Monthly Archives: July 2011

Apathy Found in Cheese

This morning I cut into a lump of braided string cheese, which I bought in a neighborhood store that mostly sells produce and foodstuffs made in villages of Armenia. Just after pulling apart a segment of the cheese I found a long strand of hair that was intertwined with one of the braids. There was also some kind of unidentifiable wheat colored dust in the cheese, which could have been breadcrumbs. That surprise did not actually await me for the first time, and I had stopped buying homemade string cheese years ago (from the Gomidas market) for that reason alone.

This blatant lack of quality control tells me a few things. One, the woman (I assume based on the hair’s length) who made and braided the cheese did not evidently bother to wear some kind of head dress — a scarf, hairnet, whatever — to prevent her hair from falling into the cheese. The mysterious specs of dust shows that the cheese was not made in a sterile (okay, let’s say somewhat sterile), sanitary environment. I can only imagine how unclean her hands were. Simply put, the woman doesn’t care about quality, and furthermore she is demonstrating disrespect towards her customers by not ensuring that her product is free of debris. Moreover, her carelessness shows a lack of self-respect by not giving a damn.

I often wonder when complaining, discontented Armenians are going to awake and start standing up for something, anything. I’ve told people time and time again, and have written in my blog entries, that change in society and governance must come from the bottom-up. It’s the people who have to demand that apathy not reign in their own society, and they can’t be afraid to push their government to meet their needs, whether economic or social. You hear complaints everywhere — in markets and taxis, in newspapers, on the Internet. But nothing changes — the same issues related to unemployment, social inequality, and economic instability not only continue but are worsening. But people don’t get it, and they continue to complain and moan. Ironically, the main opposition block, the very one that was supposed to represent the marginalized and unlucky, is “negotiating” with the government, the details of the talks still unclear.

But regardless of how hard life may seem to be, you have to foster dignity, you need to respect yourself before you can respect others. Armenians must understand that change comes from within, it comes from the soul. You have to embrace the hope and potential of change. You have to believe it.

That can start by making high-quality cheese.

Politics of Filmmaking

When scanning the screening schedule of the 2011 Golden Apricot Film Festival, currently taking place in Yerevan, I noticed that several  joint Turkish and Armenian productions were to be shown.

For instance, one of the films being screened was shot by two Turks in Gyumri, with an all-Armenian cast, while another by an Armenian director is set in Istanbul. There’s even a French production made by an Armenian director about the perils of street dogs in Istanbul (he could easily have made that same film in Yerevan). I counted five co-productions altogether and just as many if not more Turkish films. There are still other films set in Turkey being screened made by European directors. It seems the Golden Apricot Festival has become a venue for promoting Turkey and its artists.

So why is this so peculiar? It’s an international film festival, and naturally films from around the world are going to be screened, including those made by Armenia’s historic foe. What’s wrong with that?

The screenings of such Turkish/Armenian joint productions — most if not all of which are produced by both the Golden Apricot FCD and the Turkish foundation Anadolu Kultur —  insinuate that all is getting well between the two neighbors, when in fact that is the farthest from the truth. The Golden Apricot Film Festival, being one that craves foreign submissions, attracts both local Armenians and filmbuffs from around the world alike. So when you see a film that has been produced by artists from countries that have deep-rooted animosity toward one another, it’s natural for someone to think that some barriers between the two peoples are being broken. Why?

Professional filmgoers pay attention to several criteria when viewing a film, and even beforehand. They want to know first of all where the film was produced, the year it was made, and the nationality of the filmmaker. They look for actors that the filmmaker uses repeatedly in other films and reoccurring themes that are being employed for settings and situations. And filmmakers, amateur or professional, are paying attention to other nuances, like the effects rendered from the use of lighting, camera angles, the representation of the actors, even the positioning of the camera in relation to the ground. When a filmgoer sees a modern film that impressed him made by a Japanese director, he is more apt to seek out movies made by that filmmaker’s contemporaries in his own country in order to compare cinematic styles, plots, and so forth. The nation the filmmaker represents has relevance to the overall impact the film conveys, because the impressed filmgoer will want to naturally seek out the works of other directors from the same country.

The filmmaker therefore is a representative of his own country, whether he wants to be or not. Even a filmmaker who isn’t making films in his home nation any longer  is still considered to be a representative of his own people. This doesn’t apply to painters for instance, where the viewer is captivated by the use of color, shape and design, then associates the artist’s name to it, with his or nationality being an afterthought. A filmmaker is an unofficial spokesman of his country’s artistic development and even tolerance of such development. He makes it obvious to the world where he’s from and is proud to represent his country and its bold achievements in the international community of the arts.

So when you have Turks and Armenians coming together to make films as joint productions you have to wonder what that’s all about. It’s obvious that these artists are trying to show the world that the two peoples can indeed live peacefully side by side, using the spellbinding medium of film. Thus, in doing so they are making social and political statements, whether intentionally or not.

And their efforts, whether they realize it or not, could be viewed as being a method for persuade people to forget the past, to ignore issues that have yet to be reconciled and are still fuming to this day, even almost a century later, and to look ahead. They chose to ignore the glaring fact that Turkey restricts Armenia’s economic growth and trading potential by refusing to open their mutual border. That Turkey refrains from unconditionally developing diplomatic relations by making specific demands of Armenia’s foreign policy is also to be overlooked. Turkey’s utter rejection of the Armenian Genocide is certainly another giant obstacle to overcome. These filmmakers, along with their producers, are essentially alluding that art knows no hate and antagonism — it can only bring harmony and admiration, even between enemies. That notion applied to Armenian-Turkish relations is not only credulous, it is downright negligent as well.

These Turkish/Armenian film productions are all fine and good — by all means, let people from the two countries get together and use the magic of filmmaking to promote brotherly peace. But make no mistake — their collaborations cannot dispel the lingering, obstinate Turkish antagonism that persists and is thwarting any hopes of reconciliation between the two nations. The hostile policies on Armenia set by Turkey’s leadership and lawmakers need to change before the two sides can earnestly talk about meaningful artistic collaborations.

There needs to be mutual trust; nevertheless I don’t believe that the forum of a film festival can be used to develop reconciliation between the two peoples that are steadfastly at odds. Ultimately I think it’s Turkish society that needs to pressure its government to open the border and instill a peaceful coexistence with Armenians.

That certainly can’t done by a few film producers, and the unabashed promotion of Turkish culture and values by the Armenian side seems over the top and unnecessary. It’s relatively obvious that Armenia has long been ready for an open border.