The 2013 film by Hrach Keshishyan is an epic biopic about Garegin Nzhdeh (1886-1955), the man admired by Armenians as a key political and military figure. The film tells the story of his struggle for the historical territorial integrity of Armenia against Soviet Russia and, even much more so, against Turkey. Covering mainly the period from 1918 to 1955, the film is well made technically, with a neatly constructed plot, and although the events don’t follow a chronological order, the time jumps obey the general laws of dramatic art. Even the musical score, unlike most of our modern films, is well-crafted: sometimes lyrical, sometimes expressive compositions (by Hayko) are in harmony with the emotional mood and content of the visuals. However, certain shortcomings are immediately apparent in the dramaturgy, especially in the secondary plots, and in the acting. I will touch upon these shortcomings, the interpretation and pathos of the story further on.
Garegin Nzhdeh is undoubtedly intended for the Armenian audience, because the authors left no room in the story for human, universal values. Keshishyan was obsessed with the ideology of Tseghakronism and the supreme Armenian identity. According to this ideology created by Nzhdeh and Hayk Asatryan in the 1930s, the highest value for an individual is the nation to which they belong, outside which they are incomplete. And the main aim of Tseghakronism is to unite the Armenian people in the territory of their historical homeland within a single Armenian state.
Although the supposed genre of the film is historical drama, that in itself is questionable. There are factual misrepresentations—the claims to the territory of Azerbaijan and Turkey are made to sound like historical truth. For all intents and purposes, Garegin Nzhdeh meets the criteria of the genre of alternative history or anti-utopia, and its pathos makes it an ultranationalist, patriotic poster film. In the final scene, Nzhdeh’s nationalist sentiments come out in an emotional outburst: “The giant mountains of the Armenian world call you and exclaim enthusiastically: ‘Hey, hey, we belong to the Armenians again, we are Armenian again, we are Armenia again!’”
I’m sure that even if Nuraddin Mehdikhanli applies the Stanislavsky system to his acting, it won’t result in such a paranoid emotional explosion…
I don’t see the need to talk in detail about Garegin Nzhdeh—you can read about him on Wikipedia. In short, Nzhdeh was involved in the massacre of the population in Zangezur, Goycha and other areas, and founded the “Republic of Mountainous Armenia” in 1920. Later, while living in exile in the West, he collaborated with the Nazis, urging them to attack Turkey. Eventually, he was arrested by Soviet military counterintelligence and died in prison in Vladimir in 1955.
Garegin Nzhdeh is built entirely on fascism, hatred, and racism. The films made about the Karabakh war at the commission of the Ministry of Culture of our country are so weak that they are inferior to Garegin Nzhdeh in terms of technical quality. However, none of these films promotes fascism, hatred of Armenia, or abnormal nationalism. For this alone, I want to shake our directors’ hands.
The first scene begins with the alleged massacre of the Armenian population by the Turks in Northern Armenia in 1918, in order to justify the cruelty towards the Turks in subsequent scenes. However, this is not the only scene that justifies hatred for the Turks. In the next one, the authors (screenwriter Krist Manaryan) resort to primitive dramaturgy. One of the Armenian villagers asks, “Why are we fighting Turks? Will there be no land on earth for us to live together? Can’t Turks be our brothers?” And Nzhdeh answers, “But a brother cannot plunder his brother’s house. A brother cannot destroy your churches. A brother cannot kill you.” The answer isn’t born spontaneously in the proposed situation. It is clear that the fake, situational conflict was intended for one purpose only: to justify cruel acts by informing the audience. There is also a logical inconsistency. It seems that the boy, unlike his fellow villagers, is somehow unaware of what the Turks have done to them and only finds out the “truth” after Nzhdeh enlightens him. The boy is immediately moved by Nzhdeh’s speech and changes his position, taking up arms against the Turks.
By the way, there is another scene that justifies the massacres of Turks. Nzhdeh comes to Syunik with the intention to commit an ethnic cleansing. He promises the Turkish women who beg him for mercy that they will be able to leave the village safely. The women kneel before Nzhdeh to thank him, and the camera captures the scene from a bottom-up angle: Nzhdeh looks like a majestic god, and the Turkish women look like groveling slaves.
