ISTANBUL: Award-winning Turkish-German director Fatih Akin says he dropped plans to make a film about an Armenian journalist murdered in 2007 because no Turkish actor wanted to play the lead.
In an interview with Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, Akin said he instead turned to making another controversial film, “The Cut,” which deals with the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The slayings are seen in Armenia and several other countries as genocide – but not in Turkey.
Akin said he had finished a script based on the murdered Armenian journalist Hrant Dink (who worked for Agos) but he had to drop the project after the Turkish actors he approached for the role found it “too harsh.”
Dink, 52, had campaigned for reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, but incurred the wrath of Turkish nationalists for saying the 1915 massacre amounted to genocide.
He was shot dead in broad daylight by a teenage ultranationalist outside the offices of the Agos newspaper in a crime that still has not been fully solved.
Akin’s difficulties in making a film about his life and death underline the continued sensitivity of the case.
“I couldn’t persuade any Turkish actors to play Hrant’s role. All of them found the script too harsh. That’s why I had to cancel the project,” he said, without naming any actors.
“I did not want any actor to get hurt,” he continued, “but it was important to make a ‘Turkish film’ about Hrant. An American or French actor could not play Hrant. We have to deal with this issue ourselves.
“But obviously the time is not yet ripe for it.”
Following Akin’s comments, two popular young Turkish actors took to Twitter to lament that they had missed the chance to star as Dink.
“If I were old enough, I would have wanted to play Dink,” wrote Riza Kocaoglu, star of the popular Turkish drama series “Karadayi.”
“I wish I could play Dink,” tweeted Sarp Akkaya, who most recently starred in “Magnificent Century,” another hit Turkish television show.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million people were killed during World War I as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart, a claim supported by several other countries but long disputed by the leadership of the Turkish republic, the empire’s successor state.
Akin said Turkey was now ready, however, for a film like “The Cut,” which tells the story of an Armenian man who survives the 1915 killings and embarks on a journey across the world to find his daughter.
“For those who are afraid of this film, I tell them: ‘This is just a film’” Akin said, “but I am now sure that Turkish society, of which I am a member, is ready for this film.
Starring French actor Tahar Rahim, “The Cut” will premiere at Italy’s Venice International Film Festival in late August.
Co-produced by Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Poland, Canada and Turkey, the film is the latest part of the director’s Love, Death, and the Devil trilogy, which includes the art-house hits “Head-On” and “The Edge of Heaven.”
Dink’s assassination sent shockwaves through Turkey and grew into a wider scandal with accusations of a state conspiracy. A 17-year-old dropout was found guilty of the murder but the Dink family has always insisted that higher forces were involved.
Turkey’s top court however ruled earlier this month that the investigation into Dink’s murder had been flawed, paving the way for potential further trials against new suspects.
In Turkey’s most significant gesture yet over the tragedy, the country’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in April expressed his condolences over the World War I massacres of Armenians, which he called “our shared pain.”