Monday, July 26, 2010

Ararat whispers from Tehran

"Politicians divided countries and priests divided the church" says Father Sarkissian, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the heart of Tehran. It is my second visit to the Iranian capital after almost 10 years. In 2001, I was filming just outside St.Sarkis without even knowing this was an Armenian church. Now, I am sipping on bitter Lebanese coffee while Father Sarkissian tells me about his first ever visit to Turkey in 1976. He tells about their challenging journey through eastern Anatolia and those troublesome years in Turkey, only four years before the Turkish military took over a democratic government in 1980. Father Sarkissian visited his forefather's nation with a small group of young clerics. On their journey, they visited former Armenian towns and villages and came across some 'good and bad people' who offered them traditional Anatolian hospitality but there were also others who reported them to local military police with the accusation of looking after hidden Armenian gold.

I ask Father Sarkissian if he has ever been back to Turkey after the 70's. "Yes, I did!", he says and continues, "My last trip was in 2005 and I saw a very different Turkey with more democratic progress and an ever evolving civil society." Father Sarkissian and I talk about the importance of dialogue between Armenians and Turks as peace can only be achieved when people really listen to each other's stories. While he praises our documentary films "Whispering Memories & Talking Pictures", I start taking his photographs and look at beautiful religious artwork in his room. Outside his office in the garden, I also come across the small Genocide Memorial, on which carnations are laid regularly to eternalise those who lost their lives in 1915 and beyond. Above the small memorial, a giant wall painting is dominating my camera's lens; it is the portrait of Imam Khomeini, the revolutionary Shia cleric who along with millions of his followers toppled the last Iranian Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi and installed a fundamental Islamic state in Iran in 1979.

Nowadays, around 75,000 Armenians live in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Most Armenians were settled here about 400 years ago by Shah Abbas of Persia. A rather small number of Armenians surviving 1915 also arrived here and lived in Iran happily thereafter. "Persians treat us very nicely and we enjoy great cultural and religious rights in Iran" says my host Raffi Piroomian. This is the message I keep hearing from every Armenian in Tehran yet the same problems facing most Persians are also affecting them. Iran suffers on severe economic crisis, unemployment is high among the young population, the democratic development is blocked by the current government and even Christian women have to wear the hejab, the Islamic veil.

Strolling through the crowded city of Tehran, I realise how similar it is to the Turkish capital with it's 1970's architecture. The city is populated by approximately 15 million people and the giant Persian metropolis stretches from the mountainous North to its rather poor and conservative South from which the current President Ahmadinejad receives most of his votes. Yet Tehran is a city painted in variations of beautiful beige with some interesting political and social street art. Persians have a long history of beautiful illustrations, one of the Arabic alphabet's most brilliant calligraphy and other artwork.

Driving to Tehran's northern districts, giant housing complexes and skyscrapers dominate the skyline. Iran is one of the most opposed to US' global domination such as Venezuela. Most large urban construction projects such as the cities' Metro transportation network are being undertaken with partnership of Chinese companies and supplies. Towards late afternoon, the streets are filled with cars, traffic barely moves and people line up on the queue for shuttle taxis taking them home. I witness a large number of ladies in the streets who obviously just left their offices. It is a sign of what an important role women play in the Persian society. They are dressed in fashionable clothes and Western brand scarfs barely cover two thirds of their hair.powerful economies in the region; it has got immense oil and gas reserves and it established successful economic and political partnerships with Russia, China and other countries. The veil is an obligation for mostPersian ladies and their fashion style is a clear opposition to the government's dominating policies towards women's civil dress codes.

Taking a right from Vanak square, we reach Ararat Cultural Centre in the north of Tehran. Surrounded by high walls, it houses a cultural complex for various events and a series of sports facilities. The area could easily house five to six football fields. Established in 1954, it's been home to social and sports events to Tehran's large Armenian community. It is a safe haven especially for Armenian women where they can take down their veil and socialise freely. Ararat is also where Armenian youth is being educated about their history. An Iranian Armenian friend who nowadays lives in Los Angeles tells me that Ararat is the cultural centre where he learnt swimming and it is also where he became 'an Armenian'.

