat" proves that Turkey is still far
from qualifying to join the ranks of civilized nations.
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