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AP-Fotolur photo: French singer and actor, Charles Aznavour, center, gestures as he poses with Egyptian born Canadian director, Atom Egoyan, right, and Armenian born Canadian actress, Arsinee Khanjian, left, before the screening of their film "Ararat," at the 55th International Film Festival in Cannes on Monday


By Paul Majendie

CANNES, France, (Reuters) - The director of a controversial film about the Armenian diaspora that has angered Ankara said on Monday it was not meant to demonize present-day Turks.

Atom Egoyan's film "Ararat", due to be screened at the Cannes film festival, is a moving tale of how diaspora Armenians in North America deal with the fallout from their descendants and how they struggle to come to terms with their identity.

Armenians say that some 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923. Turkey denies the charges of genocide, saying the Armenians were among the numerous victims of a partisan war raging in World War One as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

"This is not a film that is trying in any way to demonize a present-day Turk," Egoyan told a post-screening press conference. "In fact it's the opposite.

"What I am trying to do is ask the viewer to consider what it means to pass judgment on somebody who is alive today for things that were done for good or for evil by people who are no longer around."

The film had already stirred fierce reactions before its screening at the world's most famous film festival with reports that the Turkish government was threatening to ban the movie. Relations between Ankara and Paris soured last year when French lawmakers passed a law stating that the Ottoman Turks had committed genocide against Armenians. Turkey has fought hard to block scores of international attempts to raise the issue. Armenia, with the support of its influential diaspora of about seven million worldwide, has pressed for international recognition of the killing.

But Egoyan said the film was not intended as a political diatribe and as both Armenian and Turkish journalists peppered him with questions, he refused to be drawn into discussion about the present-day situation.

"I wanted to make this film universal so that anyone can watch it," said the Armenian-Canadian. "Creativity is a means of being able to transcend trauma."

Several stories are intertwined in "Ararat", described as a film within a film -- from a film director, played by renowned French actor-singer Charles Aznavour, to his young assistant, played by David Alpay in an assured acting debut. Aznavour, who himself is of Armenian origin, hoped the film would transcend borders and find an international audience.

"It offers the chance for once to have a film that can travel the whole world," he said. "I have been asked what is the difference between the Armenian and the French (in me). I always said I was 100 percent French and 100 percent Armenian. You mustn't show hate on either one side or the other. You must try to understand."
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