The Turkish women, overwhelmed by Nzhdeh’s mercy, kneel before him and thank him. But Nzhdeh is “gracious”: “We are not fighting women and children. We guarantee that you leave here freely. Nzhdeh has never killed women and children. It is your men who ruthlessly kill unarmed Armenians.” It is interesting that, consciously or by the energy of the authors’ intentions, mercy in the performance of the actors playing the main roles is manifested in the form of such hatred and malice. There is no compassion or light in everyday scenes. The acting is based on extreme emotionality and hatred that don’t stand up to scrutiny.
But let me go back to the part of the scene where a Turkish man hiding under a headscarf injures Nzhdeh. The director sends another message: in return for our mercy, Turks betrayed us, therefore, we have the right to kill them.
Battle scenes are based on the aesthetics of low-class Chinese and Hollywood films, in which the enemy is portrayed as cowardly and incompetent, and the heroes as dignified and knightly. The most ridiculous thing is that the Turkish soldiers, who later built a strong state in the Ottoman Empire, and have one of the best armies in the world today, are shown to be completely without fighting abilities: they cannot hold rifles or swords, and are not agile at all. In one of the battle sequences, Nzhdeh cradles a dead fellow soldier in his arms and kills the enemy, fueled by the wrath of his loss—a typical clichéd scene that exploits patriotic feelings.
The emphasis on the man carrying the colorful Armenian flag in the gray-brown battle scenes, putting him in the center of the frame, is a banal reworking of Eisenstein’s trick (the use of the red flag in the black-and-white film Battleship Potemkin).
One of the secondary plots is the scene of disagreement between the Dashnaktsutyun party and Nzhdeh. According to one of the party leaders, Ruben Ter Minasyan, Nzhdeh’s model of nationalism is a threat to Armenianism and is inherently racist and fascist. This plot, for example, could be the main point of conflict in the story, conveying a relatively healthy position. But such a controversy does not seem to be a topic worthy of discussion for the film’s creators. The main conflict of the film is Nzhdeh’s one-man struggle for all of Armenia.
The filming took place in Armenia and Europe. Chulpan Khamatova, Russian actress of Tatar origin, played the role of Nzhdeh’s wife. Khamatova is a professional actress. However, any actor should have professional ethics not to act in a fascist film.
As I said earlier, the film is essentially fascist and racist. Note Nzhdeh’s words in different scenes: “Every Armenian is, above all, a knight. The heart of the Turk is devoid of the warrior spirit. They attack when they are many, and they run away when there is danger. Is there anyone among you who does not know the barbarism of the Turks? Turks are a nation that is of no benefit to humankind. Armenians must be born and multiply and take these lands.”
By the way, Tseghakronism promotes the purity of Armenian blood, because it sees the future of the Armenian nation in it.
Garegin Nzhdeh is essentially a catharsis—in the sense that it shows what one has to do not to be fascist or racist.
As in some of our films, the use of dolma and tar has nothing to do with the story because they are just propaganda.
…Some Azerbaijanis are criticized on social media for their cruel posts. That is fair, but there is something to say about this. What do you expect from a nation that has been defeated, insulted and terrorized for almost 30 years?! I’m sure that those who write cruel posts will not kill an Armenian baby in real life. This is not and cannot be our nature. Despite our defeat, books such as Akram Aylisli’s Stone Dreams, Alekper Aliyev’s Artush and Zaur, Seymur Baycan’s Gugark were published in this country. There is no hatred in any of our short stories or films about the war. But no pacifist novel has been written in modern Armenian literature so far. According to Elmir Mirzoev, classics of both countries were translated as part of a project implemented in collaboration with Armenia during the ceasefire period. The Armenian side was amazed that there were satirical writers like Mirza Jalil in Azerbaijan.
For Armenians, malice, hatred, killing Azerbaijanis and Turks, seeing themselves as a superior nation is an ideology, while in our country, it is something one finds in individuals.