Disney’s Controversial Ataturk Movie Angered both Armenians and Turks
It takes an especially incompetent Walt Disney Company executive to come up with a movie project that enraged both Armenians and Turks alike. That employee should be fired for damaging the coffers as well as reputation of the company.
The Disney+ streaming service had planned to make a six-part series that dramatizes the life of Kemal Ataturk who is the Founding Father of the Republic of Turkey, worshipped by almost all Turks. Insulting Ataturk is punishable by up to three years in prison. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) started a campaign in June to protest against Disney’s movie project.
The ANCA called on Disney+ “to cancel its series glorifying Mustafa Kemal Ataturk—a Turkish dictator and genocidal killer with the blood of millions of Greek, Armenian, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, Aramean, Maronite and other Christian martyrs on his hands.”
Ironically, despite his own share of crimes and anti-Armenian actions, Ataturk was honest enough to admit during an interview with the Los Angeles Examiner on August 1, 1926: “These leftovers of the former Young Turk Party, who should have been made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects, who were ruthlessly driven en masse from their homes and massacred, have been restive under the Republican rule. They have hitherto lived on plunder, robbery and bribery, and become inimical to any idea or suggestion to enlist in useful labor and earn their living by the honest sweat of their brow.” Regrettably, on several other occasions, Ataturk contradicted himself justifying the Armenian Genocide.
The news of Armenian objection to the Disney movie, the company’s subsequent change of plans, and the irate Turkish reaction became the topic of countless articles around the world, publicizing the issue of the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish media blamed the ANCA, ‘the powerful Armenian lobby’ in the United States, for successfully pressuring the Disney Company.
Disney had originally announced that the series glorifying Ataturk will be shown on the Disney+ network starting on October 29, 2023, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. Changing its plans, Disney+ now plans to release the movie in two parts: The first part will air on the Disney-owned Fox TV in Turkey on October 29 and the second in Turkish theaters on December 22. Both films will be shown again next summer. It cost Disney $8 million to produce ‘Ataturk.’
Ebubekir Shahin, chairman of Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), said that it will launch an official investigation into Disney’s decision. Huseyin Yayman, chairman of the Turkish parliament’s Digital Media Commission, threatened severe sanctions against Disney: “We will impose harsh fines, including license cancellation for Disney+, bandwidth reduction, and advertising bans.” Prominent Turkish figures, including politicians, artists and journalists, angrily denounced Disney and cancelled their subscriptions to Disney+, which has 50,000 subscribers in Turkey. Omer Celik, spokesman of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, called Disney’s change of plans ‘shameful’ and alleged the company had caved in to ‘the Armenian lobby.’ He also stated that ANCA’s intent was to prevent the normalization of Turkey-Armenia relations. Serdar Kilic, the Turkish ambassador in charge of his country’s normalization process with Armenia, also cancelled his subscription to Disney+. The Turkish government’s news agency, Anadolu Agency, published a commentary by Burak Caliskan of York University titled: “Did the Armenian lobby take over Disney+?”
Turkey even pressured its Armenian community to oppose Disney’s decision. Bedros Shirinoglu, Chairman of Armenian Foundations Association of Turkey, a hostage of the Turkish regime, issued a shameful statement touting the non-existent freedom of expression in Turkey and calling on “American-Armenian organizations to act more responsibly.” Likewise, Parliament member Sevan Sıvacıoglu, representing Pres. Erdogan’s political party, expressed concern that Disney’s decision hampers the normalization of Turkey-Armenia relations and undermines the potential for fostering friendly ties between the two countries.
According to the Middle East Eye, “In June, Disney removed numerous shows and movies from Disney+ to reduce ongoing residuals and its tax bill. This strategy also resulted in the removal of eight Turkish TV shows and movies produced exclusively for Disney’s Turkish streaming platform, with the suspension of new Turkish content launches.” Disney+ (Turkey) confirmed that it had made such a decision.
This whole controversy could have been avoided if Disney had done a little bit of research before embarking on such an unwise adventure. Disney has no business preparing a documentary on Ataturk or any other political figure. Disney blindly undertook this project, angering many Armenians around the world. And then, realizing its mistake, Disney washed its hands and cleverly dumped the documentary on Fox-TV in Turkey.
Nevertheless, the battle is partly won. Even though the giant Disney Company changed its plans, Armenians worldwide now need to pursue this issue with the top executives Disney for three reasons:
1) To completely cancel the Ataturk documentary and not hand it over to Fox-TV in Turkey;
2) To make sure that the Disney Company will never again consider making a Turkish propaganda film;
3) Urge Disney to make a documentary on an Armenian topic, such as the Armenian Genocide and Republics of Armenia and Artsakh.
Regrettably, once again, the Armenian-American community is left alone in battling the all-powerful Turkish government, without any assistance from the leaders of Armenia who are acting as if Armenian issues are of no interest to them.