The ‘Legacy of Silence’ in Turkey Is Subject of French Documentary



By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

PARIS — The names might be Turkish. The attitude might be Turkish. But the heart is Armenian. For young French documentary filmmakers, Anna Benjamin and Guillaume Clere, the question of identity and especially national identity became a focal point for their documentary, “Turkey, the Legacy of Silence.”

The shock for the viewer — and even more so for the subjects of “Legacy of Silence” — is finding out that they are Armenian, people they have learned were traitors.

Clere and Benjamin were studying journalism together when they became interested in the subject. Benjamin’s maternal ancestors fled the Genocide.

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For the past two years, Benjamin and Clere wanted to give a voice to the descendants of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. The two are close to reaching their goal: achieving a documentary and a web-series relating the story of four Turks who discovered their Armenian origins… and who decide to break the silence regarding their heritage.

To finish their project, including have the proper English, French and Armenian translations, the duo has launched a crowd-funding page in France.

Through the portraits of Nazli, Armen, Dogukan and Yasar, the “Legacy of Silence” reveals the weight of silence which still burdens thousands of Armenian families in Turkey. After a century of silence, history is reappearing: multiple families are now proclaiming the Armenian heritage of their ancestors. By giving a face to the million of descendants of these Islamized Armenians, Turkey, the Legacy of Silence is a worldwide call to the duty of remembrance. Today, despite risks, fear and shame, Nazli, Armen, Dogukan and Yasar have the courage to break the taboo on their Armenian roots and show their faces

The film will be released internationally for the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in April: on TV as a documentary film, and on the Internet as a multi-episode web-series. Additionally, the public will be invited to offer testimony on the website. The documentary arouses interest : during April it will be broadcast in France (Paris, Valence, Vienne) and in United States (starting in Glendale).

For the project, Benjamin and Clere went to Turkey four times. With the help of their producer, Découpages, they obtained several guarantees such as the broadcast of French channel Toute l’Histoire and a writing and production help allowed by the CNC (Centre National du Cinéma et de l’image animée).

Said Benjamin, “My mother is Armenian. But I know only a little about the immigration of my maternal grandparents to France, or their life in Turkey. My grandfather was from a village near Ismit. He fled with his family, but was lost in the exodus, before being welcomed by an orphanage in Greece and then another in the French suburb of Meudon, near Paris.”

She added, “My grandmother was conceived in Istanbul and was born on the road to exile. My grandparents preferred to forget, in order to dispel memories that were too painful. So I have decided to tell a part of what they lived, but in remaining connected to the present. Further, I was in Turkey once before to make this film and I really wanted to know the country where my grandparents came from but not just as a tourist. I wanted to restitute the memory of the Genocide in modern-day Turkey, and to initiate dialogue between the communities. And talking about Islamized Armenians is a very important way to successfully do this. For it is my belief that the struggle for recognition of the Genocide is not that of one people against another, but in fact a struggle against ignorance.”

And Clere added, “For me this story is really incredible. People discover [their identity] in Turkey. They learn that Armenians are traitors. One guy was a schoolteacher and he taught that Armenians are traitors. When he came back to the house, his son asked him why did you tell me.”

The stories have a similarity in that the narrators find out what it means to be the hated “other.”

One character in the documentary is an ethnic Armenian man who was adopted into a Kurdish family as a 5 year old. Now 100, he remembers still that he is Armenian but is a devout Muslim, like the family into which he was taken.

“You can’t hide the past. Human beings need to know where they come from,” said Clere.

Clere himself has a diverse background, growing up in Lebanon, Portugal, Singapore and Mexico, among other places, as his parents traveled for work. In addition, he said his grandfather had been involved in the war of Algiers and that he had never spoken to him about it, making it a family secret, almost.

Clere credited Benjamin’s connections to the Armenian community in France for being able to reach out to members of the community in Turkey.

The filmmakers traveled during the making of the documentary to one town, Muradiye, where the Armenian great-grandfather of one subject came from. The town’s churches were destroyed and homes were built on top of the cemetery.

Clere added that during their voyage in Turkey, especially when they were meeting with Kurds, many of them “were saying ‘we are sorry for what happened.’”

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