Parajanov at Istanbul Film Festival

The legendary filmmaker Sergei Parajanov 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 lands of 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 even described 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 over 3000 years. Secondly, Parajanov (who was an Armenian) is adored worldwide not only for his deep love for all people but also his unique ability to transform any folklore into revolutionary cinema — as he had done with this 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”. Some 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 aggressive lobbying worldwide) to deny that Turks perpetrated the widely acknowledged historical fact of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.  As a result of this century long propaganda, the majority of Turks in Turkey grow up believing the state sponsored denial of genocide. The term “genocide” was coined by a Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin to describe the 1915 extermination of Armenians by Turks.

The reproduction of the threatening note above is from a 2008 Russian book, which is a collection of memories of Parajanov’s friends. Unfortunately, the authors decided to include some text that they claimed was by Mikhail Vartanov, but which Mikhail Vartanov did not write. Vartanov was never even asked to contribute anything to this book. It was done without his knowledge or approval. The authors of that book simply decided to have as many of Parajanov’s friends in it and slapped something together for that purpose.  The worst part was that the text was incoherent and, as mentioned, not at all by Vartanov (whose writings on Parajanov are profound). To make the matters worse, the publishers of this book also reproduced a drawing from Vartanov’s Parajanov: The Last Spring and impudently removed Parajanov’s elaborate inscription to Vartanov on that drawing (The Confession). They also photoshopped a person out of a photo of Parajanov and Tarkovsky.

The photographs of Parajanov below are by the famed Armenian photographer Ara Guler (nicknamed the Eye of Istanbul). Parajanov’s inscription (partly) reads “to the great maestro Ara Guler, from Sergei Parajanian who visited you in the summer of 1989…” Parajanov here used the Armenian version of his last name clearly on purpose.


Parajanov-Vartanov Institute