We walk across the football field and reach the southern tip of Ararat where Whispering Memories and Talking Pictures will be shown to an Armenian/Persian audience. This is our third screening to the Armenian diaspora and it is certainly one of the most interesting ones. I am being greeted with extraordinary warmth, hospitality and sincerity, and the event organisation is certainly the best one I've ever come across. About 400 hundred guests arrive at the screening venue among which also many Persians are present and I have the great opportunity to meet interesting personalities. One of them is the ambassador of Armenia to Tehran.

Each first encounter with a new person on my multi-cultural journeys requires a quick inquiry about the common language we could speak. I greet Ambassador Grigor Arakelyan shortly with "Barev" in Armenian and then we continue our communication in
English. However, Mr.Ambassador tries to speak with me in Turkish and I understand that he is a Turkophone. There can be various reasons why an Armenian in the diaspora speaks fluent Turkish. It can be simply because of the fact that some diaspora communities speak Turkish in their homes or some of them learn Turkish for professional reasons. Mr.Ambassador explains to me that he is an Iranian Armenian from Tabriz, where he learnt Torki, which is the Azeri spoken in Iran (a related Turkic dialect to modern Turkish). I continue the conversation with my Azerbaijani language skills, which I mastered in Baku, just across the border from Tabriz. He says that Armenians and Azeris continue good neighbourly relations in Iran. He speaks with the poetic Iranian Azeri to me and we enjoy each other's company. Our conversation finishes again by highlighting the significance of dialogue between Armenians and Turks. Ambassador Arakelyan says that politically we may not reach peace at the moment but people should definitely talk to each other.

While approximately 400 guests watch "Whispering Memories & Talking Pictures" with Persian subtitles, I take a back seat and watch the crowd. Father Sarkissian, head of Armenian Apostolic Church in Iran leans over on the table and he watches both documentaries in silence. Ambassador Arakelyan whispers to his wife occasionally and then he becomes silent again. "The story of Armenian converts in Turkey" is a new subject for Iranian Armenians yet they easily establish empathy with various elements of our documentaries. The village wedding in the Taurus mountains brings them to laughter at times yet many of them weep silently while they watch Ghazaros Kerjilian's journey to his father village in "Talking Pictures". Leaving one's homeland is a well-known theme in a community such as Iran's Armenians whose members still leave the country slowly for a new life abroad.

I greet the audience in a brief Armenian and Persian note and then continue with a short highlight about the names of both documentaries. While our first documentary whispers, the second one talks without any fear or hesitance. I try telling them that Turkey too changed in the last couple of years and sensitive
subjects such as 1915 or the story of Muslim Armenians can nowadays be told and discussed in public. Father Sarkissian delivery a rather long speech and presents a very negative portrait of Turkey; he becomes a real politician in public. He does not prefer to mention the importance of dialogue but only fosters the same old image of Turkey in the minds of the Armenian community. Some of my Armenian neighbors around the table look at him with a slight irony. I remember the bitter taste of Lebanese coffee I enjoyed that same morning and remember his lines...

"Politicians divided countries and priests divided the church", Father Sarkissian told me that same morning. With deep uncertainty about who divides who in our modern days, I get into thoughts worrying me about the chronic state of Turks and Armenians. Are we all doomed to remain loyal to our stereotypes such as 'the murderer Turk' and 'the Betrayer Armenian?' What could someone do who believes in dialogue and the establishment of individual friendships between 'enemies'. Can we start believing in each other's sorrow and truth without a single human contact and still remember what divided us at the turn of the 20th century? Are we going to stop talking about 'The Other' and start thinking about what we can do individually?..

