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South Caucasus
Turkish film festival in Vanadzor


Festival «23,5» was to be held in Vanadzor on the 10th of December at 15.00 in the auditorium of Charles Aznavour Palace of Culture, and on December 11th at 14.00 in the city’s Puppet Theater. After the conclusive agreements about the rent of the auditoriums, invitations to the festival were sent out all over the city beginning November 29th.

On December 8, director of the Puppet theatre S. Melikyan told Vanadzor festival coordinator Hamlet Gyulzadyan that no films would be shown at the theatre. In so doing, he asked to apply to the municipality for explanation. However, the mayor was absent, so the director of the festival along with the coordinator met with his deputy Norik Sardaryan.

- I know you from TV, - were the first words of mister Sardaryan, which were directed to Georgi Vanyan. Then he hurried to announce, that even though, the present company is busy with a humanitarian activity, there will not be a festival in Vanadzor.

After hearing this prelude, the director of the festival, attempted to at least introduce mister Sardaryan with the content of the planned activity and to personally invite him to be present at the festival, but mister Sardaryan kept obstinately interrupting and declaring that he knows everything. During the third and final act, Georgi Vanyan demanded that he be given clarifications about the position of the town council on the unilateral breach of contract of renting the auditorium in the Puppet Theater in writing. As an answer Sardaryan declared: No festival in Vanadzor will take place, because I don’t want it. Bring me a letter and we will respond to it.

Georgi Vanyan informed Mr. Sardaryan that the latter’s personal decision gave no grounds to start corresponding with the municipality, and then he reminded of the contract and completed the meeting.

A little later, the director of the Puppet Theater confirmed his request for the unilateral withdrawal of contract, and promised to produce it in writing. To this day the agreement is in power and the message of the director of the Puppet Theater about his withdrawal from the agreement remained in the status of a verbal “calling to humanity”: I am really asking you not to do the festival here.

Festival organizers were assured in complying with contractual obligations by another renter Artem Gulyan, so they decided to inform spectators that no festival would take place at the Puppet theatre on Saturday and instead invited them to attend it on Friday at the Palace of Culture. The only means of notification was a telephone, because the heads of local TV-channels, having stressed their interest in the festival, had already informed that «they cannot, nevertheless, provide the air» for its coverage.

- I cannot open the doors of the film theatre, -said Gulinyan an hour before the festival beginning. A limit of humaneness has run out, George Vanyan got down to active talks, at the same time, spectators began gathering together at the Palace of Culture. Palace officials were instructed not to let the people into the film theatre. George Vanyan succeeded in ensuring that the spectators were «allowed» to gather at a cafe of the Palace of Culture, helped themselves to coffee and tea until the problem was solved.

I was standing at the Palace lobby and invited everyone to attend a cafe. Having noticed that the two men were moving toward the film theatre, I addressed them as saying: If you’ve come to the festival, please, wait at the cafe. No, - they replied, we’re going upstairs, and indeed they went upstairs and nobody stopped them. A woman who was a witness to our conversation thought it was funny: «They’ve come from procurator’s office, and you invite them to attend the festival…»

At 15.00 the viewers could not fit in the cafe anymore and they started crowding up in the lobby. To the many questions as to why the auditorium is closed I could only answer that there will be an announcement soon.

After twenty minutes of waiting, all possibilities, to insist for seeing through with the agreement, were at an end. There were about one hundred viewers who decided to wait until the situation was clarified. Georgi Vanyan announced that the festival will not commence because the municipal authorities had closed the doors to the auditorium, furthermore, to be specific the assistant mayor Sardaryan doesn’t wish for a festival to take place. Then he spoke about the festival’s ideology, about the opening ceremony of the festival in Yerevan, the award winning ceremony, e. t. c. it would be great to write the link to the video report in right here in the text, from the festival’s opening ceremony which took place in March of this very year, but the video has been removed – it’s no longer on the net. One of the many naive attempts to forbid something that has already happened.

After the entry speech Georgi put his laptop on top of the bar and switched on the films. The viewers gathered in the cafe, but it was obvious that it would be impossible for a hundred people to watch a movie on a laptop. People began to slowly make their way to the lobby. Practically all of them came up to me and then to George Vanyan to say goodbye. «You should not think that we’re boycotting the festival, it’s merely not possible to watch the films on the computer», «Is it possible to keep our invitation cards in force and inform when and where the festival will be held?», «May we arrange the festival separately?», «May we get copies of the films and watch them at home?», and more: «Sorry, it’s deplorable occurrence » - the residents of Vanadzor used to tell me, festival coordinator, before leaving the lobby.

By four o’clock seven persistent viewers remained, they were mainly students of the directing department of the Vanadzor’s branch of our Academy of theater and film. They waited until everyone left, put the laptop closer to them, and in a comparably comfortable condition watched all ten films.

Here are the opinions of the students who watched the movies.

- Personally I was interested in the films themselves and not because they were Turkish. And I still don’t understand as to why it was not allowed to watch them.

