The movie "The Promise," confirming the existence of the Armenian genocide, will be in U.S. theaters Friday on the eve of the genocide's anniversary, April 21. The film was screened at the Vatican Tuesday.
Kirk Kerkorian, an Armenian-American and former owner of MGM studio, wanted to make the film for decades but couldn't because of what director Terry George calls a "denialist lobby." Producer George Winter confirmed the extended delay was owing to those who rejected the reality of the Armenian genocide.
"It was a controversial topic, even when he [Kerkorian] owned the company," said Winter.
Kerkorian died in 2015, exactly 100 years after the Armenian genocide got underway in 1915. He left $100 million in his will to fund the movie. Work on the film started that same year. Shortly thereafter, Pope Francis referred to the atrocity as a genocide. While saying Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in the presence of many Armenians attending the canonization of St. Gregory Narek, Pope Francis related:
The first genocide of the 20th century struck your own Armenian people, the first Christian nation, as well as Catholic and Orthodox Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks. Bishops and priests, religious, women and men, the elderly and even defenseless children and the infirm were murdered.
This statement by Pope Francis drew strong criticism from Muslim-dominated Turkey, which has tried to prevent countries, including the Holy See, from officially recognizing the Armenian massacre as genocide. Reacting to the papal statement, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted, "The pope's statement, which is far from historic and legal truths, is unacceptable. Religious positions are not places where unfounded claims are made and hatred is stirred."
Turkey also withdrew its ambassador from the Vatican for 10 months.
Pope Francis was repeating what Pope St. John Paul II penned on the 1,700th anniversary of Armenia becoming the first Christian nation in the world. In 1981, John Paul wrote, "The extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the 20th century."
In 2016, Pope Francis again upset Turkey, when on his visit to Armenia, he went off script to say, "Sadly, that tragedy, that genocide was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples."
Eric Esrailian, a producer on the film The Promise, travelled to Armenia for the papal visit last year. Winter reports that Esrailian was so excited about Pope Francis using the word "genocide" that when he returned to the filming location in Spain, he burst onto the set with the news.
While the film is made to appeal to modern audiences, it doesn't focus as much on the actual genocide as did a 1919 film called Ravished Armenia, based on eyewitness accounts of the sufferings of Christians at the hand of the Muslim Turks.
The Promise does sport such actors as Christian Bale, who signed on with the movie for personal reasons. It was reviewed by the Vatican April 4 and is showing in some 2,000 theaters across the United States beginning Friday.