The Promise, a film directed by Terry George and starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, and Christian Bale, is a love story set during the onset of the Armenian Genocide. Michael Begosian (Oscar Isaac), is an Armenian medical student in Istanbul who falls in love with Ana Khesarian, (Charlotte Le Bon). Khesarian, however, is already in a relationship with Christopher Meyers (Christian Bale), a renowned American journalist. Much of the movie’s plot is driven by this love triangle, but the film also does not shy away from addressing the Armenian Genocide.
It chronicles the systematic killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, beginning with the capture and imprisonment of Armenian leaders in Istanbul, the deportation of Armenians from their villages, and their mass slaughter by Ottoman soldiers. While at times the love story in The Promise comes off as cliché, it does not impact how moving and powerful it is to see the depictions of the Armenian Genocide on the big screen. The Promise is Hollywood’s first attempt at making a big budget film about the genocide, and the movie does an exceptional job at translating the gut-wrenching events of 1915 to the big screen.
The Armenian Genocide remains an extremely controversial to this day, and in attempting to address such a controversial topic, The Promise has created some controversy of its own. While there is a general consensus amongst many scholars and historians about the events of 1915, neither the U.S. nor Turkish governments recognize the events of 1915 as a genocide. In fact, the current Turkish government is engaged in a highly active campaign of genocide denial.
This has led to some heated arguments about the story told in The Promise. In fact, after the movie premiered last fall at the Toronto Film Festival in a theater that could seat no more than several hundred attendees, the films IMDb page had over 55,000 negative reviews. That number is now up to 126,000.
In addition, a Turkish movie studio released a movie titled The Ottoman Lieutenant that tells a very similar story to The Promise but from a Turkish perspective. According to the Associated Press, the makers of The Promise accused the producers of The Ottoman Lieutenant of trying to confuse the two films, but nothing came of the accusations.
Sevag Belian, the Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of Canada described these events saying, “The fact that thousands of people have surged onto the Internet to write negative reviews about a film that they haven’t even seen is a clear indication that this is a politically motivated campaign.”
“It’s unfortunately the result of years and years of denial of this atrocity by the Turkish government…” he continued, “Turkey, unfortunately, has not been ready to face its own history.”
The Turkish campaign against The Promise is consistent with previous Turkish protests to acknowledgements of the Armenian Genocide. In 2015 when Pope Francis used the word genocide to describe the events of 1915, the Turkish government immediately recalled their ambassador to the Vatican, and took similar action in 2016 when Germany acknowledged the Armenian Genocide. Their protests of The Promise are consistent with these actions and are meant to keep moviegoers from taking the time to go see a powerful and moving film.