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The Critical Corner - 07/25/2005

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A REVIEW OF "I HATE DOGS/BACK TO ARARAT"
A forgotten genocide: Two Documentary films
by Pea Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian

Armenian News Network / Groong
July 25, 2005

By Bedros Afeyan


Two superb documentary films, certainly in the must see category, are
available on DVD for the whole world to get acquainted once again with
the Armenian Genocide and its indelible traces on the generations of
its survivors and their children. They are the work of the husband and
wife documentary film making team, Pea Holmquist and Suzanne
Khardalian of Sweden. These two newly available films are bundled
together on a single DVD, since one is a gem lasting 29 minutes only,
"I Hate Dogs," released in 2005, while the other is a 100 minute work,
"Back to Ararat," dating back to 1988. More info on these films and
the rest of the oeuvre of this couple can be found at their web site:
http://www.peaholmquist.com/ararat/. For more information on the
availability of the DVD in the US contact Raffy Ardhaldjian at
anmf@aol.com.


The two movies under review, "I Hate Dogs" and "Back to Ararat," are
bookends of sorts. They compliment each other and close the loop on a
chapter of our history and national struggle when our presence on the
international political scene was picking up steam and chalking up
some of its first victories in the mid to late '80's. The air was
fresh and full of hope, the Karabagh movement was getting afoot in
Armenia, The Lebanese Armenians had withstood a bloody civil war
without undue involvement, the Armenian American public was demanding
recognition and raising the public opinion stakes for the pro-Turkish
lobbies to up the ante over and over again (a game that has not
reached its steady state yet), in Europe recognition was being adopted
by governments starting with the international human rights counsel
and the world court at Le Hague. All this is captured in "Back to
Ararat" and so much more. It is a look at an obscure page of world
history dating back to the first world war where the young Turks
(Ittihadist party mavericks) desperate to resuscitate a glorious
empire in ruin, decided to exterminate the unassimilatable Armenian
population and make room for the muslim refugees that were streaming
in from Europe and other parts of the ex-Ottoman empire. A systematic
extermination of an entire race, the Armenians, who were the
indigenous people of Eastern Anatolia, defenseless and unarmed, spread
thin and vulnerable, a perceived impediment to Pan-Turanical
megalomania. Between 70 and 90 years hence, two movies set the stage
and prepare the scene. In Back to Ararat, we get some of the first
authentic glances (circa 1985) on what has really become of our cities
and towns in Western Armenia, lost to Turkey. A Swedish film maker
goes back there and looks for the traces of Noah's Ark on Mount
Ararat, the Turkish occupied territories of our ancestral homeland.
And he finds an Armenian or two, still there in Diarbekir, old,
abandoned, still reciting psalms and singing revolutionary songs from
the First World War Era, warning of the massacres to come, the
genocide afoot. These isolated incidents are amazing to watch. Who are
these ladies? All living and dressing like old Turkish villagers but
cognizant of their past, warning the film maker to stop asking about
the Ermeni, lest he be taken away by the Turkish police himself... And
the ruins of our churches and castles, our shining cities of the
middle ages, our entire civilization replaced by desolation, poverty,
nomadic tribes, chickens, sheep and dogs, unpaved roads and ruins of a
future which never came to be.

Back to Ararat is a masterpiece of breath and depth made up of the
smallest of pieces. A young Armenian couple about to be married in
NY. They are full of energy and hope. They want to go back and rebuild
Armenia one day. Their parents are less brazen and more accepting of a
defeated state of affairs. In fact, they have rationalizations of the
hopelessness and thus the futility of the Armenian freedom fighters
movement, which their son in law fully admires. In another scene, we
see the Armenian schools and community armed guards in Beirut keeping
Bourj Hamoud safe for Armenians (ten years or more after the start of
that civil war), despite the incendiary tenseness all around them. We
also see Armenian Lebanese politicians professing mediation as the
route to success in the peace they all seek. The Catholicos (Karekin)
is there, hopeful, eloquent, speaking of the rebirth of the spirit and
spirituality of a people, amidst the bullet ridden walls of the
surrounding towns. You see Yerevan, street demonstrations, Gorbachev
preaching a new day, a new page, a new way, and then he sent in the
tanks to Karabagh, and killing Armenians was fashionable once
again... You see European Armenians, mostly in France, who are
refugees from the death marches and the genocidal acts of the Turks,
70 years later, recounting of the detailed horrors they witnessed in
person. Their children and grand children around them for comfort but
the shock overtakes them too. Their grandparents are not used to
talking about this and the children and grand children are not used to
seeing the magnitude of the horror that is all bottled up. The tension
is real, French and Armenian are used in turns, the authenticity of
the horrors and their branded, seared consequences are in the walk and
in the talk of these old men and women, making a go of it in Lyon.

