are among the world's proudest and most patriotic people, and
many feel an especially deep admiration for their army,
without which the nation might never have emerged from the
wreckage of the Ottoman Empire more than 80 years ago. But are
they ready to see a film in which Ottoman Turkish soldiers
shoot defenseless civilians and burn women alive? That
question has set off a bitter debate here.
The film is "Ararat,"
a 2002 release by the Armenian-Canadian director Atom Egoyan
in which the expulsion of Armenians from what is now eastern
Turkey in 1915 is depicted in scenes of horrific brutality.
Although the film would certainly shock and outrage many
Turks, the government has approved it for screening.
"Those who want to see the film can go," said the
minister of culture and tourism, Erkan Mumcu. He said showing
it would "prove that Turkey is a democratic
This was a remarkable step in a country where open
discussion of the 1915 massacres has long been taboo. Turkey
is loosening many restrictions on free speech as part of a
reform project aimed in part at persuading the European Union
to look favorably on its application for membership.
After Mr. Mumcu's decision to allow "Ararat" to
be shown, however, an extreme nationalist group earlier this
month threatened to attack any movie house where it was shown.
That led the distributor to "indefinitely postpone"
plans to release the film in Turkey.
"Would you want to watch a movie in a theater that
could be stoned or where there could be violence?" asked
the distributor, Sabahattin Cetin. The group that made the
disruptive threats is the youth wing of the Nationalist Action
Party, which was part of the government until it was voted out
of power in the November 2002 election. "I dare them to
show it," the group's president, Alisan Satilmis, said in
a television interview.
Devlet Bahceli, the Nationalist Action leader, who until
2002 was Turkey's deputy prime minister, said he agreed with
his youth group. "It would be in our interest to
investigate why a film that is against the Turkish nation has
been imported into Turkey," he said.
This view appears out of step with the intensifying desire
of many Turks for broader democratic freedoms. Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government are arguably more
committed to full democracy than any government in Turkish
history. Nationalist forces fear that Mr. Erdogan is preparing
to make a historic deal to end the long dispute over Cyprus,
and they may be forcing a confrontation over
"Ararat" in an effort to portray him as unpatriotic.
Even some Turkish commentators who pride themselves on
their nationalist convictions have urged that
"Ararat" be shown here.
"Every Turk should see this film," one of them,
Omer Lutfi Mete, wrote in the mass-circulation daily Sabah.
"Otherwise how can we respond to their accusations?"
Another Turkish commentator, Etyen Mahcupyan, who is of
Armenian descent, said the Nationalist Action Party, known
here as M.H.P., was using this controversy to regain its lost
" `Ararat' was a very good opportunity for them,"
Mr. Mahcupyan said. "They are on TV again, waving the
nationalist flag. Trying to prevent the film from being shown
is mainly a tactic of M.H.P., but we also know that they are
in coalition with other forces, like the nationalist left and
the deep bureaucracy. Their timing was good because they
sensed that the government was not strong enough to resist on
Turkish and Armenian historians have given widely differing
accounts of what happened in 1915. They agree that Armenians
were chased from their ancestral homeland in eastern Anatolia,
and that hundreds of thousands perished. Armenians say this
action was planned and organized by the Ottoman government.
Some Turks, however, insist that Armenians, backed by czarist
Russia, were rebelling against Ottoman rule, and that what
they call "the events" of 1915 were tragic but must
be seen against the background of World War I and the
crumbling Ottoman Empire