Tall Armenian Tale


The Other Side of the Falsified Genocide


  Antonio Banderas Succumbs to Turcophobic Pressure   
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Mahmut Ozan
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Not only was Mr. Banderas unable to take the heat (for which I partly can't blame him... receiving one thousand letters, some probably threatening, some addressed to his wife... would make anyone think twice), the actor would later go on to consider starring in the proposed remake for The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. If you can't fight 'em, join 'em!

Greek-Americans and Armenian-Americans ... fear that such a portrayal might lead to a warming of popular feeling toward Turkey

July 16, 1998
The New York Times

Antonio Banderas, left, as seen in the 1996 movie "Evita," and Kemal Ataturk, whom Mr. Banderas was to have played in a new movie.

Banderas Quits Film Ataturk Film After Protests


Debate over the political legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, has upset plans for a film about him that was to have starred Antonio Banderas.

After an intense letter-writing campaign led by Greek-Americans, Mr. Banderas withdrew from the project. His agent, Lisa Baum, said he wanted to devote his full energy to another project, "The Phantom of the Opera." Producers of the Ataturk film, however, say Mr. Banderas was reacting to pressure from Greek-Americans and others who consider Ataturk unworthy of favorable portrayal.

The principal figure behind the film is Tarquin Olivier, 61, a son of Laurence Olivier. Mr. Olivier, a financier, hopes to begin a new phase of his career by producing the film, which he said would cost $25 million exclusive of Mr. Banderas's salary.

Eager to keep Mr. Banderas in the film because much of the financing is contingent on his participation, Mr. Olivier plans to fly to Hollywood this week to meet with him.

"He has been very enthusiastic, but obviously he was very put off by these letters," Mr. Olivier said in an interview in New York, where he stopped on his way to Hollywood. "Our contacts with people in the Greek community here tell us that this campaign only involves a small number of people. It's motivated by a feeling of hatred not only toward Ataturk but toward Turkey in general. I'm very much hoping that we can make him see this, and that we don't get into a situation which undermines freedom of speech and freedom of the arts."

Notices of Mr. Banderas's intention to play Ataturk began appearing In Greek-American publications several weeks ago. One of them published a letter signed by "a member of the Greek community of N.Y." describing Ataturk as a "savage maniac" who was also "a child molester of both sexes, a mass murderer, a destroyer of Greek civilization and in general a disgrace to human civilization as we know it."


Antonio Banderas was slated to play the role of his lifetime, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

The announcements were accompanied by appeals to readers to send protest letters to Mr. Banderas and his wife, the actress Melanie Griffith. Mr. Olivier estimated that they might have received as many as 1,000 letters.

The campaign has not been universally welcomed by Greek-Americans. An editorial in this week's edition of The
Greek American, a weekly newspaper published on Long Island, said it had caused many Greeks "to cringe in."

"All-out demonization is not serious," the editorial said. "The end result is to make us look like ethnic hysterics, with these groups' objections usually showing up our own chauvinism and narrow-mindedness more than anything else."

Efforts to make a film about Ataturk, a military leader who won glory in battle and went on to forge a modern nation on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, have a long history. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Omar Sharif were among actors involved in various projects.

This time, however, the project is apparently falling victim to contemporary politics. Some Greek-Americans and Armenian-Americans fear that the film will be reverential, portraying Ataturk as a hero and ignoring what they consider his evil deeds. They fear that such a portrayal might lead to a warming of popular feeling toward Turkey, a historical rival of both Greece and Armenia.

Ataturk was responsible for pushing Greek forces from Anatolia after World War I, but then he pursued a peaceful policy toward Greece. His friendship with the Greek Prime Minister of the time, Elevtherios Venizelos, became so strong that Venizelos nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934, praising him as "a great reformer" who made "a precious contribution to the cause of peace."

The script for the planned Ataturk film is by an American writer, Timothy Prager, and is based on a 1964 biography by Lord Kinross that is generally considered less than definitive but the best available. Bruce Besford, whose films have included "Breaker Morant" and "Driving Miss Daisy," has agreed to direct.

Turkish Government officials were wary of the idea for many years, fearing that any portrayal showing Ataturk as having human failings might undermine the veritable cult that has grown up around his memory. But Mr. Olivier and his Turkish-born wife, Zelfa, said they had won pledges of cooperation from President Suleyman Demirel and Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz. They said they had not shown the script to either one or to any other Turkish official. Ataturk, who died in 1938, is a naturally appealing subject for a film biography. A brilliant military officer and social visionary, he was also a ruthless national leader with little patience for the niceties of democracy. His array of personal quirks and his relationship with a European woman add spice to the story.

Mr. Olivier said he hoped to make a film comparable to "Gandhi," which gave many filmgoers a positive view not only of Gandhi but also of India. That prospect is precisely what upsets people who believe that any story favorable to a Turkish historical figure would improve the image of modern Turkey.