Before my return, my dear friends Loosin, Raffi, Nairi and Sasoon take me to a beautiful "Sofrahana", an open-air restaurant where we enjoyed each other's company and talked about the event and many other things. As we people-watch and gossip about our neighbors, we discover that there is so much we do not know about each other. Our conversation changes from 1915, genocide, mass murder and politics to pop music, cinema, food, traveling and our closely related languages. I leave Tehran with an open invitation to my Armenian friends to Bolis, Istanbul and make them promise they really do so in the near future.

Mehmet Binay / Filmmaker
"Whispering Memories & Talking Pictures" co-director
25 July 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Talking Pictures / Whispering Memories in Tehran

Whispering Memories and Talking Pictures will be screened on 22 July 2010 in Tehran at the Armenian Cultural Centre Ararat.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Atatürk Havaalanı,Istanbul,Turkey

Friday, March 12, 2010

Whispering Memories in The Economist

Turks and Armenians

The cost of reconstruction
Mar 11th 2010 | ISTANBUL
From The Economist print edition

It takes many hands to reconcile two peoples so divided by history

FOR centuries, a stone bridge spanning the emerald green waters of the Akhurian River connected the southern Caucasus to the Anatolian plains: a strategic pivot on the Silk Road, running through the ancient Armenian kingdom of Ani. Today the bridge would have linked tiny, landlocked Armenia to Turkey. But war and natural disasters have reduced it to a pair of stubs—a sad commentary on the relations between the two states.

This grim image prompted an Ankara-based think-tank, called Tepav, to devise a plan to rebuild the bridge and in so doing to reopen the long-sealed land border by stealth. “The idea is to promote reconciliation through cross-border tourism,” explains Tepav’s director, Guven Sak. Turkey’s doveish president, Abdullah Gul, has embraced the plan. The Armenian authorities and diaspora Armenians with deep pockets are also interested. If all went to plan, the bridge’s restoration would only be the start of a broader effort to repair hundreds of other Armenian architectural treasures scattered across Turkey.

This semi-official stamp on a relationship in the absence of diplomatic ties (foreseen in an accord signed last October, but yet to materialise) would be a first. Yet academics, artists and journalists are striking peace on their own terms. Hardly a day passes without Turks and Armenians hobnobbing at a reconciliation event.

It is a tricky business because true reconciliation means confronting the ghosts of the past. For decades Turkey denied the mass extermination of the Ottoman Armenians in 1915. Under Turkey’s draconian penal code, anyone who dares to describe the Armenian tragedy as a genocide can end up in jail or even dead. In 2007 an ultra-nationalist teenager murdered Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish editor who often wrote about the genocide. Although Ogun Samast pulled the trigger it is widely assumed that rogue security officials from the “deep state” gave him the gun.

Dink’s death was a turning point. More than 100,000 Turks of all stripes showed up at his funeral bearing placards that read: “We are all Armenians.” Indeed if the murder was intended to stifle debate it had the reverse effect. A growing number of Turks are uttering the g-word. Ugur Umit Ungor, a young Turkish academic is one of them. His research aims to show how many Young Turk cadres involved in the massacres continued to thrive after the republic was founded in 1923.

Others allude to history in more subtle ways. Take Mehmet Binay, a Turkish film director. His documentary “Whispering Memories” tells the story of ethnic Armenians in a village called Geben, who embraced Islam (presumably to avoid death at the hands of Ottoman forces). Sobs were heard during a recent screening of the film in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital.

Although today’s inhabitants of Geben hesitate to call themselves Armenians, a growing number of “crypto-Armenians” (people forced to change identity) do just that. Their stories were collected and recently published by Fethiye Cetin, a Turkish human-rights lawyer, whose grandmother revealed her own Armenian roots shortly before her death.

Meanwhile, an army of humble if accidental Armenian ambassadors are helping to melt the ice. Turkey says that as many as 70,000 illegal Armenian migrant workers, mostly women, eke out a living as servants and nannies in Istanbul. A recent study by Alin Ozinian, an Armenian-Turkish researcher shows that such women arrive full of fear of “the Turk” only to return with stories of kindness. If the land borders were to be reopened some day, their wages would not have to be spent on long, pricey bus rides through Georgia.

