‘The Lark Farm’ revisits horrors of Armenian genocide

“We will kill all the male members of this deceitful progeny because if only one of them survives, he will take revenge on us tomorrow,” says a Turkish general to his soldiers. The Armenian genocide, or Metz Yeghern as it is referred to by Armenians, is portrayed with brutal reality in “The Lark Farm” (the original title of which is “La Masseria delle Allodole”), a 2007 movie by the Italian Taviani Brothers, inspired by Antonia Arslan’s book, “Skylark Farm,” published in Italy in 2004. The movie was screened last Sunday at the Italian Cultural Institute in Cairo as part of the institute's Sunday screening program, with “conflict” being the main theme in November.

The movie tells the story of the Avakian dynasty, an Armenian family living in Turkey in two houses, one of which is in the countryside and called the “Lark Farm.” It is 1915–World War One has been raging for a year and the Ottoman Empire has entered the conflict on the side of the Central Powers. The Young Turks dream of "a Greater Turkey, a Turkey for the Turks, not polluted by internal enemies.”

The Avakians live peacefully, organizing a family reunion following the death of the patriarch, confident that mounting Turkish hostility does not present a threat. But high-ranking Turkish conspirators, fearful of support among some Armenians for Russia forces, are secretly planning the annihilation of all male members of the Armenian community and the deportation of its women and children to Aleppo, starving them on the way and finally massacring the survivors at the end of the death-march.

The systematic deportation and elimination of Armenians would last until 1916, resulting in the death of up to one million people (although the exact number is still the subject of debate).

The book, as well as the movie, is based on the history of Arslan’s own forebears, relating her family's attempts to escape to Venice, where one of the three brothers has moved to pursue his studies.

The Taviani brothers, familiar with historical subjects and screen adaptations of literary works, present events in gruesome detail, portraying the cruelty of Turkish soldiers, who become the executioners of their friends and lovers. “Orders are orders,” the soldiers often tell their victims, while the latter beg for mercy. The movie depicts incredible cruelty and violence, including beheading, castration and the systematic murder of Armenian men and male children.

The movie is filled with images typical of the Taviani Brothers’ style, which uses allusions to allow the viewer to experience events on a deeper level. The family patriarch has the first premonition of the coming tragedy on his deathbed, when he has a vision of a blood-soaked wall. Visions also come to the young nephew, who sees a Turkish general mourning his Armenian friend at a funeral.

But the patriarch’s warning remains unheeded as tensions mount between Turks and Armenians.

When two Turkish soldiers break into the house to look for male family members, one of the soldiers, approaching an opulent table that has been set for lunch, slowly pours a bowl of soup on the table. It is the beginning of the end. The family is forced to flee Lark Farm.

Despite the harsh and violent reality it depicts, the movie’s wonderful direction illustrates the tragedy of a war between friends and people who are in love with each other. The overall historical reconstruction remains persuasive, albeit with some cinematographic modifications.

The Armenian genocide remains a taboo subject in Turkey, which has outlawed any acknowledgment of the holocaust. Orhan Pamuk, a novelist and the first Turkish Nobel Prize winner, was accused of publicly denigrating Turkish identity for stating during a 2005 interview that, “Thirty thousand Kurds have been killed here, and a million Armenians–and almost nobody dares to mention that. So I am.”

He was sentenced to three years in jail for making the statement, but–thanks to support from sympathizers around the world–the charges were dropped in 2006.

The Italian Cultural Institute

Address: 3 Sheikh al-Marsafi St, Zamalek

Tel: +20 (02) 27358791; 27355423

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