Posted: November 16, 2009 in Armenia City in the Sky

Cinerama: Ararat

By Mike V.Derderian

Amman, The Star

A requiem for our dead written by a remorseful poet with a raven’s feather on the hide of human being that perished 90 years ago:

A child desperately holds the carcass of its dead mother,

His sister tries to carry him away,

A man mourning the decaying remains of a dead brother,

The caravan continues to sway,

A woman hurls herself off a cliff; death instead of a brothel,

‘Living in sin even for a day;

I’d rather die an Armenian woman with no shame, dear father.’

Don’t cry old man for Garineh,

When we all die one day, we shall be reunited with her up there,

In the heavens; nay, nay, nay,

I still see tears in your eyes or are those for your beloved Ardasher,

Don’t cry old man, nay, nay,

For he died fighting, unlike us, who are led like sheep to be slaughtered.

High and up in the gray sky,

An angel watches over our rising souls as they surrender their shattered—

Bodies before the day they—

Bid farewell; old man do you think that one day the cruel world will stop,

And ask a piece of broken clay,

En route to Damascus what happened to Armenians on the 24th of April;

And if Turks did actually Armenians slay!

The above poem was inspired by a BBC production about the Armenian genocide that was aired on Future Television on the night of April 24. But it was a word uttered by a Turkish woman describing the concerns of an entire nation as “petty” that triggered my inspiration.

On that night I was resolved to re-acquaint myself with my long lost heritage, starting with the 2004 film Ararat. So please do forgive my insolence in writing such a poem for those who died on their way to this part of the world, and those whom I never met except in my wildest dreams.

All my life I believed I was an Armenian, who had the soul of an Arab, mind of a westerner and the heart of human but the other day I realized that I was cursed for eternity. Once you are born an Armenian you’ll die an Armenian with one thing on your mind: What happened on that day when earth streamed with blood? A lot of books were written, a lot of people have died, and a few but touching films were shot about the memory that still singes the hearts of thousands of Armenians around the world.

Atom Egoyan’s 2002 film Ararat—as all the films I’ve seen about the Armenian genocide, like Sarky Mouradian’s 40 Days of Musa Dagh (1982) and Henri Verneuil’s masterpiece Mayrig (1992)—brilliantly utilizes the story-within-a-story plotline like no other director has done before in a film about the Armenian genocide.

Ask any Armenian and he\she, young or old, will tell you that it is the memory that grieves them most; which is exactly the angle Egoyan’s film marvelously tackles.

“You want people to know what happened, but also what continues to happen,” Egoyan said, stressing how the Turkish government and Turks still deny that the genocide ever took place. ” But I’d have to show extreme scenes of unspeakable horror, and as a filmmaker, I can’t do that without a degree of self-consciousness. In the end, I want the film to be about the stories parents tell their children, how small moments of misunderstanding create huge generational riffs.”

A memory that revolves around the lives of seven people involved in the production of a film about the genocide. Four Armenians, one Turk, a Frenchwomen and a Canadian find themselves embarking on a journey of pain, rejection, love and dejection.

The strength and sensitivity of Egoyan’s storyline that revolved around the memories of Armenian painter Arshil Gorky (1904-1948) was backed up by a cast of talented actors spearheaded by Hollywood legend Christopher Plummer, French singing icon Charles Aznavour, Eric Bogosian, David Alpay, Elias Koteas, Bruce Greenwood, Marie-Josée Croze, Arsinée Khanjian and Simon Abkarian, as the traumatized Armenian painter.

Born Vostanik-Manuk Adoyan in western Armenia in the village of Khorgom, Gorky in 1915 escaped the Turkish massacres with thousands of Armenian refugees to Yerevan, where his mother died of famine. In 1920 he left to the United States, where he lived his final days before committing suicide. An act that ended years of artistic productivity engulfed with misery.

Ararat is the story of a mother and a son; a daughter and a deceased father; a father and a son; and a director and an actor, whom all have been touched by the Armenian genocide in one way or the other. I find it hard to give you the broader image of our people’s suffering in this week’s column for lack of space, shortness of time and heartbreak. It is not easy to summarize the life of a person in a single column of words so imagine what an entire nation’s life would require.

Keep one thing though in mind, if the aforementioned genocide was related by any means to our dear cousins across the Jordan River instead of Armenians, Africans, Albanians or Palestinian, who must have broke the world record in the number of civilian fatalities per day, I think Steven Spielberg would be more than willing to direct an Oscar award wining tear-jerking film. But this time we’ll insist that it would be in Technicolor and shot using the Cinerama technique.

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