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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Cannes film tackles Armenian 'genocide'
Ararat screening: Arsinee Khanjian, Charles Aznavour, Atom Egoyan
The film is meant to 'heal old wounds'
The director of a controversial film about the Armenian diaspora that has angered Turkey has said it was not meant to demonise present-day Turks.


You mustn't show hate on either one side or the other. You must try to understand

Charles Aznavour
Atom Egoyan's film Ararat - which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday - is a tale of how Armenians in North America deal with their past history and how they struggle to come to terms with their identity.

The film had already stirred fierce reactions before its screening at the festival, causing an outcry in Turkey.

There are reports the Turkish Government wants to ban it and several groups have petitioned and threatened to boycott Miramax, the company which released the film, and parent company Walt Disney.

A seed a day

"This is not a film that is trying in any way to demonise a present-day Turk," Armenian-Canadian director Egoyan told a post-screening press conference. "In fact it's the opposite.

Armenians looking at the body of a boy in Konya during deportations of Armenians during WWI
Armenians believe 1.5m of their ancestors were killed

"What I am trying to do is ask the viewer to consider what it means to pass judgment on somebody who is alive today for things that were done - for good or for evil - by people who are no longer around."

The film by the Armenian-Canadian director is described as a film within a film and features French actor and crooner Charles Aznavour - himself of Armenian origin - playing a director making a film about the killings of Armenians by Turks.

Aznavour's character eats one seed of a pomegranate a day to remind him of his mother's flight from Ottoman Turkey when that was all she had to survive on.

In real life, the parents of the actor-singer - whose real name is Chahnour Varinag Aznavourian - fled Turkey for France to escape the killings.

"I have been asked what is the difference between the Armenian and the French [in me]. I always said I was 100% French and 100% Armenian.

"You mustn't show hate on either one side or the other. You must try to understand," he said.

Painful history

Armenians say about 1.5 million people were slaughtered by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923.

Turkey rejects the term genocide and says the figure was closer to 300,000 Armenians killed among other numerous victims of a partisan war raging in World War I as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

Turkey has fought hard to block international attempts to raise the issue, while Armenia - with its seven-million strong diaspora - has pressed for international recognition of the killing.

Relations between Ankara and Paris have been strained since last year when the French National Assembly passed a law to recognise the killings as genocide.


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