Then they gather outside the Hague where for the first time, a world
court accepted the Armenian genocide as fact, despite the
protestations and threats of the Turkish government to stop trade with
whomsoever dares to besmirch the valiant and gallant past of their
forebears... At least there, that day, the truth and justice both
prevailed.

Yet the camera of Mr. Holmquist soars over our mountains and dried up
valleys and we hear in voice-over and inter-cuts, names of survivors,
their birthplaces and numbers of relatives lost to the genocide, being
read out loud on Time Square, at the April 24th commemoration
ceremonies in 1985, in NYC. Our mountains are silent, resigned and
desolate in Anatolia, yet the names of the villages long gone are rung
out as echoes of the past, singing in the consciousness of newer
generations of Armenians and justice conscious people everywhere. Our
music, our dances, our traditions in their modern embodiments, the
remnant churches and symbols, all meld in to paint the true colors of
a people divided and scattered but still in search of a road back to
Ararat, our destiny, to Ararat, our destination (as goes the poem).

The opposite bookend comes in "I hate Dogs." It is another twenty
years later, and now there are no more eye witness survivors of the
atrocities committed by the Turks left. And if there are, they are few
and far between. So this Swedish couple of documentary film makers, go
and find a man in his nineties in Paris who was orphaned by the
genocide of 1915 and is still lucid enough to tell all about it. Enter
the hero of the movie, "I Hate Dogs," together with his son,
granddaughter and the next generation after that as well. The movie
has a very fast but self assured pace. A Holmquist-Khardalian movie
has a very distinctive style. While the subject matter influences the
pace and presentation mode, there is a perfection of editing style,
usage of music and lighting, of repetition, of reinforcement, of
highlighting and rapid winking that is wonderful to behold. This is a
movie full of humor celebrating the joie the vivre of its subjects,
even though the story that is being told, the story that gives the
movie its title, is harrowing indeed. The odds in this tale are long.
A death march orphaned boy of eight or so, finds his way to
orphanages, some primary education, hard work, entrepreneurship,
indefatigable spirit and self confidence and ends up being a
successful businessman in France. He is now in his nineties and ready
to tell his tale. His family is all around him, they are at their
summer home, all remade by hand, one tree planted after the other, to
resemble the orchards his parents had back home in Anatolia, Armenia
proper. While in France, enjoying his freedom and his opulent
surroundings, he can never forget where he came from, his mother, the
last time he saw her, his father and his brutal end.  He is in tears,
his son, himself no spring chicken, a Frenchman through and through by
sight, speaks Armenian, even if somewhat strained, with great
conviction and honesty. He is proud of his dual heritage. His adopted
homeland and his ethnic core. We see them looking at old family films
from the fifties, when this son was a toddler and we hear the family
stories, at least three generations worth. This is a celebration.
Calamity did strike, and yet this gem of a family was made possible
through it all. They have their soft spots and weak points but here is
an authentic Armenian existence in the most luxurious valleys of
France, with rich soil and sun, and yet the story of the father, the
father left behind, dragged along so that they will never forget and
never give up their quest for justice.

These are two eloquent stories of breathing, living Armenian spirits,
not degenerating into self absorbed, self-justifying irrelevancy, as
is the case of other testimonials of late, but the story of Armenians
rolling with the punches and yet preserving some dignity throughout
the ordeals that would break many a lesser man. These are not
superheros or larger than life characters. In fact, they are miniscule
in build and soft spoken old men and women, somehow refusing to go
away and let the giant superpower that tried to kill them off get away
with it. Their survival is a giant blow in the face of "sweep it under
the rug and move on" mongering Turkish governments who to this day
think that this strategy will work. That somehow, no matter how
barbaric and oppressive and non liberal they may be, the door to join
Europe will be open to them and they will laugh all the way to a
subsidy and a much higher standard of living any minute now.  Let us
hope that history teaches humility to the murderers and non-repentant
bullies.

Holmquist and Khardalian give interviews as added tracks on the DVD
explaining how these movies were made, their styles, aspirations and
motivations. Throughout it all there is much poetic talent, an
overabundance of (dry, Swedish) humor and a dedication to film and the
truth that is exemplary indeed.


--
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. Samples of his work can be found
on the web by clicking on his personal web pages at:
http://208.177.152.139/

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