Origins of the Armenian Genocide

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in August, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 102nd installment in the series. 

February 8, 1914: Origins of the Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Genocide of 1915 to 1917, in which the government of the Ottoman Empire killed approximately 1.5 million Armenians through mass shootings, forced marches (shown above), exposure, and starvation, couldn’t have taken place without the First World War, which radicalized Turkish public opinion and freed the “Young Turks” from the constraints of international law. But the stage for genocide was set on February 8, 1914, when Europe’s Great Powers forced the Turks to accept reforms they viewed as an existential threat.

An ancient ethnic group attested as far back as the sixth century BCE, the Armenians weathered the rise and fall of empires for millennia before the Ottoman Turks finally conquered the multiethnic Caucasus region in the 16th century CE. During the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, the Christian Armenians enjoyed considerable religious freedom and legal autonomy under the Ottoman “millet” system, which allowed religious minority groups to live by their own traditional laws.

But in the 19th century the millet system was undermined by the rise of nationalism, as various Ottoman subject peoples (including Armenians as well as Greeks, Slavs, and Arabs) embraced national identities and began demanding more autonomy, or even independence. The issue was further complicated by the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the encroachment of Europe’s Great Powers—especially Russia, which grabbed large chunks of Turkish territory in the Caucasus over the course of the 19th century, including some of the Armenian lands.

Now divided between the Russian and Ottoman Empires, the Armenians became a pawn in St. Petersburg’s devious gambit to grab even more Turkish territory in eastern Anatolia. Essentially the Russians used the Muslim Turks’ mistreatment of Christian Armenians as an excuse to intervene and assert Russian control over the region—and to move things along they were quite willing to stir up trouble between the Armenians and their Muslim neighbors, including the Kurds, who the Turks often employed as local enforcers (when they weren’t busy rebelling themselves).

This cynical ploy succeeded in turning international opinion against the Turks, who were their own worst enemies anyway. In 1895, clashes between Kurds and Armenians led to massacres that left at least 100,000 Armenians dead; these and subsequent atrocities generated public support for reforms in Europe and America. However the Turks had one (sort of) ally in Germany, which didn’t stand to benefit from the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire—at least in the near term—and now threw its diplomatic weight behind the Turks, delaying and watering down the proposed reforms.

After years of debate, in early 1914 the Turks (and their German backers) finally agreed to a compromise reform package that included some concessions by Russia: Among other things, the proposed administrative units included more Muslims to dilute Armenian political power, and the Armenians gave up any right to restitution of land previously seized by Kurds. But at the end of the day the Turks were still being forced to grant foreigners sweeping powers over an area they considered part of the Turkish homeland.

Under the terms of the Yeniköy Agreement signed on February 8, 1914 (so-called because it was signed in the Yeniköy district of Constantinople), seven Turkish provinces in eastern Anatolia would be grouped into two new inspectorates, both presided over by a European inspector general with the authority to appoint and dismiss local officials, arrest officials they suspected of criminal misconduct, suspend judges, and render decisions on new land disputes. They were also given command of the police and the military. Meanwhile the Kurdish irregular cavalry units were to be disarmed, even as the Russians continued covertly funneling arms to the Armenians (as part of their double game the Russians had also secretly armed the Kurds before, but never mind).

Unsurprisingly, the Turks viewed the Yeniköy Agreement as the opening move in Russia’s final push to dismantle the Ottoman Empire. And there was plenty of evidence fueling Turkish suspicions: Around this time, Zaven, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, called for “the unification of all Armenia under Russian sovereignty,” adding, “the sooner the Russians arrive here, the better for us.”

Similarly, Konstantin Gulkevich, the Russian charge d’affaires in Constantinople who signed the Yeniköy Agreement for Russia, reported to Russian foreign minister Sergei Sazonov that the Yeniköy Agreement “signifies without doubt the opening of a new and happier era in the history of the Armenian people … The Armenians must feel that the first step has been taken towards releasing them from the Turkish yoke.” Furthermore, “the outstanding role of Russia in the Armenian question is thus officially emphasized… This circumstance will certainly not fail to exert a most favorable influence on the international status of Russia, and to place a halo on the head of her sovereign in the eyes of the Christians of the Near East.”

