Armenian News Network / Groong

The Critical Corner - 04/24/2017

"The Promise" is a Promise Well Kept

Armenian News Network / Groong
April 24, 2017

By Bedros Afeyan

"The Promise" is a poignant saga of unimaginable emotional and
historical majesty. It is the retelling of the finest instincts of man
facing a grave chapter of man's inhumanity to man. The Turks and Kurds
kill and massacre. German war machine aids and abets. Great Britain,
France and Russia are armed and ready for war. Armenians flea, fall,
falter and finally rise from the ashes of their history's darkest
chapter, the Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by Young Turks from April
1915 till the end of the war "to end all wars." Americans preach and
practice Christian charity and ideals, long lost in the old Europe,
not yet aware of its antiquated barbarism that would last till the
ravages of yet one more world war, and then fade into obscurity
leaving a Soviet shadow and an American giant in its infamous wake.

But we are still in 1914. The first world war is about to start and
Armenians and other Christian minorities in the Ottoman empire have
not been condemned to extermination orders yet.  They soon will
be. Tiny Christian sects and the large Armenian industrious presence
in the vast expanse of Western Armenia, and well into Byzantian
territory, including Constantinopolis, known as Bolis, to
Armenians. Or, "the City," just as New Yorkers refer to NY NY as the
city.  Bolis is the capital. It has not been renamed Istanbul yet. It
is a vibrant metropolis. A mecca of trade and court intrigue. The
Sultan and his evil empire hold court here with more harems than
mosques, more scimitars than books or theaters. Churches blowing holy
smoke towards the sky with prayers soon to be lost in the inferno the
young Turks will unleash in the Eastern provinces with the intent to
rid Armenia of Armenians. Our faith would be severely tested faced
with a Jihad and hordes of criminals with orders to kill
indiscriminately unleashed on Armenian civilian populations in cities
and small villages without mercy and with total brutality and in cold,
remorseless blood thirsty orgies.

The lies of the Turkish ruling classes and their venom are well
represented and exposed in The Promise. The beauty of Bolis, the
straits of Bosphorus, the Dardanelles, the Imperial loot and posh
palaces, the merchants and racist envy of prosperous Armenians
intermingled in their souks and bazaars, are all in The Promise. The
brewing war, the cruel stench of military marches and burning flags
and effigies, looting and destruction fuming in the hearts of the
citizenry are all in The Promise, as a cautionary tale.

Terry George is a master of the historical saga, whether it be Irish
or Armenian. He has deeply felt and distilled the horrid stories into
a love story that is as metaphorical and tragic as it is heroic and
realistic, all at the same time. Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac and
Charlotte Le Bon are truly magnificent. Their performances are
memorable and indelible. They come to wear the heavy burden of true
history denied. Turks who are returning to their barbarism and
absolutist nationalist extremism by leaps and bounds even as the 21st
century unfolds, still cannot come to grips with their magnum sins and
shameful past. The power of cinema is to expose the dungeons of hell
that is their history. Turkey for Turks! Means kill. Kill. Destroy. Lie,
cheat, double deal, sidle up to Russia, the US, Israel, the Arab
Sunnis, the Oil Arabs. Selling arms to the Syrian dictator,
exterminating Kurds in Syria and Iraq under the guise of fighting
ISIS. Every duplicity and dastardly act that is in their interest to
perform, they so very willingly do, in the name of Syasset, or

How could Armenians have dealt with this a hundred years ago today?
Without armies, without national leaders (hundreds of them killed on
April 24, 2015), without European support, or bargaining chips, they
were led to slaughter.

The Promise captures the harrowing scenes and archetypal images of the
Armenian Genocide with extreme dexterity, perceptiveness and a
delicate touch. The horrors of trains full of human cattle being led
to the desert are there. Marching aimlessly in the desert to be killed
or lost to the elements are there. Work battalions meant to build the
Berlin-Baghdad railway line and die in the process is there. The
orphaned children. The missionaries and their helping hand. Ambassador
Morgenthau of the US and his outrage at this Turkic barbarism, all
there. The militarist elements of the Turkish upper classes
sacrificing their own children who want to live peacefully, who are
executed for the cause of helping their Armenian friends, are all

And then, to propel the story forward, there is the love triangle
between an American journalist maverick, Chris Myers, played by
Christian Bale; a medical student from a small village, Michael
Boghossian, smitten hard by an unparalleled beauty, Ana Kassarian. Ana
has spent years in Paris attending the Sorbonne. Her father was a
famous violinist. Her mother died when she was young. But she
identifies as an Armenian and wants to go back to her ancestral
village and help, if she can. She is living with the American
journalist since her father killed himself and her grief pushed her
towards this charming and daring man in Paris, who seeks to expose
injustice in the world with the new art of photojournalism for the NY
Times. And so we have a hot story brewing of war and atrocities, love
and allegiances that will lead to survival and death in one breath.

They mesh, unmesh and tangle up beyond recognition facing death and
destruction as an entire nation goes plummeting before their eyes at
the hands of Turkish systematic cruelty and inhumanity. The rapes,
murders, massacres, hangings, shootings, slaughter are all shown and
made real with these three lovely young witnesses. The music by
Gabriel Yared is haunting and unmistakably effective.

The screenplay by Terry George and Robin Swicord is spare, sparse and
highly poetic. It is meant to be felt and absorbed by the slimmest of
odds matching the odds of the survivors and the travails of an entire
nation. The Promise was the Promise Kirk Krikorian made to the
Armenian people that a Hollywood film of great dignity and a hefty
budget sparing nothing ($90M) would be dedicated to the telling of
this first genocide of the twentieth century. It now has. And I for
one applaud this effort.

Survival Pictures and Phoenix Pictures produced this Dr. Zhivago scale
saga while Open Road films is distributing it. Eric Esrailian, Mike
Medavoy and William Horberg take producer credits while Kirk Kirkorian
is posthumously listed as its executive producer.

The emotional eruptions etched on the faces of Isaac, Bale and Le Bon
will never be forgotten. They have managed to humanize this story of
barbarity and love in its most primal and ennobling states. The
purification of the sanctity of father Gomidas' songs, mixed with the
need to save lives of a surgeon, propelled by the curiosity and truth
seeking of an international journalist, the naiveté and might of
America circa 1914-1915, the dungeon that was the Ottoman rotting
empire from within, Europe ready to kill each chivalrous instinct and
replace its past with chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas wiping out
its claims to fine cultural glory forever. Only to repeat the dance
once more a little more than a generation later with WWII and now with
the far east ablaze as brazen as all the west.

The Promise is a must-see movie. It is most of all human and
emotionally charged to the hilt like the Titanic or Dr. Zhivago. The
themes of love, loss, improbable survival and endurance of the human
spirit are magnificent. The carnage is real and excessively
measured. This is not the horrid truth but hints at what the truth
might have been. The actors in the principal roles make this movie
proud. They are masterful and committed to make sense of the nonsense
we serve as people when we ignore our primary role in this world which
is to take care of each other and to love our neighbors as we love

Armenia exists in the hearts of Armenians living in the worldwide
diaspora due to this exodus and genocide that visited us over a
hundred years ago. Each of us rises to the zeniths we can scale, alone
or in groups of laughing, dancing, feasting Armenians, never too far
from the soulful music that is ours, poetry that rings true as mount
Ararad and its white capped memory banks.  One day to return and plow
those fields our ancestors were forced to abandon for a blink of an
eye or the hiccup if history that we must amend.

Dr. Bedros Afeyan is a theoretical physicist who works and lives in
the Bay area with his wife, Marine. He writes in Armenian and in
English and also paints and sculpts.
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