As far as is known, the letter writing campaign was generated entirely within the United States. There is no indication of any involvement by Government or private figures in either Greece or Armenia.

A letter written to the actor by a Turkish-American, as reported in The Turkish Times: 

Great Actors Need Courage
July 22, 1998

Mr. Antonio Banderas, Creative Artists Agency
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Dear Mr. Banderas,

I am writing to express my profound concern at your decision to give up the Ataturk role under the pressure of a destructive and extremely unfair propaganda by Greeks. 

I wanted you to know that all Turks are indebted for many things to this heroic commander, great reformer and gifted statesman. As a a heroic commander, he saved the homeland from extinction and established the modem Turkish Republic on the sacred soil of the homeland that had been demolished, burned, ruined and impoverished by outsiders including Greeks! As a great reformer opened the doors to contemporaneousness by working shoulder to shoulder with his great nation in very difficult conditions. As a statesman he was a farsighted and great genius returning the Turkish Nation to a nation respected by civilized populations in the world by establishing friendly relations with countries he fought as an enemy such as Greece!

I would like to assure you that the Greek attacks against the greatest leader of this century is baseless and morally ridiculous. He is actually the founder of the modem Turkish Republic and our nation's self-sacrificing, loyal manservant, passionate and distinguished figure of mankind's ideals and a real hero. As Turkish-Americans, myself, my wife Inci (who is on the faculty at Rice University in Houston, Texas), my daughter Basak (who graduated from MIT with a masters degree in mechanical engineering and works in Baines Comp. in Los Angeles, CA) and my son Baris (who graduated from Trinity University and works at Anderson Consultant Corp. in Houston, Texas) are admiring, exalting, being proud of and praising his Kemalistic principles and ideals.

We all hope that you may reconsider your decision to play Ataturk role as a great actor with a common sense and courage. If you need further assistance please let us know.

Sincerely Yours,
Atilla Ertan, M.D.

Irrational hatred for all things Turkish (Excerpts)

The Daily Telegraph:

The letters follow an invitation to protest in a Greek-American newspaper, and accuse Ataturk of being an alcoholic , a child molester, a mass murderer and a "disgrace to human civilization." The letters also accuse Ataturk of being responsible for the deaths of thousands of Armenians.

The New York-based Hellenic Alliance sent a letter to Banderas's agents saying: "We find Mr. Banderas an exceptional actor who could find better parts to play than a man who has been found to be a child molester (and) an alcoholic."

Another anonymous "member of the Greek community" wrote: 

"Mr. Banderas, otherwise loved by Greeks all over the world, not only after that will be hated for life but (he) will also be forever associated with corruption of history, disinformation and the portrait of a savage maniac."

The film's co-producer, Tarquin Olivier, the son of Laurence Olivier, told the Daily Telegraph that three previous attempts to bring Ataturk to the screen by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Kirk Douglas and Omar Shariff had all fallen victim to similar anti-Turkish threats... "This is the role of a lifetime and should not be lost because of hate mail. My father used to get this kind of abuse when he played Nazis; I think that this is really unreasonable and I hope that Antonio will take it up again, but he has been in a spot and doesn't want to get involved in controversy," Mr. Olivier said.

"I have been working on this project for a long time and have sunk a lot of money into it. What is being said about Ataturk is not true. And in any case we do not plan to portray him as a saint. I am hoping that common sense wil prevail."

Mr. Olivier added: I believe this is an amazing story about a man who did more for his country than any man in history. He introduced a new alphabet, he gave women the vote, he set up a republican democracy. There is also a compelling Love story."

Holdwater's thoughts 

I don't know the reasons why previous film projects with the three stars Olivier mentions fell through. It would be interesting to learn how much of a part anti-Turkish forces played, as Olivier claims. (I do remember reading an account of Yul Brynner slated to play Atatürk in another proposed film that also did not see the light of day.)

If we can regard
Atatürk objectively, putting aside the Turkish connection, it's truly amazing what the man has accomplished. His nation was utterly defeated and set for getting sliced up by the victorious major powers. The suffering and exhausted people's morale and fighting spirit must have been at an all-time low. The government of this defeated nation became a patsy of the victors, no longer representing the people. 

It is almost impossible to grasp the revolutionary achievements of Mustapha Kemal Pasha, head of the Angora Government. Here is a man of forty, who in the course of a few years has accomplished what would have been considered a task for 500 years, leaping from entirely unrepresentative governmental methods to really democratic ones. —  From "The Turkish Myth"

Within this air of unimaginable despair, it was the will of one man who turned things around. If there was no Atatürk, there would be no Turkey today.

The story is an amazing testament of what one person can do. The story is an inspiration to those of us who believe "you can't fight city hall."

Put aside the other jaw-droppingly remarkable achievements
Atatürk was responsible for, that makes his story even more compelling. Strictly his true-to-life "against all odds" experience would be a rousing natural tale that would be worthy of any movie.

It's unbelievable that an
Atatürk movie hasn't been made in the West, when you think about it...!