The Young Turk junta in Constantinople desperately looked for ways to stem the rising Russian tide; one member of the ruling triumvirate, Djemal Pasha, recalled simply, “We wanted to tear up that Agreement.” But there was nothing they could do in the face of the united front presented by Europe’s Great Powers—unless, that is, the situation were suddenly changed by some unexpected event, some great upheaval that would allow them to cancel the reforms and redraw the map on their own terms, with their own methods.

See the previous installment or all entries

8 Haunting Horror Movie Gimmicks

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the 1950s and 1960s, horror movies were making studios huge profits on shoestring budgets. But after the market hit horror overload, directors and studios had to be extra creative to get people to flock to theaters. That's when a flood of different gimmicks were introduced at movie theaters across the country to make a film stand out from the crowd. From hypnotists to life insurance policies and free vomit bags, here's a brief history of some of the most memorable horror movie gimmicks.

1. PSYCHO-RAMA // MY WORLD DIES SCREAMING (1958)

In order to truly become a classic, a horror movie can't just work on the surface; it has to get deep inside of your head. That's what Psycho-Rama tried to achieve when it was first conceived for My World Dies Screaming, later renamed Terror in the Haunted House. Psycho-Rama introduced audiences to subliminal imagery in order to let the scares sink in more than any traditional film could.

Skulls, snakes, ghoulish faces, and the word "Death" would all appear onscreen for a fraction of a second—not long enough for an audience member to consciously notice it, but it was enough to get them uneasy. Obviously Psycho-Rama didn't really catch on with the public or the film industry, but horror directors, like William Friedkin in The Exorcist, have since gone on to use this quick imagery technique to enhance their own movies.

2. FRIGHT INSURANCE // MACABRE (1958)

Director William Castle didn't make a name for himself in the film industry by directing cinematic classics; instead, he relied on shock and schlock to help fill movie theater seats. His movies were full of what audiences craved at the time: horror, gore, terror, suspense, and a heaping helping of camp. But his true genius came from marketing—and the gimmicks he brought to every movie, which have since become legendary among horrorphiles.

His most famous stunt was the life insurance policy he purchased for every member of an audience that paid to see Macabre. This was a real policy backed by Lloyd's of London, so if you died of fright in your seat, your family would receive $1000. Now who wouldn't want to roll the dice on that type of deal? Of course, the policy didn't cover anyone with a preexisting medical condition or an audience member who committed suicide during the screening. Lloyd's had to draw the line somewhere, right?

3. HYPNO-VISTA // HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959)

How do you make your routine horror movie stand out from the crowd? Hypnotize your audience, of course. Thus Hypno-Vista was born. For this gimmick, James Nicholson, president of American International Pictures, suggested that a lecture by a hypnotist, Dr. Emile Franchel, should precede Horrors of the Black Museum, which had a plot focusing on a hypnotizing killer.

For 13 minutes, Dr. Franchel talked to the audience about the science behind hypnotism, before attempting to hypnotize them himself in order to feel more immersed in the story. Nowadays it comes off as overlong and dry, but it was a gimmick that got people into theaters back in 1959. Plus, writer Herman Cohen said that eventually the lecture had to be removed whenever the movie re-aired on TV because it did, in fact, hypnotize some people.

4. NO LATE ADMISSION // PSYCHO (1960)

Though this isn't the most gimmickiest of gimmicks, Alfred Hitchcock's insistence that no audience member be admitted into Psycho once the movie started got a lot of publicity at the time. The Master of Suspense's reasoning is less about drumming up publicity and more about audience satisfaction, though. Because Janet Leigh gets killed so early into the movie, he didn't want people to miss her part and feel misled by the movie's marketing.

