Armenia’s entry for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars was conceived as a story of how humanity triumphs over prejudice. But since it also touches on Azerbaijan, it has become yet another subject for the toxic feud between the two nations. According to the material published by IWPR the film caused Azerbaijani hysteria.
The film, If Only Everyone, is about an Armenian man who helps a half-Russian, half-Armenian woman to go to her father’s grave and plant a tree there. The father died in the early-1990s conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which pitted Armenians against Azerbaijanis.
Since a ceasefire was signed in 1994, Karabakh has been controlled by an Armenian administration. No peace deal has been signed, and little progress has been made towards an agreement on a final status for Karabakh. The Armenians – who call it Artsakh – are not prepared to cede control, while Azerbaijan demands the restoration of sovereignty over Karabakh. The film’s protagonists have to cross over the front line from Armenian-held to Azerbaijani-held territory. There they befriend a local shepherd, an Azerbaijani, who asks them to plant a tree on his son’s grave when they return to the Armenian side. “This story perhaps touches on the most sensitive issue for our nation today – Artsakh. Why did people die, what was the war about, what motivated the heroic deeds? Some have found the answers; others are still searching,” a synopsis on the film’s website says. “But these questions eclipse the real lives of real people, who we often think about the least, unfortunately.”
The Academy of Motion Pictures Art and Science accepts a single submission from each country for the best foreign-language film prize, and its members vote for a shortlist and then the winner. This year, a record 71 films have been accepted as submissions, including entries from Azerbaijan as well as Armenia. In Azerbaijan, writer Elchin Huseynbayli, insists that the idea for the film was stolen from his 2010 story “Dazzled by the Sun”, but twisted to make the Azerbaijanis appear as the aggressors. “The story for the film was written in early 2010, and filming began in spring 2010. Before we wrote the story, we met people who had lived through the war. It was after our meetings and talks with these people that the idea of the film was born,” he told IWPR. “We could similarly accuse the Azerbaijanis of stealing the story of our film longing, where the main hero crossed a border to die in his homeland.” Poghosyan said the film sought to encourage harmony and peace between different peoples. The chair of the Armenian National Film Academy, David Muradyan, said its members chose the film by secret ballot, adding, “I am saddened that the Azerbaijanis are trying to politicise this and put pressure on the Oscars committee. This kind of behavior is unprecedented and runs contrary to all rules of good manners.
“We proposed this film as a work of art, and nothing more. This film has no message other than a humanitarian one,” he said.