- I am a follower of the festival, especially because it’s called “23, 5”, and that is affiliated with Hrant Dink. We should not have allowed it to happen this way; the films should have been shown in the auditorium for everyone to see. These films help us understand the Turkish mentality, which differs from ours. I find it interesting as to, why didn’t Mr. Sardaryan allow these films to be shown? He didn’t answer that question. He should answer if he can. (End of quote)

Disregarding the fact that the local air time was declared closed, there were also journalists who came to the festival, two of them with a video camera and a girl with a voice recorder. Here is what the viewers told them, on their way out of the Palace of Culture.

Journalist: How do you feel about the showing of such films in our country?

An old woman: I didn’t see the films, how can I comment weather they should be allowed or not? Why did they close the door? Aren’t they ashamed? For me it doesn’t make a difference, I guess, but there are many young people who have gathered here, students, and teachers, everyone got disappointed and left. But when there are other gatherings, that concern them, where we have to raise our hands to vote they forcefully gather us in the same auditoriums, as for now they close the doors, they just know how to say “it’s not allowed” while they hide. What’s not allowed? Perhaps it simply does not reach their brains….

Journalist: How do you feel about the showing of such films in our city?

Hovhannes Nikoghossyan, president of «Trichq» (Flight) NGO: To be honest I don’t know, what YOU mean when you say “such”. What does “such films” mean? I haven’t seen that film yet, and it so happened that I didn’t get a chance to view it. But, had I seen the film I would have been able to express my opinion. I simply know that the films are made in Turkey. I think that, in any case there are people with a healthy mentality in Turkey. I think that those who came to view these films today would have had enough brains to create their own opinion after the show. But as of now no one can come up with any conclusions, people simply got angry and left.

Journalist: And how would you comment the fact that the city authorities forbid the showing of these films?

Hovhannes Nikoghossyan: I don’t know maybe they knew something… But I think it should have been conducted in a more organized manner. It didn’t have to lead to the point where we would come down here. The proper structures could have instructed that it’s illegal to show these films and not to sign the agreement, e. t. c. Instead people gathered here today, and then they are told there won’t be a show, I still have a question. What exactly did they forbid? I still don’t understand what exactly do these films represent and why is it not allowed to watch them? (End of quote)

By the way there were rumors in the city that such a “disorganized” taboo by the authorities is explained by the fact that they mistook the festival «23,5» with the festival of Azerbaijanian films «Stop». According to another version, they were simply expecting that all residents of Vanadzor are “watching television” therefore they are all aware of the hounding campaign that had developed in the central media. And the following fact influenced them to be confident that nobody «would dare come nearer to Georgi Vanyan».

Mr. Sardaryan’s reply to all «whies» was given the same day, December 10: «You are asking: what was the reason, that I didn’t allow it? And I say: no one asked me for permission, for me to allow or not to allow it. I was asked for my opinion, what did I think about the festival? I said, that this is something that isn’t right and its untimely, possibly it’s a grant that has been won, a way to take advantage of grants, but in the situation in which we are, when our sons get killed by snipers on the border, this could bring out uncanny worries within the population,. That’s my opinion. If he (meaning Georgi Vanyan) distorted my opinion then I repeat, I am - against it. And I say that if my opinion is being heard by the directors of our budget agencies, I salute their decision, and my opinion is that the Puppet Theater is no place for the demonstration of political films, films which pursue political goals. Why do it in a place where kids attend to watch Puppet shows? If he heard me out, then good job (meaning the director of the Puppet Theater), I welcome the fact that they did not allow it. And I am of the same opinion about the Charles Aznavour Palace of Culture. Honestly I personally did not order any one anything; if people simply heard my opinion and did not allow it then I welcome that particular step… It could be a very innocent film for example like “Us and our mountains”, but the ceremony itself – is a political one, its not pretty and its off the point at this particular time.» Apparently, wishing to prove the purity of his thoughts, Sardaryan decided to recall his meeting with Georgi Vanyan: «I did not receive any instructions from the top. He came in to my office with a guy from our theatre, who I don’t respect, because he is gay, yes, he is really gay, and I don’t even greet those kinds of people. And there you have it, such people gather, and want to show something, how can such a thing be allowed? ».

The next day, around the Puppet Theater, there was a gathering of the viewers who weren’t warned, they were told, that the festival will not commence «due to the same reason as yesterday».

And so «The military - patriotic tribunal» keeps on operating in Armenia, another word a group of intimidators with enough connections to seriously frighten people and force them into a desperate situation (threatening with the loss of a title, a job, property or maybe even their lives). The names and positions of those people are only familiar to those who are being threatened, but I don’t discuss that subject with them, and I don’t ask them to name names, I also don’t discuss in detail exactly what kind of choices they were put in front of. Everything is good in its season.

The Council of Public Support of Georgi Vanyan started its activity: when protecting him, we do protect many people. I kindly invite you to join the first action here.

Luiza Poghosyan