This publicity tactic wasn't completely novel, though, as the groundbreaking French horror movie Les Diaboliques (1955) had a similar policy in place. This was at a time when people would simply stroll into movie screenings whenever they wanted, so to see a director—especially one so masterful at the art of publicity—who was adamant about showing up on time was a great way to pique some interest.

5. FRIGHT BREAK // HOMICIDAL (1961)

Another classic William Castle gimmick was the "fright break" he offered to audience members during his 1961 movie, Homicidal. Here, a timer would appear on the screen just as the film was hurtling toward its gruesome climax. Frightened audience members had 45 seconds to leave the theater and still get a full refund on their ticket. There was a catch, though.

Frightened audience members who decided to take the easy way out were shamed into the "coward's corner," which was a yellow cardboard booth supervised by some poor sap theater employee. Then, they were forced to sign a paper reading "I'm a bona-fide coward," before getting their money back. Obviously, at the risk of such humiliation, most people decided to just grit their teeth and experience the horror on the screen instead.

6. THE PUNISHMENT POLL // MR. SARDONICUS (1961)

The most interactive of William Castle's schlocky horror gimmicks put the fate of the film itself into the hands of the audience. Dubbed the "punishment poll," Castle devised a way to let viewers vote on the fate of the characters in the movie Mr. Sardonicus. Upon entering the theater, people were given a card with a picture of a thumb on it that would glow when a special light was placed on it. "Thumbs up" meant that Mr. Sardonicus would be given mercy, and "thumbs down" meant … well, you get the idea.

Apparently audiences never gave ol' Sardonicus the thumbs up, despite Castle's claims that the happier ending was filmed and ready to go. However, no alternative ending has ever surfaced, leaving many to doubt his claims. Chances are, there was only one way out for Mr. Sardonicus.

7. FREE VOMIT BAGS // MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)

Horror fans are mostly masochists at heart. They don't want to be entertained—they want to be terrified. So when the folks behind 1970's Mark of the Devil gave out free vomit bags to the audience due to the film's grotesque nature, how could any self-respecting horror fan not be intrigued? It wasn't just the bags that the studio was advertising; it also claimed the film was rated V, for violence—and maybe some vomit?

8. DUO-VISION // WICKED, WICKED (1973)

Duo-Vision was hyped as the new storytelling technique in cinema—offering two times the terror for the price of one ticket. Of course Duo-Vision is just fancy marketing lingo for split-screen, meaning audiences see a film from two completely different perspectives side-by-side. In the 1973 horror film Wicked, Wicked, that meant watching the movie from the points of view of both the killer and his victims.

Seems like a perfect concept for the horror genre, right? Well, Duo-Vision wasn't just employed during the movie's most horrific moments; it was used for the movie's entire 95-minute runtime. The technique had been used sparingly in other films—most notably in Brian De Palma's much better film Sisters (1973)—but it had never been implemented to this extent. A little bit of Duo-Vision apparently goes a long way, because it fell out of favor soon after.

John Carpenter May Be Planning a They Live Sequel

Universal Studios Home Video
Universal Studios Home Video

John Carpenter is one of the horror genre's biggest names. The man behind the original Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, and The Thing, ​Carpenter has had a long enough career to see many of his most popular creations be remade, including this year's new Halloween film, which features some of the original actors returning to their iconic roles to continue a decades-long story.

But in a recent interview with ​Den of Geek, when Carpenter was questioned about whether his cult classic They Live might he ripe for revisiting, Carpenter teased: "Well, I’m not gonna tell you about that, because it might be closer to reality than you think."

​They Live, which came out in 1988, featured the late professional wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper in his signature role as a man who finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the true state of the world and uncover an alien invasion. Like so many of Carpenter's other films, it has continued to amass a cult following in the decades since its release—especially among those viewers who understood and appreciated its underlying political metaphor.

Today's highly divisive political climate makes it a perfect time for a sequel/reboot/reimagining of They Live, and it sounds as if Carpenter might agree.

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