Battle Over Two Films Represents Turkey’s Quest to Control a Narrative

But Turkey has insisted that many people, both Turkish and Armenian, carried out — and bore the brunt of — wartime horrors, and that no concerted extermination effort existed. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, acknowledged in 2014 that Armenians had “lost their lives” and sent condolences to their descendants. But he implied that they were victims of a war in which all Ottoman citizens had suffered — rather than the victims of a genocide.

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From left, Michiel Huisman, Hera Hilmar and Josh Hartnett in “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” a film that had Turkish producers and was criticized for whitewashing the Armenian genocide.

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Anne Marie Fox/Paladin

“The Ottoman Lieutenant” which tells of a dashing Turkish officer who helps save imperiled Armenians — while carrying on with an American nurse — reinforces that debunked Turkish narrative, detractors say. The American Hellenic Council, calling for a boycott, said the film was plainly aimed at undercutting “The Promise,” and falsely painted the genocide as two-sided.

“It’s a sort of mirror image of our film, but with a totally denialist perspective,” said Mr. George, adding that he suspects the Erdogan government had a hand in the rival film.

Yet as it turns out, there was bitter division among key players on “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” both during production and after. According to several people familiar with the project, Turkish producers oversaw the final cut, without the director’s knowledge.

The people familiar with the project said that tensions emerged on the “Ottoman” set after producers pushed to minimize depictions of Turkish violence against Armenians. Several people who worked on the project felt the final version butchered the film artistically, and smacked of denialism: Dialogue that explicitly referred to systematic mass killing had been stripped out. The director, Joseph Ruben, who refused to comment for this article, ended up doing no publicity for the film.

“As we were making the film, he always knew they could control the editing room, so this was a tightrope that he had to walk,” said Michael Steele, a first assistant director and producer on the film, referring to the Turkish producers. “Joe was so enraged by their version of events he attempted to take his name off the film, but he realized contractually he was obliged to remain silent.”

The producers, distributor and lead actors in “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” which according to BoxOfficeMojo.com has taken in just $241,000 since its release in March, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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The director Terry George on the set of “The Promise.”

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Jose Haro/Survival Pictures, via Open Road Films

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