Review: Back to Sölöz
- Serge Avédikian’s insightful documentary conducts an investigation that extends way beyond the film’s running time and leaves us with substantial food for thought
The dialogue between Armenia and Turkey has been highly problematic for centuries, especially since the Armenian genocide of 1915. In this regard, reconnecting with his Turkish roots must have been a challenging endeavour for French-Armenian actor-director-screenwriter-producer Serge Avédikian (Celui qu'on attendait [+see also:
film profile], Parajanov [+see also:
film profile]), who has just presented the result of a journey through the land of his ancestors – his latest documentary Back to Sölöz – in the Regional Panorama of the Golden Apricot International Film Festival, which took place from 3-10 October in Yerevan. Avédikian draws on the complexity of having both an Armenian and a Turkish identity from the perspective of his last trip to Turkey in 2019 and to Sölöz, the village of his grandfather, complementing the narrative with flashbacks of archive footage shot during his previous trips in 1987, 2003 and 2005. Thus, he pieces together one part of the complex puzzle of his family’s story, which, given how dynamic it is, somewhat reflects the overarching Armenian historical turmoil as well. However, going back to his roots is just an excuse for the auteur to actually discuss the more widely relevant matter of negligence and the purposeful destruction of Armenian heritage on Turkish soil, which is particularly evident in Sölöz.
The film departs from Paris, travelling through Istanbul with a reminder of the assassination of Turkish-Armenian intellectual and journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, a man who had been critical of both Turkey's denial of the Armenian genocide and of the Armenian diaspora's campaign for international recognition. The circle of like-minded people around Dink in Istanbul has scattered over the last few years, hence the overall presence of the Armenian discourse and the ethnic diversity of the present-day Turkish population.
Accompanied by a local journalist and a writer interested in Armenian history, Avédikian heads to Sölöz for the fourth time, after an eight-year break, admitting in the background voice narration that every trip to Turkey is emotional and that the camera helps him keep a rational distance. While the latest footage in black and white suggests a melancholic mood, the previously recorded material in colour that he incorporates does offer some hope – back in the 1980s, the remnants of the Armenian past were still present, together with the faith that collective memory could be salvaged somehow. A number of Armenian gravestones were found in the village, and there was even a museum project, initiated by a local; however, it was obstructed by the local authorities, which have denied the existence of cultural minorities since Ottoman times. The compilation of footage from different years clearly testifies to the fact that the more Avédikian returns to the village, the more of its past has been buried under the surface. Moreover, in Sölöz, he repeatedly meets people of Armenian, Greek or Bosnian descent who have forgotten their roots, or who simply prefer not to remember them. It seems that if you want to live in the modern-day Turkish state with peace of mind, you must accept complete cultural assimilation.
Against the backdrop of a soundtrack consisting of nostalgic, traditional songs, Avédikian tries to unravel the pathological relationship with history that people in Sölöz and the wider region maintain. Reality, however, suggests the endeavour is doomed to failure, maybe owing to Avédikian’s innate Oriental fatalism, as he suggests. Nevertheless, Back to Sölöz is an eye-opening expedition through time and ethnic roots, which implores viewers to search for hidden treasures – like the ones that Armenians buried in their basements, as local legend would have it.
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