- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2017

In the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, with defeat at the hands of the Allies all but assured in the Great War, Turkish authorities began rounding up the Empire’s Armenian population for systematic extermination.

More than a century removed, Ankara’s official position remains one of abject denial.

“It’s one of the most repressed events of the 20th century, and so one of the functions of the film is educational,” said filmmaker Terry George, whose genocide drama “The Promise” opens in the District this weekend.

“The Promise” opens in Istanbul 1915, where Armenian medical student Mikael Boghosian(Oscar Isaacs) falls for Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), despite his being promised to another Armenian from his village. Ana, meanwhile is in Turkey on the arm of Chris Myers (Christian Bale), an American reporter whose reporting about the genocide will soon make him a target of Turkish authorities.

Although connected politically, soon enough Mikael’s allies are unable to save him from the fate of his people, and he is sent to a forced labor camp.

Mr. George, who previously wrote the Rwandan genocide film “Hotel Rwanda,” said the subject of man’s inhumanity to man has continued to draw him.

“I also feel it’s a dying genre and not enough of these films are being made,” Mr. George, a native of Northern Ireland, told The Washington Times. “It’s probably one of the most important genres in the whole business.”

And one that seemingly cannot escape politics. “The Promise” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last September, but before the end credits had even finished rolling, there were thousands of negative reviews posted to the IMDB.

Mr. George minces no words as to who was likely responsible.

“Basically what happened was either 55,000 Turks decided to vote having not seen the movie, or someone installed a bot to continually inflate that number,” he said. “I think that’s the history of Turkey with this story for the past hundred years.”

“The Promise” was shot on location in Portugal, Spain and Malta. It was key, Mr. George said, for this to lend his film an air of authenticity, especially the death marches when Ottomon soldiers were marching Armenians through the deserts — most of them to their deaths.

A crucial plot turn later in the film has Mikael leading a desperate run with his people to the Meditteran Sea, where he hopes to be rescued by French naval forces. This was based on an actual event, Mr. George explained.

“It’s a particular part of the genocide” and a brief moment of hope, Mr. George said. “There’s a level of acquainting an audience with these real events.”

Mr. George is hopeful that an eventual acknoledgment — if not an apology — from the Turkish government may yet come, even a century removed from the events depicted in “The Promise.” He said it is crucial that the events are in fact called a genocide, “which is a legal term and a codified crime,” he said. “I think it’s very important that this be established as such.”

Such sentiments were echoed by Eric Esrailian, one of the film’s producers and a professor of medicine at UCLA in Los Angeles.

“I think if people walk out of [‘The Promise’] and feel inspired to do something for humanity, we have several opportunities in the world today to stop … man’s inhuamity to man,” said Mr. Esrailian, who has Armenian heritage. “Get involved through various NGOs, and just to do something to make the world a bette place.:

“The main purpose of the film is to educate people and move them, and then hope that it builds up a momentum,” said Mr. George.

“Never forget,” added Mr. Esrailian.

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