on 5 December 2011
This film is one that I approached viewing, after holding out for an edition with the bonus features that the supplementary second DVD of this one includes, with great expectation and even trepidation. After viewing "Ararat", with and without Atom Egoyan`s commentary on the movie itself and on the deleted scenes (as well as all of the many other bonus features), it left me even more profoundly moved even than I had expected to feel. I won`t write any extended review. The film is wonderfully rich and layered, with several strands of narrative weaving in and out along with many different perspectives on the part of the various characters in the movie. It takes careful viewing to appreciate how much this variety contributes to the film`s greatness and profundity, something that negative critics who find it confusing do not appreciate.
The Armenian genocide is a delicate issue. I long have been involved with it through my interactions, here in Canada as well as in Turkish Kurdistan itself (where I made an humanitarian mission under joint Kurdish patriotic and U.S./Canadian Independent Lutheran auspices) in very intense involvement with the Kurds of Turkish occupied Kurdistan, a people who shared the ancestral lands which they inhabited along with the Armenian people. The tribe of two interrelated and intermarried Kurdish families with whose members I undertook most of the mission, in the greater Diyarbakir area (after two days with the Kurdish community of Istanbul outside of Kurdistan but within Turkey) included numerous Kurds of partial Armenian ancestry, although they all had become Muslim over the years since the time of the Armenian troubles prior to and during W.W. I.
I was privileged to share the memories, passed on from one generation of them to the next, of how the Armenian genocide took place, not in this case in Van of the film`s setting, but in the Diyarbakir region, where other horrendous atrocities took place that have yet to be documented satisfactorily. The Turks had abused Kurds and Armenians alike over those long years, though at the time of the Armenian genocide the Kurds had been tricked into collaborating with the Turks, who turned on the Kurds once their cynical plans had been carried out, to the shame of the Kurds, who honestly repented of what they had done, and who since have acted in great solidarity (along with Greeks) of the cause of the Armenians who wish to expose and publicise the infamies of the "Young Turks" who overthrew the relatively tolerant Ottoman regime to establish a virulent Turkish racial and nationalist exclusivism that only tolerates Kurds, Greeks, Armenians, and other non-ethnic Turks if they assimilate.
One of the most searing memories of the mission was standing at the top of an ancient ziggurat, from the heights of which my Kurdish hosts pointed out to me the path along which the Armenians were lined up from their own Kurdish village (one of the terminal points of this particular and spectacular massacre), single file, right to the city of Diyarbakir itself and gunned down or otherwise butchered for miles of corpses on end. Another memory was of seeing, elsewhere within the province of Diyarbakir, the ruins (only its foundation left) of the Armenian Orthodox Church in the Kurdish town and venerable Christian and Muslim holy site of Egil, on one of the steep slopes of this town which straddles two facing mountainsides. There I learned from eye-witnesses of this church`s destruction in the 1960s, decades after the famous Armenian attrocities, but years during which the Turks continued to destroy the antiquties of and Armenians and Kurds alike. The antiquities in Egil, however, are not so arrestingly striking to the eyes as those in Van, which "Ararat", the film and the special features, shows in all of their delapidated, hauntingly strange splendour.
I appreciate both Atom Egoyan's passion for his subject, in "Ararat", as well as his admission of some extenuating circumstances that help to soften the culpability of the Turks' cruel and rapacious behaviour at the time of W.W. I and later. The Armenians, to at least some extent, were aiding and abetting the Russian foes of the Ottoman Empire/burgeoning Republic of Turkey. However, the sheer brutality of the massacre of Armenian in Van and Diyarbakir, as the film shows the former, were inexcusable and utterly barbaric, way out of proportion to any just and limited retribution for some Armenians' collusion with the Russian Tsar's empire. Just how barbaric those purges were the film shows in terrifying vividness, as well as the impact of all this upon later generations of Armenians who have had to come to terms with such an heritage of suffering and loss.