How immoral of the Turk haters to make charges out of the blue. The one that gets me is "child molester."
Atatürk enjoyed being around children and loved children in the sense we like for adults to love children, which displays our warmth and humanity. How evil to associate anything sexual to this normal and preferred kind of love. Since it's human nature to believe the worst in others... a human trait these Greek-Americans know all too well to exploit... let us explore this ridiculous territory for a moment, and imagine something fishy was going on. Even if that were to happen, how would these cruel Greek-Americans KNOW this kind of thing happened? It's a totally irresponsible and especially vile charge fueled strictly by hatred, and a perfect example of the mindset of these disturbed people... and how it leads to all the other claims they make, without regard to truth or evidence. 

It's ironic these Greek-Americans describe
Atatürk as a "savage murderer." After the invading Greek forces were booted out by Atatürk, with no reprisals against the remaining Greeks who could have been targeted for the incredible atrocities committed by their brethren, he pursued a mature policy by advocating friendship with his neighboring country... a policy that was immensely appreciated by Venizelos, the Greek leader at the time. (He even nominated the Turkish leader for a Peace Prize). Greeks and Turks were friends for years (until 1950 or so) as a result (For example, Many Turkish sailors lost their lives, targeted by Nazis, attempting to ship supplies to a desperate Greece during World War II) until hatred slowly overtook Greek society once again. (Like Orthodox brother Slobodan Milosevic, some Greek politicians learned the value of gaining support by targeting an enemy. Perhaps Greece was so appreciative of such a philosophy, this may have been a good reason for Greece to be among the handful of nations to support Serbia during the Bosnian conflict.) A lesser man than Atatürk could have chosen a more vindictive and aggressive path (say, by invading Greece afterwards), especially in response to how the Greeks totally raped Izmir and Anatolia while they had the upper hand... brutalities that so turned off the British— who made it possible for the Greeks to come in — they abandoned their Greek ally.

I wish there were more rational voices in the Greek and Armenian communities as the one of the editorial writer in the Greek newspaper, mentioned in the Times article. No doubt there were some right-thinking Greek-Americans who "cringed in embarrassment." However, I fear they were vastly overshadowed by the majority of their brethren who wear their Turcophobias on their sleeves. Antonio Banderas got threatening mails in large numbers difficult to ignore.

While I don't blame the movie star on one hand... he was merely trying to get on with his life in a conflict-free manner, as we all attempt to do... I can't help being unimpressed by his character. If I were in his shoes, I would have looked around and learned. If I reached the conclusion the Turks had been defamed and now found myself as the target of the hysterical defamers, I would hope my principles and backbone would have been strong enough to proceed with the project, just to show up the forces of wrong. I might have thought otherwise, however, if I feared the well-being of my loved ones were at stake. The article reports Banderas's wife was targeted, as well. (Even if these letters didn't openly make death threats, it would be unnerving for anyone to receive a thousand such crazed communications by mostly irrational people.)

One of the reported letters amused me: "Mr. Banderas, otherwise loved by Greeks all over the world, not only after that will be hated for life..." I wonder why Greeks all over the world would love Mr. Banderas? Which one of his films would have made the Greeks so overwhelmingly adore the Spanish actor.... could it have been TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN!..? Of course, this is yet another example of Greek-Americans playing fast and loose with the facts; while there is no reason why Greeks as a whole would have taken Banderas to heart (any more than they would have had to dislike him), the writer needed his little lie to set up what could easily work out to be a reality: Greeks could take it out on the poor actor for daring to be an instrument in improving Turkey's image a bit. That would be inexcusable, after the monumental coup scored with MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, the anti-Turkish effects of which still linger to this day.

(While I wrote this page months ago, it is now May 31, 2003. A week ago, I spoke to a receptionist in a Manhattan office building, and the subject of our ethnic identities came up. Upon hearing of my Turkish background, he immediately brought up MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, wondering how true the portrayed events were. A quarter-century after the release of the movie.)

At any rate.... even if Antonio Banderas's wimpiness is somewhat excusable, a recent career choice seems downright insensitive. Encouraged by ARARAT, he is reported to have been slated to appear in a remake of THE FORTY DAYS OF MUSA DAGH, a novel written on the basis of an "Armenian Genocide" report that turned out to have a lot less credibility than its author was led to believe. Antonio Banderas must have figured just as he couldn't win in a film that would show Turkey in a good light (at least not “win” with the scary Turcophobes who would continuously give the actor a black eye whenever they could; otherwise, if the proposed
Atatürk film reached the stature of GANDHI, the role could have “made” him, just as Ben Kingsley is still identified with his breakthrough role), he couldn't lose in a film project that would show Turkey in a bad light. If this report is true, why would one turn around and consider rewarding the fanatics that caused so much grief?

Another example of out-of-control Greek-Americans and their orchestrated letter-writing campaigns... this time targeting "60 Minutes" man Andy Rooney.




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