Minority Films as a Reconstruction of History and Collective Memory
Since the first days of cinema, the comprehensive relationship between history and cinema has made an important contribution to the making of films about historical events and facts. Turkish cinema is not an exception, especially if one considers the drastic increase in the number of popular TV series and films about the recent past. Examples can be given for TV series and films about five historical events: 1) 27th May 1960, 12th March 1971, and 12th September 1980 military coups; 2) the Capital Levy, which was implemented during World War II and directed against non-Muslim minorities as a result of Turkification policy; 3) the Istanbul Pogrom, also known as the Istanbul Riots, which was also directed against minorities on 6-7th September 1955; 4) population exchanges and expulsions, primarily between Turks and Greeks; and 5) compulsory deportation of Armenians from all parts of Anatolia during World War I. However, most of the popular films about minorities have been condemned for regenerating official historical theses through their modes of presentation and approaches to the facts. These films have usually been criticized for depicting those events as individual cases rather than systematic practices or policies of the state, thereby ascribing all the responsibility to individuals. In most cases, by conforming to nationalist discourse, the blame was attributed to non-Turkish factors, suggesting that what had been done to minorities was a way to secure “Turkishness” and was justified. In these circumstances, these films contributed to the presentation of history in a ‘timid’ format with a partial or distorted version of the reality; therefore, they mislead the new generation’s view of history learned by watching TV series or films. Thus, it is possible to maintain that these films function as a tool to purify state policies by marginalizing the historical facts. In my study, through a critical analysis of the relationship of history and cinema, I intend to focus on films about the historical experiences of minorities in Turkey. More specifically, I will investigate whether these films in any way depart from or assist the reconstruction of distorted collective memory through official theses; whether they assist to reconstruct the dominant status quo discourse in order to fortify nationalist policies; and whether they show parallelism with nationalist approaches. I will also determine whether an historical approach to these films conforms to Schudson’s (1995) definition of distortion of collective memory, including distinguishable processes of distortion in collective memory, that is, distanciation, instrumentalization, narrativization, and conventionalization.