By Emil Danielyan and Armine Geghamian
Atom Egoyan, the prominent Canadian film director of Armenian origin, received one of Armenia’s highest state awards on Saturday, the day after his world-famous film “Ararat” dealing with the 1915 Armenian Genocide was premiered in Yerevan.
A decree awarding Egoyan the Movses Khorenatsi medal, given for major artistic and cultural accomplishments, was signed by President Robert Kocharian.
The recently released movie, condemned by Turkey for its depiction of the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks, details the continuing impact of the mass killings and deportations on descendants of the genocide survivors. A film-within-a-film switching between different periods of history, “Ararat” shows how painful memories change the life of a young Canadian-Armenian man in present-day Toronto.
The film, starring Egoyan’s wife, actress Arsinee Khanjian, and French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour, was on Friday screened in Yerevan’s largest movie theater packed with hundreds of spectators. It will be officially presented by Egoyan on Monday.
The director and his wife arrived in the Armenian capital early on Saturday. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL, Egoyan said he hopes his story about the Armenian Genocide will strike a chord with people around the world. “I think there is a huge expectation from everybody for this film,” he said. “I had to make it as personal as possible and find a way of telling the story that has a meaning for me and communicates to other people as well.”
“I really wasn’t thinking about it being made for Armenians or non-Armenians. It was being made for me,” Egoyan added.
“Ararat,” which is being distributed worldwide by Miramax Films despite vehement Turkish protests, has drawn unprecedented international attention to the bloody events of 1915. The Turkish government and lobbying groups, which maintain that the massacres did not amount to genocide, have threatened the Hollywood company with a boycott. They claim that “Ararat” is part of broader Armenian efforts to mislead the international community, a charge denied by Egoyan.
“It’s not a film so much about the genocide as about how the genocide continues to affect us today and how the trauma of this experience is being transmitted from one generation to another,” he reiterated on Saturday.
The challenge facing Armenians throughout the world now, Egoyan went on, is to rely primarily on themselves in their bid to realize their centuries-long aspirations. "As long as we are putting energy in expecting other people to give us strength, we are in a weaker position,” he explained.
"We have always been the victim of outside politics and forces beyond our control, and this has historically been our greatest vulnerability. We have to be able to do everything on our own terms, and we clearly have the strength and the means. I think with every new generation we are gaining a confidence to be able to do that.”