The fact that American metal band System of a Down is on the forefront of raising awareness about the Armenian genocides that occurred in Turkey under the cover of World War I and its chaotic aftermath is indicative of two dismaying facts: Kids today simply no longer learn history, and, more troubling still, far too many countries — the U.S. and U.K. chief among them — are content to follow Turkey's example and turn an official blind eye to inconvenient facts.
Luckily, the Armenian-American quartet have taken it upon themselves to teach their fans about what happened to their families in that now-forgotten time, a deeply personal mission that has proven effective in politicizing their audiences. Filmmaker Carla Garapedian's rousing concert film follows the band on a series of dates, between which soft-spoken front man Serj Tankian and drummer John Dolmayan talk about their relationship to their collective past and attempt to convince then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert to back resolution officially recognizing the genocide. From the very beginning of their career, S.O.A.D. always distinguished themselves from more conventional "nu-metal" bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn by incorporating traditional Armenian sounds into the usual thrash and burn of their music. Interestingly, as the band grew more successful, their lyrics grew more political, and their focus turned to enlightening fans about what happened to Greeks and Armenians during the genocides of the 1910s and early 1920s. With yet another traumatic loss of territory in the wake of the Balkan Wars in 1912-13 and the Great War looming, the Turkish ruling party of the time grew fearful that the threatened founding of an Armenian nation would jump-start the fateful partitioning of the once-mighty Ottoman empire, and embarked on a systematic program of deportation and murder that left a conservatively estimated 800,000 Christian Armenians dead (the actual number could be as high as 1.5 million). To this day, Turkey's government refuses to admit responsibility, and allies with business and military interests in Turkey have followed suit.
Even with Harvard professor Samantha Power, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, on hand to explain how the danger of ignoring one genocide leaves the door open to the next (the film opens with a quote from Adolph Hitler in which he reassures his followers that they could murder European Jews with impunity by reminding them that no one remembers Turkey's Armenians), the film doesn't explore what leads one nation to destroy its own people, or offer many facts about the Turkish-Armenian genocides. In between performances of politically charged songs like "P.L.U.C.K." and "Chop Suey!", we're given pretty much what a typical S.O.A.D. audience would get at a concert. But it's a start, particularly for young music fans whose chief source of information is less CNN and the History Channel than Fuse and MTV. leave a comment --Ken Fox