The legendary filmmaker Sergei Parajanov (Paradjanov) attended the Istanbul Film Festival in Turkey in 1989 and won the Jury Award for his film Ashik Kerib, based on the great Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov’s short story that was itself based on an Azeri-Turkish fairy tale.

After Parajanov spoke from the stage about the recent mass killings, pogroms and persecution of his Armenian countrymen by Turkish Azeris in Azerbaijan due to liberation from Azerbaijan of historically Armenian Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) — a group of hostile young nationalist Turks followed him on the streets of Istanbul and handed him a threatening handwritten note. Some witnesses went as far as describing it as an apparent attempt by Turks to assassinate Parajanov.

This action was appalling for three reasons. Firstly, Turks in the Turkish Ottoman Empire perpetrated the 1915 Armenian Genocide in which 1.5 million Armenians were erased from the land they inhabited for 4000 years. Secondly, Parajanov (who was Armenian) is adored worldwide not only for his art but also for his deep love for all people and his ability to transform their folklore into revolutionary cinema — as he had done with the Azeri-Turkish folk tale Ashik Kerib, a love letter to the region’s culture. Lastly, these group of hostile nationalist young Turks considered themselves (and signed their threatening note) as “young turkish poets”.

Turks threatened Paradjanov at Istanbul Film Festival:

Turks threatened Paradjanov at Istanbul Film Festival: “You miserable director, We forgive you. Don’t talk about Karabagh. (Long) Live Azerbaijan! -Young Turkish Poets”

One reason for the racist hatred Parajanov experienced on his visit to Istanbul is that Turkey has been spending millions since the early 20th century on propaganda in their schools (and lobbying worldwide) to deny that Turks perpetrated the widely acknowledged historical fact of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. The term “genocide” was coined by a Polish Jew Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer, to describe the 1915 extermination of Armenians by Turks.

Parajanov-Vartanov Institute