By Madeline Chambers, Reuters
A film depicting the tragedy of a rich family almost wiped out in the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 is not meant to be anti-Turkish, the directors said on Wednesday.
Italy's Taviani brothers say "The Lark Farm", featuring at the Berlin film festival, has a broad message about the human catastrophe of modern conflict. Sparing little detail, the drama shows Ottoman Turks decapitating, castrating and dismembering the men of the Armenian family in front of their wives and children, who are themselves sent on a punishing forced march towards the desert.
"This movie is not against Turks," director Paolo Taviani told Reuters in an interview, pointing out a Turkish man is instrumental in saving some of the family's children.
"It is not the Turks who kill -- it is the Young Turks – a political movement. It is exactly the same as what happened in Italy with the Fascists and in Germany under Nazism."
At the end of the press screening, the audience sat in stunned silence.
Turkey, in accession talks with the European Union, denies claims by Armenia and other countries that 1.5 million Armenians died in a systematic genocide at Turkish hands. It argues large numbers of Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks perished during the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. To Ankara's dismay, several foreign parliaments have passed laws recognizing the massacres as genocide.
Last month Turkish Armenian editor Hrant Dink, who espoused reconciliation between the two peoples, was killed by a 17-year-old ultra-nationalist. Like dozens of intellectuals, Dink had been prosecuted for his views on the killings.
Ahead of the film's public release, the Taviani brothers said they were unaware of any adverse reaction from Turkey. Berlin's Turkish embassy said it had received no response to the film from Ankara.
Although a love story between an Armenian and Turk is a major part of the film and some Ottoman soldiers are portrayed as being reluctant to carry out orders to kill their friends, the focus is firmly on the suffering of the Armenian family.
"We wanted to comment on current events like Kosovo, and Rwanda," said Paolo Taviani's brother Vittorio. "We thought we should look at one of the most horrifying tragedies of mankind because there is nothing worse than a war between people who know each other well."
The brothers say they are sure Turkey should join the EU. "(But) we are convinced ... of the necessity that it publicly recognizes the historical truth of the Armenian tragedy, in the same way as Germany and Italy have come to terms with their criminal past," they said in a statement.
Actress Arsinee Khanjian, who plays a major character in "The Lark Farm", says Turkey still has a way to go. "Turkey must change its approach to the Armenian genocide but it also has big human rights problems with many other minorities," the actress of Armenian descent told Reuters.