German filmmaker of Turkish descent shot a film about the Armenian Genocide: is the description correct?
I don't know. I never thought about that. A director from the culture that committed the Genocide made a film about a victim of that Genocide. Maybe this is better, but I did not categorize it like that.
How and when did your parents move to Germany?
My father moved to Germany in 1966, and my mother in 1968. They went there to work. They are from a poor region. My father was an official before moving to Germany, and my mother was a village teacher. She did not want to leave, but she met my father, fell in love, married him, and went with him to Germany.
When did you first visit Turkey?
That was when I was a little baby, because my parents moved back and forth to Turkey for summer holidays.
When did you first hear about the Armenian Genocide?
I think I first heard of the Armenian Genocide when I was in high school - I was a teenager of 15 or 16 years.
What made you engage in a deeper research about the Genocide?
When I heard about the Genocide committed by the Turks, I did not believe it. But I started to read to become more aware. First I read about people who denied the Genocide, but then I found out about the book The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel. The first time I read the book, I was 19, if I'm not mistaken. This book and the way Turkish people deny the Genocide, convinced me that they are lying. Otherwise, they would act in a different manner, more calmly. And that was then that I understood: we did this, but we do not want to talk about it.
What’s your personal position on the Armenian Genocide?
When I went to Turkey with the film, people kept asking me why I had shown just one side of the history. I said that this is not a football game with two sides. There is just one truth and I believe in that. I believe that events that took place in 1915 and the following years, are a genocide. But this is just my position, this is what I believe in.
Before screening the film, you said that Turkey is ready to watch a movie about the Genocide. Are you of the same opinion now?
Yes, I am. The film runs in Turkish movie theatres now, and people have access to it. If they want to have it on DVD, they will have it. If they want to stream it later, they can stream it later. Another question is if there is enough interest. Sadly enough, those who are interested are in the minority.
Do you think your movie changed anything in the society?
Some things have changed, of course. The other day an Armenian politician came to me and said that now he can forgive certain people. Or young people in Turkey who watched the movie were astonished as they had never heard of what the Ottoman Empire had done. So the film changed the reality of certain people. And maybe this is the right way to make some changes. Nobody can change the world altogether, but I can change my world. So, this change occurred not in the whole society, but in an individual.
Ara Guler was in Turkey. What did he say about the film?
I did not have the chance to talk to him, but I read somewhere that if there were 10 more people like me, it would have been a bigger change. These are his words.
If Turkey recognizes the Armenian Genocide, what should be done after that?
I have my own position, my own opinion regarding this question. I think that the word genocide is just a word misapplied by certain politicians due to some geopolitical issues. You should use this word when you really understand what has happened. I have nothing to do with politics whatsoever, and it is up to them whether to recognize the genocide or not. I think that it is more important for a cab driver, or a waiter, or the students, or the common people to know about the genocide, and I don't care whether politicians accept it or not.
What Armenian words do you know?
I know the word for Armenia- Hayastan. And I know those Armenian words that exist in Turkish as well.
What did you feel during your first visit to the Armenian Genocide Museum, where numerous photos reflect the atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire?
The first time I visited the museum was 5 years ago, in 2010. I felt sorry, and I felt the burden of responsibility, I felt the grief in the air. When you are at the Genocide museum, the only thing you think about is the genocide, and nothing else.
Is it possible for you to come back to Armenia on April 24?
I don't know. I will be at the United States promoting the film. I know that physical presence is important but if this not possible I will definitely be here with all my mind and spirit.
Several years ago you wanted to film a movie about Hrant Dink. Why didn’t you realize you plan? Or is the film a work in progress?
It is very complicated. Hrant was a revolutionary icon. What I liked most about his attitude was that he was convinced that whatever there is between Turkey and Armenia should be solved by the Armenians and the Turks. Neither the French government, nor the German or some other government should interfere. And they should not use the genocide as a punishment tool. For example, the Turkish-Israeli relationship is not in its best phase now, and Israel talks about recognizing the genocide. As I said before, the word genocide is just a word. They use the grief of an entire nation for political issues. So, I did not make the movie then, because I thought that Turkey is not ready. I did "The Cut" instead, which is not just a Turkish-Armenian issue, but rather, a global one.
How did you choose actors for your film and why did you prefer Tahar Rahim for the leading role?
I always feel those kinds of things and I always have to emotionally fall in love with the actor. I saw Tahar in another movie, and he was great. He looks like an Armenian, so he could be Armenian. And he is a star in France, and the French market is always a good one for me. So, I decided to cast him in the film and I really enjoy seeing him there, I like his performance.
Whose opinion was more important for you when you were shooting this film: that of Armenians or Turks?
The desire to satisfy just one group is a mistake, because that makes you a political director. The desire to satisfy both groups is a mistake too, because that is impossible. The desire to satisfy everybody is another mistake, and that is exactly what I was trying to do. So, I think that the right way is to make it work for yourself. I wanted to create something that both Armenians and Turks could identify themselves with. I wanted to show the violence committed by the Ottoman Empire, but I did that in a way that was not too showy.
What film about the Armenian Genocide impressed you the most?
I like Ararat by Atom Egoyan. It was a great inspiration. I like America, America by Elia Kazan which is not about the Armenian Genocide. In many aspects this film is the godfather of my film. There are even some direct references to America, America.
The Turkish lobby in Germany is one of the most influential ones. Do you follow the developments in life of Turkish community there?
No, not so much. The Turkish community has so many problems in Germany, such as issues of integration, religious problems, language barrier. But all those people do is denying what happened in 1915. This is none of their business, but the business of the Turkish government. So, I do not identify myself as one of them.