“[Could] he be a prisoner,” a man asks in relation to a painting that director Arnaud Khayadjanian is showing to random Turkish citizens in his documentary Stony Paths, in reference to both the path that the man in the painting takes and the one his great-grandfather took as a survivor in the Armenian genocide. While watching this, I fully thought that the painting is a dramatization of an even during the genocide, where Turkish citizens helped their Armenian neighbours at the risk of Ottoman persecution, but it’s actually a painting of The Good Samaritan, which has its own context. Khayadjanian is obviously using this painting to broach the subject of the genocide to the Turkish people he’s having conversations with, but there’s a tension here since most of the people he converses with talk about both the painting and the atrocities as individual acts and not systemic ones.
Khayadjanian asks many questions, like where does accountability lie? Are citizens as accountable because they’re the descendants who were the ethnic majority of a defunct country that attempted to kill multiple ethnic minorities? Stony Paths walks a fine line between having a conversation between an Armenian and some Turkish people that’s sincere and the former putting the latter in a gotcha moment. There’s an equal ambivalent result to scenes of him carrying the painting around while tracing the path that his great-grandfather took from Eastern Turkey to the Syrian border, looking for people who would have been the descendants of the man who saved his great-grandfather’s life. He juxtaposes that image with voice overs of his family members telling their great-grandfather’s story and the moral gray within.
Yes, sometimes it’s not the most gripping cinema to watch a man walk across landscapes in one minute takes, so despite my moral moral ambivalence towards Stony Paths‘ interview scenes, it’s good to have them back on screen. One of the most interesting participants in this film is Fikret Ali Ceyhan, the descendant of an Ottoman governor who did what he could to stop the Armenian deportations, and the reason why he’s interesting is because even if he’s the closest Turkish participant who discusses the government’s role in the deaths of the Armenians, he hesitates in using the g-word. That specific scene ends with Ceyhan having the last word, which makes for an interesting choice. Ending the scene that way is a moral judgment of sorts and it’s an equally interesting conversation to see how different viewers react to those we see on screen.
Stony Paths comes to OVID on August 12.