“The greatest revenge is surviving,” said Maral (Angela Sarafyan) in the most accurate film to date regarding the Armenian Genocide, called The Promise.
When the film was announced for the Toronto Film Festival, I regretted not making the trip to Canada as this story has a very personal impact on my life. The Promise follows Mikael Bogosian (Oscar Isaac), an Armenian medical student from Siroun, Turkey, who moves to Constantinople, using the dowry given to him by Maral’s father to fund his education in order for them to marry upon his return to the village.
While in Constantinople, Mikael meets Associated Press journalist, Chris Myers (Christian Bale) and his cousins’ tutor, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), an Amrenian ballerina who wins his heart, creating a love triangle pulling Ana between traditional ties and a life in the Western World.
As Turkey joins forces with Germany, the nationalism amongst the Ottomans’ strengthen their hatred of the ethnic minorities against the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks, leading to the the mass genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, 950,000 Greeks and 750,000 Assyrians, totally roughly 3.5 million Christians who were lost to the Ottoman Sultan and later under Mustafa Atatürk and his Young Turks.
What The Promise is able to show are the horrors of genocide. Images of hangings, shootings and death marches get the point across marvelously without being gruesome, allowing for audiences of all ages to watch this historically accurate, heart wrenching film.
I have to admit, when I heard the film was starring Oscar Isaac, I thought it was another Hollywood attempt at “Brown Brushing” all ethnic characters with olive pigmentation by placing them on a color chart and saying, “He’s dark/light enough.” However, after seeing Isaac’s performance I feel no one else could have played Mikael Bogosian and if he does not win the Independent Spirit Film award for best actor, then he will be most certainly robbed.
What makes this story ever so significant to me is that I am an Assyrian on my father’s side. I remember sitting in a smoke filled living room with my grandfather, who would tell me about the Assyrians and Armenians that were marched across the Iranian border and how my great grandfather’s family helping the survivors with food, shelter and other provisions.
I remember my Lebanese mother telling me of my maternal grandfather who was orphaned during the genocide, losing both parents and four older brothers to the war as well as an older sister who was kidnapped, forced to be a child bride by her captors. My grandfather and one remaining sister were sent to live with my great aunt who was my great grandmother’s identical twin sister. Imagine being 4 years old, your mother is dead in front of you, then you have to live with a person who looks exactly like her, but isn’t her. This is a small sample of what happened not just to my family but countless others.
There has been a lot of intermixing between Armenians and Assyrians as we had survived these horrific events. Our two peoples know all too well of these stories, especially the tragic ending to Maral in the film where she was slit open from her womb as the unborn child was impaled on a bayonet.
The final stand is made at Mageh Doodah, Turkey, where the Armenians escape with the help of the French Navy in order to find refuge in Lebanon and Egypt. My training partner Richard’s family were part of that last stand at Mageh Doodah, which adds to the personal experience many like him will feel.
The Promise opens nationwide on Friday April 21, 2017.