Why is The Promise, a romance set during the Armenian genocide, such an anticipated film among Armenians?
Consider Franz Werfel’s novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Published in 1933, the book tells of an embattled Armenian mountain village that held off Turkish army attackers during the genocide. First published in Germany, the book became an international success. Louis B. Mayer bought the film rights to the novel for MGM.
If I wanted to play the click-bait game, I would title this “MGM tried to film this novel in the 1930s, but this nation stopped MGM “ or some such.
The government of Turkey, in its early years of genocide denial, recognized a public relations problem if the novel were filmed. Turkey’s ambassador to the US contacted the US State Department with official concerns about the movie. The State Department then expressed its official concern to the Hays Office, the group that approved or censored films. Next Turkish officials informed MGM that the movie would be banned in Turkey and that they would do whatever was necessary to prohibit the film elsewhere. MGM continued with its plan until US Secretary of State Cordell Hull weighed in and demanded a stop. The Hays Office now offered its support to the Turkish government’s position and the film died. Eric Bogosian writes much more about this episode in Operation Nemesis.
When The Promise was first screened in California, the audience response was positive and yet, over 10,000 negative reviews were posted online within 24 hours of that screening. 10,000 people at a screening? The word troll and the aborted filming of Musa Dagh come to mind. Many of these negative reviews came from Asia Minor.
The genocide of Armenians began in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire. 26 countries today give official recognition to the genocide. I want only two nations to recognize it: the United States and Turkey.
The US fails to give official recognition for fear of offending Turkey. When, during the administration of George W. Bush, the US House of Representatives considered a resolution to recognize the Armenian genocide, members of Turkey’s legislature were invited to testify that such a resolution would hurt US relations with their nation. The House gave up that resolution. Turkey’s official policy denies that genocide took place.
But genocide happened—an effort to wipe out all trace of Armenian people and culture from the region.
So we will see The Promise and hope that the story of our families will continue to be told.