The Film “The Promise” Is The Voice Of All Victims Of Genocide

Huffington Post
May 16 2017
05/16/2017 04:43 pm ET

We were high up on a hill in what, according to scientists, is the world’s oldest city, Hasankeyf or Hasno Kifo which in Assyrian/Syriac means rock fortress. The year was 2002, and Lisbeth Brattberg, news editor at the Swedish daily news paper ”Dagens Nyheter”, our 12-year-old guide, Ayse, and I tried to block out the wind while we talked about the city’s history. I pointed to a stately house on the other side of the water and asked who had lived in it. Ayse replied that we didn’t need to be afraid; that the infidels who lived there had been driven out. “They resembled pigs, had big ears and strange noses, but they are gone. We’ve removed them.”

After a while we went down and sat on benches set up on the water, on the River Tigris, where they served both local fish and meat dishes, prepared from the city’s livestock. The war between the PKK, the Kurdish Freedom Party, and the Turkish government was in full swing. The trip was surrounded by a lot of secrecy. We were constantly urged to be cautious.

A Swedish aid worker from Stockholm was also in Turabdin (the mountain of God’s servant) in the part of Mesopotamia, once known for having the highest number of churches and monasteries in the world. He rang our driver and said that we should go to the city of Nusaybin, that it was important and that he did not want to talk on the phone. Once we got there, we were to pretend to be tourists. Archaeologists were at work in the Syriac Orthodox monastery of St. Jacob. They were excavating one of the world’s oldest university. We got into our cars and drove there immediately. Five kilometers from the center of the excavations, they had found a mass grave. About a dozen sacks, all bludging with solid contents . Bones and skeletons corpses that according to the aid workers might be from people killed in the genocide of 1915. One of them wanted us to document it. Authorities would deny the existence of the skeletons, he claimed.

In the afternoon, we went to a village called Hah, where the world’s first monastery is supposed to be located. It’s called St. Mary, and is said to have been built in the lifetime of the mother of Jesus. We sat on the roof and talked about names inherited for generations, for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Many of the people we talked to had two names, a Turkish and an Armenian or Syriac one. The Turkish names had been forced on them. My mom was also with us. I asked her whose name I had inherited.

Two cousins and I inherited our names from our grandmother Nure, or Noriya. She, in turn, inherited it from her aunt who was born and had died in Hasankeyf. Our aunt had, during the genocide of Christians in the Ottoman Empire in1915, been dragged to the bridge over Hasankeyf, together with many other women. They were given two choices: to convert to Islam or die. Nure held her small son in her arms. When she heard the ultimatum, she panicked and threw the boy into the water. To save his life. The executioner then cut her head off, slit open her pregnant belly, took out the unborn child and threw it in the water after its older sibling. I realised that earlier that day Lisbeth, Ayse and I had sat by that same body of water to have our lunch.

Tonight ‘The Promise’, the film about the Armenian, Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac and Greek genocide has its sneak preview in Sweden. Philanthropist and entrepreneur Gunilla von Platen, who herself has terrible stories of the genocide in her family’s history, and I are hosting it. The Ambassador of Armenia and the Lebanese Head of Mission are amongst the guests.

When I watched the film at the press screening, I was shaking. For me, for all of us who are second and third generation of the survivors of the genocide, it’s not just a film. It’s so much more. It is our voice. The fact that it is also a masterpiece, obviously adds to it. I talked with producer Eric Esrailian last week, and little did I know that our family stories would be intertwined. “This film was a life project, a must, not only for the sake of our grandparents, but also to obtain redress for all victims of crimes against humanity. First and foremost, perhaps so that there won’t be any more genocides.” Amen.

*Linda Michael and Agneta Wirberg also contributed to this report.

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS