Using a love triangle and a star-studded cast, The Promise is a compelling drama that tells of a tragic piece of history. It is the story of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turkish Empire just prior to World War I when an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were systematically eliminated out of a total population of 2 million.
Controversy over it comes from the fact that 29 countries have officially acknowledged the genocide, but not the United States. Turkey actually denies there was genocide, chalking up the massive loss of life to the casualties of war.
The film was directed by Terry George, and stars Oscar Isaac, as a duty-bound Armenian medical student; Christian Bale, a conscientious and determined American journalist; and Charlotte Le Bon, a beautiful and gentle Armenian woman both men come to love.
The Promise had a $100-million budget, which is unusual for an independent film company. It has been ambitiously promoted, including a screening at the Vatican. Last year, Pope Francis angered Turkey’s leaders during his visit there by referring publically to the genocide.
The making of the movie was possible due to financing from the late billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, a former owner of the MGM studio, who died June 15, 2015, one month before production began. His parents had escaped to the US from Armenia at the start of the genocide.
Siobhan Nash-Marshall, author, president of the Christians in Need Foundation USA, and professor of Christian philosophy at Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York, arranges for college students to volunteer in the region to teach English to Armenian children.
We had just met at a women’s conference in March, where Nash-Marshall had arrived directly from Armenia. I called to tell her about The Promise and asked her to explain the history and current situation in the region.
“The story of the Armenian genocide is not being told,” Nash-Marshall said. “Today, Armenia is still in a precarious position. How do we expect to defend human life if we don’t defend the right to life and truth?”
She provided a brief summary and timeline of the Ottoman Empire’s rule over the Armenians in Turkey.
In 301, Armenia officially became the first Christian nation.
At the end of the 13th Century, the Muslim Turks founded the Ottoman Empire and would become one of the largest empires in all of history. Constantinople was the capital and they dominated interactions in the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. The book The Decline of Easter Christianity Under Islam: From Jihan to Dhimmitude: Seventh-Twentieth Century by Bat Yeor, gives a detailed explanation of history of the Ottoman Empire.
“The human rights of Christians were completely foreign to them,” Nah-Marshall said. “Religious minorities were viewed as infidels.” She explained that this relegated them to unequal treatment such as paying higher taxes and having very few legal rights. Some other crucial dates:
- 1894-6 — The Hamidian massacres slaughter 200,000-300,000 to stop the Armenians from declaring independence,
- 1908 — Coup d’état by “reformists” who promise to restore the constitution.
- 1909 — A new massacre of Armenians in Adana (30,000 killed).
- February 1914 — New reforms and Armenians are granted the right to have a Christian governor approved by the Ottoman Empire.
- Fall 1914 — Ottoman Empire enters WWI, revokes earlier rights.
- February 1915 — First Armenian deportations followed by the systematic extermination of all Armenians. Before that, 80% of the businesses of the Ottoman Empire were Christian owned.
- Between 1915 and 1923 — around 1,500,000 out of an estimated 2,000,000 Armenians are slaughtered or deported.
- In 1915, it is estimated that 25% of the population of the lands that today are called Turkey was Christian. By 1927 that number had shrunk to 2.7%. Today it is less than .01%
- 1915 — The US Ambassador resigned his post and set up the Near East Relief to help the Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians. It saved the lives of over a million refugees, including 132,000 orphans who were cared for and educated in Near East Relief orphanages. At that time Near East Relief raised over $116,000,000 in the US to buy supplies to feed, house, clothe, etc. the Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians
“Since 1923, the Turks, with Western complicity, decided to pretend this never happened,” Nash-Marshall said. “We [the United States] are the ones who helped them the most through the Eastern Relief Foundation and now we have refused to acknowledge it due to economic and military interests. It’s a falsification of history.” She is working to tell the story and draw attention to the Armenian plight.
In addition to arranging for some of her students to teach English through the Artsakh program to Armenian children in the enclave of Nagorno Karabakh, Nash-Marshal has written a book that highlights the situation.
Her book due out this fall, The Sins of the Fathers, is part of a trilogy on The Betrayal of Philosophy. “My claim is that philosophy has ceased to be interested in the truth and is more interested in molding people into an image and likeness of our ideas,” she said.
During her book tour through the US this fall, Nash-Marshall will raise awareness about the Armenia genocide. .”We need to set the record straight for them,” she said.
The Promise seeks to set the record straight. It is rated PG-13 and opens in theaters April 21.