Architects of Denial is a puerile propaganda piece that traffics in hyperbolic melodrama, blatant one-sided reporting of facts and barely-concealed racism.
Architects of Denial is a puerile propaganda piece that traffics in hyperbolic melodrama, blatant one-sided reporting of facts and barely-concealed racism. It is shot with a documentary style from 30 years ago, features logic-defying editing and its title is misleading: it does not cover the architects of denial, but rather the victims of denial.
The film posits two primary, related points that, when combined, make its overall thesis. Specifically, Architects of Denial argues that the mass killing of Armenians in the former Ottoman Empire in the year 1915 was a genocide; secondly, and relatedly, because this genocide is denied by the powers-that-be, Armenians today are still suffering genocide in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The thesis of the film, then, is that denying genocide perpetuates genocide; the best way to prevent future genocide is to name names and prosecute current perpetrators.
This raises a number of issues for any viewer. The first is that very few well-intentioned people deny that the events of 1915 constitute a genocide; those who deny are usually politicians with specific strategic reasons for ignoring the truth. It may be an ugly reality, but the reality is that the US government requires Turkey’s friendship for obvious geostrategic reasons, so the official US government stance is that there was no genocide. The reason all of this is an issue for Architects of Denial is because it means that its viewers don’t need convincing; the film spends half its run time “proving” something every thinking adult, including the very politicians who deny the genocide, already knows: that there was an Armenian Genocide in 1915. Architects of Denial, furthermore, features numerous conspiracy theorists and “gotcha”-style interviews to double down on the issue of denial. It all comes across as juvenile on the part of the filmmakers and infantilizing towards the viewer. The images in the film are way too graphic for schoolchildren, but the film’s level of intellectual engagement is only fit for middle schoolers. It is a fundamental issue of pathos.
The more important rhetorical issues in the film are with the other two cornerstones of classical rhetoric: logos and ethos. Regarding the former, the film’s non-1915-centric arguments are not convincing because they are presented in a jumbled way. Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed region in the Caucasus Mountains bordering both present-day Armenia and Azerbaijan. For specific (and silly) political reasons, in the late ‘80s, as the Soviet Union was imploding, Gorbachev awarded the territory to Azerbaijan rather than Armenia. This was following several months of ethnic violence in the region, in which both Azerbaijanis and Armenians were abused and/or killed by the other ethnicity. Exacerbating Gorbachev’s decision, the vast majority of people living in Nagorno-Karabakh identify as Christian and Armenian. In the early ‘90s this came to a head and Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in an ethnically-determinist separatist war, much like what was happening in the former Yugoslavia, Chechnya and neighboring Georgia. In this war, there were mass atrocities committed by both sides. Both governments, Armenia and Azerbaijan, promoted non-lethal ethnic cleansing, legalized discrimination and sponsored war crime-committing militias.
None of this information is included in Architects of Denial. Instead, the film argues that bad Muslim Azeris committed genocide against good Christian Armenians. The racist intent of the messaging is obvious: when the two sides are introduced, Armenians are shown as women and children playing in a park while the Azeris are instead pictured as frowning middle-aged men in front of a dingy fast food joint. Beyond the racist signaling, the facts are wrong. There was no genocide in Nagorno-Karabakh in the ‘90s. In fact, more ethnic Azeris were killed than were ethnic Armenians, even though there were way more Armenians living in the area. Armenian civilians were undeniably targeted and killed, simply for their ethnic identity. But so were Azeri civilians; there is well-documented evidence of Armenian fighters murdering fleeing Azeris, facts which did not make it into Architects of Denial. Because the facts presented are false, the film must resort to made-up evidence of the events, which it does through multiple exaggerated interviews with hysterical crying women and menacing shots of artillery shelling. This, the lack of credibility the filmmakers engender in the viewer, is the ethos problem. These are not trustworthy narrators.
Architects of Denial’s broader argument, about historical denial being the catalyst for future genocide, is also questionable. Even the evidence presented in the film suggests this. The Holocaust is the most well-remembered and thoroughly-punished genocide in human history, yet several (the number is disputed, but is at least five and as high as a dozen) genocides have followed it. The only genocide scholar interviewed in the film says that dehumanization of the Other is the root cause of genocide, rather than historical denial. There are identifiable, historical reasons why people who lived as neighbors for generations suddenly erupt into hateful violence against one another and they do, in fact, usually prefix that violence with a process of dehumanization. This is certainly true of Nagorno-Karabakh in the ‘90s. But Architects of Denial is not interested in that; it is racist, militaristic propaganda predicated on the flimsiest and most melodramatic of evidence linking denial to future genocide.
The ultimate purpose of Architects of Denial is difficult to determine. Certainly, the film wants the US and UK to acknowledge the 1915 Armenian Genocide, but considering Turkey’s massive political importance as a NATO ally, US staging ground for war and refugee-sorter for the EU, this is both unlikely and potentially harmful. The film does some good old-fashioned war mongering as well, urging a US-led invasion, or at least punitive action, against Azerbaijan. How the US would do this without Turkish cooperation is not addressed, nor is the fact that such action could result in a global conflagration involving Russia, Turkey, Iran and others that would could cause the deaths of millions of people. The conclusion, then, is as muddled and thoughtless as the rest of Architects of Denial.