Copyright © 2010 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

DVD Release / Satışı



Friday, October 23, 2009

On composing for "Talking Pictures" - Paolo Poti

Composing music for "Talking Pictures" was a great experience. I had the chance to work with a lot of freedom and with some bonds at the same time. I had freedom because with Mehmet and Caner, the directors, we started talking about music before the actual editing started, just getting inspiration from the story, which I consider a very touching one. At the same time I had a bond, because I was asked to use "Cilicia", a famous Armenian song which was originally composed by Kapriel Yeranian. "Cilicia" served as the main source of the musical material we would hear in the film. We had the recording of one of the characters singing Cilicia, so I even used some audio material and composed a piece that could fit that singing, with new harmonic and timbral solutions.

For another sequence in the movie, where Ghazaros and Vivian travel to Turkey, I was asked for a simple piano piece, but with different tempo speeds that could fit different visual speeds. The song is called "Why are we visitors now?". In this blog, we are making this song available to readers as an appetizer to the film.

Another piece, "I'll be back" is a sort of classical quartet version of Cilicia, where the sorrow and the despair of the original song gives way to a calmer and limpid meditation. Also, having the chance to travel to Istanbul and to work alongside the team of Talking Pictures added quality to the final result, apart from making it a wonderful human experience.

In CAM Film's studio we worked side by side with Mehmet, Caner and Jasmin, the editor of many successful documentaries. We would sit and watch the images and then I would go back to my desk and keyboard, editing and changing my score according to the changing needs of the movie. Then I would give Jasmin the new audio file and again we would comment the effect of the music on the images, in a process of action and reaction, until we reached the desired solution.

That's why I really enjoyed the whole process and I am very happy with the artistical result.

Paolo Poti

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Filmmaker Interview with Mehmet Binay & Caner Alper / ARPA International Film Festival

Filmmaker Interview with MEHMET BINAY & CANER ALPER Films: “WHISPERING MEMORIES” and “TALKING PICTURES” ARPA International Film Festival
Mehmet Binay & M.Caner Alper
Screening: Oct. 24th, 12:30 pm Egyptian Theater - Hollywood, LA

“Whispering Memories” is not a story of Armenians who had to leave Turkey but of those who stayed behind and silently became Muslims: they are now called the ‘Converts’. This film documents ‘Armenian Converts’ and how they survived 1915 by remaining in the small village of Geben, in the Taurus mountains of Anatolia.

“Talking Pictures,” is the sequel to Whispering Memories. It shows the photographic journey of Ghazaros Kerjilian returning to his paternal home town of Geben, Turkey – and his search for his lost great uncle in 1915.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and where you have lived, highlighting any major cultural identities that define, influence or challenge you in your life.

We come from different backgrounds; Caner Alper, an engineering graduate but a self-taught screenwriter and Mehmet Binay, a political science graduate with professional experience in TV journalism. We’re trying to incorporate the power of fiction and non-fiction by getting inspired from real life and weaving these facts into dramatic stories.

Our family roots are also from different parts of Turkey. Mehmet has got roots in the Balkans and in Central Europe whereas Caner was born in the most western city of Izmir into a family of eastern Anatolian descent.

We’ve also been spending half of our time traveling in Asia, North America, Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East for business and inspiration. One requires a stranger’s point of view to life and people in order to be able to create compelling stories which few have noticed before. We need to alienate ourselves to our own culture, people and traditions for objectivity and creativity. This is how we define our way of story telling.

2. How did you come to be a filmmaker, and where/how did you learn the “craft” of filmmaking?

Caner is a published writer and a self-taught screenwriter and he’s always been a cinema lover whereas Mehmet learned the craft of filmmaking in television productions. Reading non-fiction and literature is also a very important component of creating stories because your imagination in written texts has no limits but you face the challenge of turning these into visuals. Filmmaking is an art form where your imagination constantly needs to evolve and it needs to be supported with new techniques.

