Painstakingly documenting the Armenian genocide (or what is also known as the Armenian Holocaust), documentary feature “Architects of Denial” goes in search of the sheer acknowledgement of this tragic piece of history. But admitting to these wrongdoings from yesteryear, something the mainstream media and the average American were once oblivious to, does not come without its ongoing – and surprising -- present day controversy.
Executive produced by former daytime talk show host Montel Williams and actor Dean Cain, and directed by David Lee George, “Architects of Denial” tackles the organized mass murder of an estimated 1.5 million Christian citizens, most of them Armenian, by the Ottoman Empire during World War I (between 1915 and 1923), and the resistance by the Turkish government, the successor of the Ottoman Empire, and other authoritative bodies (including the United States) to admit this did indeed occur.
For the Turks, the genocide never happened; they will not admit anything, as the film explores. Yet there were executions into mass graves, and death marches of men, women and children across the Syrian desert to concentration camps, all resulting in deaths from exhaustion, exposure and starvation.
“Turkey has gone around the world aggressively lobbying to make sure there is no reference to the Armenian genocide,” noted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the film. “Major powers, such as the United States, do not recognize the Armenian genocide.”
For the Armenian community, and without the appropriate validation, the genocide has simply never ended. Genocide denied is genocide continued is the underlying message of this film, and the lack of validation in present day by some only magnifies what could have been the entire destruction of these innocent people.
“Once the world eventually recognized there would be trials as a result of the Holocaust in World War II, and people would be accountable for their actions, anyone involved in the Armenian genocide probably have kept their mouths shut for fear of being held responsible,” said Montel Williams. “But what I just did not expect, I don’t think any of us did, was the reactions by some, and the ongoing denial among our politicians, over a film where the truth finally prevails.”
Two such politicians seen in denial in the film are Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas and Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee.
Initial Controversy Over Film Release Quickly Reversed
This past August, Caruso Affiliated Holdings, which runs the Americana at Brand mall in Glendale, California, an area heavily populated by the Armenian community, initially denied an outdoor billboard promoting “Architects of Denial,” referring to it as being “too political.” But it quickly backed down following responses from State Senator Anthony Portantino, who represents Glendale, and the Glendale chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America, headed by Artin Manoukian.
“I thought to myself that Hollywood has long-celebrated thought provoking and hard-edged filmmaking that stimulates conversations about historical event,” said Portantino in a statement posted to his web site. “It seems like labeling art as ‘too political’ was an odd reason to deny the appropriate free expression of a historical documentary. As a former filmmaker and current State Senator, it was important for me to share my concerns and urge reconsideration.”
“I wish for the life of me I could see in the eyes of those politicians in this world who get angry when you even bring this subject up,” noted Williams. “These people have been able to lie for so long maybe no one along the way caught in this lie wants to admit their wrongdoings.”
According to History
On the eve of World War I, there were a reported 2.13 million Armenians in the declining Ottoman Empire. By 1922, and following the aftermath of the genocide, that number was down to under 500,000, a result, according to the Turkish government, of a devastating war. Repeatedly, and to this day, Turkey officials cite there was no premeditation in the deaths of the Armenian population at the time, maintaining that the loss of Turkish Muslims and Armenian Christians was from the violence around the bloody battlefields of World War I.
Turkey also disputes Armenia’s count of the death tally, claiming in the vicinity of 300,000. But most historians refer to this mass loss as the world’s first true genocide, and many worry that future genocides will go unrecognized as a result.
“I have always been a stalwart champion and voice for those who have no voice, especially right now at a time when this country has turned its back on everyone,” said Montel Williams. “When we start denying atrocities like genocide, and when we start denying the fact and truth for any segment of society or this world, someone has to take a stance.”
“Like so many people, I had no idea the extent of the Armenian genocide,” he added. “There needs to be a voice – a platform – to educate, to inform and to acknowledge. Too many countries – too many people -- are still not admitting this happened, and with this film we are acknowledging history. We are validating these people and we are proclaiming that denial is no longer an option.”
The Armenian Viewpoint
Armenians mark the date April 24, 1915, when several hundred Armenians were rounded up, arrested and later executed as the start of the Armenian genocide. Known as Red Sunday, the Ottoman government imprisoned an estimated 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders of the Ottoman capital, Constantinople, and later those in other centers, who were moved to two holding centers near Ankara.
After that, ordinary Armenians were turned out of their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water. Frequently, the marchers were stripped and forced to walk under the scorching sun until they dropped dead. Anyone who stopped to rest was shot and killed.
Ultimately, the Armenian population was blamed for siding with the Russians during the war and the Young Turks began a campaign to portray the Armenians as a threat to the state.
This was not the first massacre of the Armenian population; earlier attacks were reported in 1894, 1895, 1896, and in 1909. And it was not the last, with the unfounded brutality continuing between the years 1920 to 1923. Turkish military officials, soldiers and ordinary men sacked Armenian villages and cities and massacred their citizens, murdering hundreds of thousands of Armenians.
“People wanted this to just sort of disappear; they did not want to accept this,” said Dean Cain. “There are still three states, and the federal government of the United States, that have not recognized the Armenian genocide and I think that is because of politics. Maybe Turkey does not want to pay reparations; maybe the United States does not want to damage its relationship with Turkey. It is tough for society to take ownership for the bad things that have happened.”
“Whatever the underlying reason is, it is time for resolution,” he added. “Our only agenda is to speak the truth. There are no political repercussions.”
“Architects of Denial”
Told through the eyes of the survivors with insights from Julian Assange; Sibel Edmonds, founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition; Genocide Watch founder Dr. Gregory Stanton, and Academy Award winning actor and director George Clooney, “Architects of Denial” tackles the persecution of these innocent individuals and the countries – and the politicians – who refuse, even today, to acknowledge the enormity of these mass crimes.
Not for the faint of heart, “Architects of Denial” nonetheless is a critical piece of documentary cinema that cannot be marred by any resistance.
“The end result with our film, I hope, is the acceptance and the recognition that the Armenian genocide existed,” noted Montel Williams. “Once you educate people, you cannot deny the truth.”
“There is a strong resigned determination that this story will be told,” added Dean Cain. “I think there will be a lot of happy tears in the Armenian community and I am truly proud to be a small part of helping them gain recognition.”
For a look at “Architects of Denial,” click here
Initial participating markets (and theaters) slated to debut “Architects of Denial” on Oct. 6 are New York / Village East Cinema, Beverly Hills / Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Pasadena / Pasadena Playhouse, Boston / Embassy Waltham Cinema, Detroit / AMC Forum 30, New Jersey / Cherry Hill, Washington, D.C. / AMC Hoffman Center 22, Denver / Westminster Promenade, and Minneapolis / Eden Prairie Mall 18.