‘Aghet’ Stirs Emotions at Kennedy School Showing


Eric Friedler, director of “Aghet”

By Alin K. Gregorian
Mirror-Spectator Staff

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — More than 250 people packed into the small room at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government on Friday, December 10, for a screening of “Aghet: Nation Murder.”

(The name of the film in German is “Aghet: Ein Völkermord,” which is translated either as “Nation Murder” or “Genocide.”)

“The truth is denied again and again and again,” said Charlie Clements, the executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy before the start of the film. Clements, who was the moderator for the evening, added, “What you see will not sit easy with you — and nor should it.”

Director Eric Friedler was on hand, as was Habib Afram, the president of the Syriac League of Lebanon, an Assyrian, who said that the world should also remember the Seyfo (genocide of the Assyrians) as well as the genocide of the Pontic Greeks which took place concurrently with the Armenian Genocide.

“Aghet” was produced by NDR (German public television) and financed entirely by the company. It debuted on NDR in April; Friedler said the film’s reception was “very good” in Germany.

“The Turks said they did not know what had happened. They said they wanted to find out more,” he added. They did protest in Germany, where they are the biggest minority group. In addition, he added, the film is being seen in homes in Turkey and passed from one person to another “like a pornographic movie, under the table.”

Two things in particular were new with “Aghet.” The first was the several diary entries and letters by various well-known missionaries, politicians and survivors were read or acted out by noted German actors and actresses. The second was the archival footage of the transfer of the remains of Talaat Pasha from Berlin — where he had been killed by Soghomon Tehlirian in 1921 — to Istanbul in 1943, for reburial. The high-level Nazi delegation accompanying the body gave the event the sense of a state funeral, despite Talaat and his two cohorts, Jemal and Enver, being found guilty and sentenced to death in abstentia in 1919, partly for committing the Armenian Genocide.

In addition, Friedler made the denial of the Armenian Genocide by modern Turkish leaders a part of the story. He showed various images of current Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan challenging anyone to find proof that such a thing was done. “It never happened; let them present evidence,” Erdogan roared angrily.

And that evidence is there in black and white with “Aghet.” The denialist comments, contrasted with the brutal pictures and heartbreaking scenes, which brought tears to the eyes of many, made the declarations even more callous and hollow.

The Turkish officials in the filmfully went along with the official government line of denial. For example, Cemil Ciçek, the deputy prime minister, suggested, “no one should think [Turks] were capable of something like that.”

Other points of view in the Turkish community were shown, including that of Cem Ozdemir, a German politician of Turkish descent and co-chair of that country’s Green Party, who suggested that Turkey has to acknowledge its past.

Hrant Dink was also a major focus of the film, with his daughter, Delal, speaking eloquently about his legacy and the meanings of his life and death.

Actors portraying, among others, Armin Wegner; Oscar Heizer, the American consul at Trebizond; Leslie Davis, US Consul to Harput; Swedish missionary Alma Johansson; US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau; German Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Paul Wolff Metternich; missionaries Jakob Kunzler and Johannes Lepsius and survivor Hambartsum Sahakian described the horrors that they had witnessed or experienced, sometimes tearfully speaking about the empty homes, the arrests and forced marches, the rapes and mutilations, the dead children and dying, helpless mothers.

Metternich complained often to the Turkish authorities about the sustained decimation of the Armenian population, to the point that Enver and Talaat requested that he return to Germany. In various letters, he wrote with disgust that German money, armaments and soldiers were used to carry out the heinous crimes, all because the Germans needed the Turks strategically.

The film delved into the reasons that the Turkish government gave during the time of the Genocide for executing their plans for the full extermination of the Armenians. First, they complained that the Armenians had enriched themselves as a community at the expense of the ethnic Turks, that they had helped the Russian enemy during the war (World War I) and that they had agitated for independence. Each issue was dealt with during the film.

According to Morgenthau, the real reason for the Genocide was “robbery and destruction.” In the film he was quoted as saying he was disgusted when Talaat asked Morgenthau to contact New York Life, which had sold many insurance policies to Armenians in the empire, and ask them to direct the payouts to the government, as the policyholders were no more.

Some of the scenes, of Armenians loaded in trains meant to transport cattle between Constantinople and Baghdad, were especially heinous. Interestingly, it was pointed out that few films and photos were shot at the time because the government had a policy against taking pictures of Armenians.

Timing seems to have eluded Armenians in their quest to have the Genocide recognized, the film suggested. Again and again, Turkey has been able to suggest that it is needed and thus antagonizing it by adopting a resolution on the Armenian Genocide would be a wrong move.

After thunderous applause by the audience, Friedler coolly and deftly answered questions, including by two Turkish-Americans who wanted to know if Friedler was going to address the murder of Turks by Armenians, and also one who suggested sarcastically how one could suggest a wholesale genocide of the Armenians if the Armenians of Constantinople were not sent on forced marches. Friedler answered that because a few Jews were living in Poland at the end of World War II, one could not suggest that the Holocaust had not taken place.

Friedler said that German responsibility — documented in archives — is proof of Turkish intent and actions. “How can they say nothing happened to the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians?”

Afram noted that currently, in Iraq, another mass disappearance of Christians is taking place. Friedler said that he is working on getting the film shown on PBS in the US. The Bundestag (Parliament) passed a resolution on the Armenian Genocide in 2005, calling upon Turkey to acknowledge its “historical responsibility,” and apologizing for its own role in the events.