3. What prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?

“Whispering Memories” developed from a number of visits by Mehmet to Geben, a mountain village in southern Turkey, where village youngsters showed a desire to learn about their local history and, while investigating, came across Armenians who used to live in the area until 1915. Some of the witnesses of this era and members of the local Oral History Project were saying that some people in this village are direct descendants of converted Armenians who either silently or by force became Muslims to be able to avoid deportation in 1915. Mehmet’s initial journalistic instinct was to keep a distance to these rural historic conversations by using the camera as an observer only. Caner, later on, helped establishing strong cinematographic links by integrating a three-day rural wedding into the visual story and having it serve as a leitmotif throughout the film…

The sequel “Talking Pictures” to “Whispering Memories” showed us that documentaries are always alive and they evolve within time…”Kerjili” was the only Armenian name villagers of Geben in “Whispering Memories” remembered clearly and they told us how he left the village in 1915 and never came back. Soon after our premiere at the Golden Apricot Film Festival in Armenia, we received an email from someone telling that his father was from Geben and that he always wanted to go back there. The email was from Ghazaros Kerjilian which really surprised us because it immediately reminded us of the name “Kerjili” in Whispering Memories.

Our short documentary “Talking Pictures” tells the photographic journey of Ghazaros Kerjilian returning to his paternal home town of Geben and his search for the lost great uncle in 1915. In “Talking Pictures”, we used a different filmmaking technique and used only still photographs to tell our story. We took nearly 7.000 pictures and created continuous sequences after a long process of colour grading. We believe that photographs from archives and still photographs mix well together and they leave an eternal mark in people’s memories and we wanted to instigate that feeling among our viewers.

At the same time, music also plays an important role in our creative process serving as an indispensable part in our stories. In “Talking Pictures”, we worked with an Italian film music composer who listened to the Armenian song “Cilicia” which we’d recorded by one of our protagonists while shooting the documentary. Composer Paolo Poti carefully rearranged the music and based the entire soundtrack on this famous Armenian song with a classical approach. We are very excited about the international debut of “Talking Pictures” at ARPA International Film Festival in LA and we’re hoping to receive a lot of feedback from the screening.

4. What is your single favorite line from your film?

From WHISPERING MEMORIES: “A coward, a real coward is one that is afraid of one’s own memories.”
From TALKING PICTURES: “I had to go, I had to find out…”

5. What movies would you say have transformed or changed the way you see the world?

So many! We basically love movies that cover many aspects of the identity issue. Some of the films that have influenced us are: Europa, The Edge of Heaven, Baader Meinhof Komplex, Le Dernier Metro, Hable Con Ella, The Reader, Tous les matins du Monde, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, City of God, Remains of the Day, Bicycle Thief, Sophie’s Choice, Constant Gardener, Reds, Being There, Lives of Others, The Crying Game, The City of Lost Children, A Short Film about Killing, Delicatessen, Ice Storm, Wedding Banquet.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Listen without prejudice

Long before we started filming WHISPERING MEMORIES, it was well agreed that there should have been no voice over to tell the story of “Converts”.

Being in a remote village in southern Turkey, in a harsh environment, trying to persuade people talk about the past which have been silent for almost a century, kept us quite... We decided to let the people talk.

When Ghazaros found us last year, it was obvious that he would want to talk about his past and search for his lost family history. He’d brought pictures from his family album which started giving us hints to his barb-wired history.

Hence we developed the idea of taking still photographs and editing them in a motion picture film along with Ghazaros’ family album. The result was a documentary called TALKING PICTURES.

I believe that not only the truth but also the future lies in between the lines of TALKING PICTURES only if we can watch the pictures move along and listen to what they say, without prejudice.

M.Caner Alper

Director / Talking Pictures