Canadian-Armenian filmmaker Atom Egoyan spoke on the 100th anniversary of Ottoman Turks killing and deporting the Armenians who lived alongside them, calling on Turkey to recognize the deaths as genocide.
The massacre, which historians estimate killed 1.5 million people, has been recognized as genocide by the UN, Canada and more than 20 other countries.
Turkey claims the number killed is inflated, and disputes it was a genocide.
Egoyan said that denial brings a sense of urgency to mark the anniversary, and begin to heal the wrongs of a century ago.
“It’s an open wound and as long as the Turkish State continues to deny this, it continues to bleed,” he told CBC Radio’s The Early Edition.
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Egoyan’s great-grandparents were killed in the genocide, leaving his grandmother orphaned at six years old.
“Most people have an idea of a family tree. To have a family tree that stops with your grandparents is probably unusual for most people to understand, but that’s been the reality not just of my life, but of a lot of other Armenians,” he said.
Egoyan said acknowledgement from Turkey would be first step to finding reconciliation.
“It’s been denied for so long, it’s become so much a part of their social fabric — this idea that it didn’t happen — that to actually say it has would be quite monumental,” he said.
Historical events politicized
André Gerylomatis, the director of Simon Fraser University’s Hellenic Studies department, said the historical event has become politicized as Turkey continues to dispute the massacre was a genocide.
One hundred years ago, Turkey had entered the First World War and was immediately faced an attack by Russia.
“There was a sense of paranoia in the Ottoman government. They felt they were being beleaguered and besieged,” he said.
“This sense of siege mentality — this urgency, this fear — drove the government to decide to exterminate the Armenians.”
The Ottoman empire was dissolved by 1922, and Gerylomatis said Western powers didn’t feel the new Turkish Republic should be held accountable for the killings.
“What always amazes me with the Turkish government is that they could simply wash their hands of the whole thing by accepting the historical reality that this tragedy took place, and say, ‘Look, it was the Ottomans. It was not Turkey, not the Turkish Republic,’ and that’s quite true,” he said.
To hear the full interview with Atom Egoyan, listen to the audio labelled: Atom Egoyan calls Armenian massacre an ‘open wound’.
To hear the full interview with Andre Gerolymatis, listen to the audio labelled: André Gerylomatis explains history of Armenian massacre