I saw The Promise on the film’s opening day with my son and his wife. I like the film very much. It tells about a love triangle in the midst of the genocidal efforts in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, and it shows the culture that was lost. Kirk Kerkorian’s decision to fund this film is a gift to many, and all proceeds from the film go to non-profit charitable organizations.
The Promise tells a love story in the midst of the effort to eliminate Armenian people from within the Ottoman Empire. The area of the Empire includes Armenian territory that goes back thousands of years. Ottoman rhetoric about Armenians foreshadowed the charges Hitler made about Jewish people. The effort to eliminate Armenians happened, and a number of scholars and nations, including the United States and Turkey, continue to deny that history.
While focusing on the love story, the film also shows the good and evil in people. Some Turks in the film, as in history, tried to redeem and save Armenians. We also see the evil of Enver and Talaat, leaders of the Ottoman Empire. Without focusing on the gore, the film shows evidence of the atrocities. Some scenes reflect photographs made by Armin Wegner, a German soldier stationed in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. (Chris Bohjalian tells some of the Wegner story in The Sandcastle Girls.)
Scenes featuring US Ambassador Henry Morganthau felt true to Morganthau’s character as evidenced in the reports he sent to the US State Department and the President concerning the violence against Armenians. Also especially pleasing to me was the inclusion of Gomidas Vartabet, an Armenian musician-priest who suffered as one of the first arrested on April 24, 1915.
The most chilling scene for me happens early in the film at a birthday party in which Germans soldiers are present and break into “Deutschland über Alles,” certainly a deft reminder of the alliance between Germany and the Ottoman Turks, but also nudging me to remember Adolf Hitler’s 1939 Obersalzberg Speech in which Hitler said: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
At the film’s close, a quotation from William Saroyan’s The Armenian and the Armenians (published in 1936) rolls across the screen:
Let us say that it is again 1915. There is war in the world. Destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them from their homes into the desert. Let them have neither bread nor water. Burn their houses and their churches. See if they will not live again. See if they will not laugh again. See if the race will not live again when two of them meet in a beer parlor, twenty years later, and laugh, and speak in their tongue. Go ahead, see if you can do anything about it. See if you can stop them from mocking the big ideas of the world…a couple of Armenians talking in the world, go ahead and try to destroy them.”
I think that the film helped Ashleigh and George understand better the stories they have heard from me. After the closing credits, we sat a moment more.
The older couple in front of us rose about the same time. The woman turned and asked, “Are you Armenian?” Ashleigh said, “I’m not, but they are.” So we talked. She told me that relatives on both sides of her family died during the genocide and how her grandmother and father could not talk about their experience as survivors. We both wiped away tears. I nodded in agreement because her story mirrored my own story. Her husband said, “Her family called me odahr and Esh [words that mean non-Armenian and jackass}—until they saw that I could do the Armenian dances” and he did some Armenian dance steps. We lingered in the lobby to talk about the film and then left.
We didn’t meet in Saroyan’s beer parlor and we didn’t mock the big ideas of the world, but we laughed and cried and recreated Armenia, another proof that the genocide failed. See The Promise. It is a story the world needs to remember.