Features Australia

Crowe’s water diviner is out of his depth

A film that purports to show the ‘other’ side of the ANZAC story does anything but

10 January 2015

9:00 AM

10 January 2015

9:00 AM

To much fanfare, Russell Crowe’s first film as a director, The Water Diviner, was released on Boxing Day. It appears at a key moment – the focus of the film, Gallipoli, is about to become the centrepiece in an elaborate nation-wide commemoration to mark the centenary of the landing in 1915.

If intentions are taken seriously, the film is a huge disappointment. Its release came packaged to suggest that it presents a more honest and more understanding appreciation of our then enemy, the Turks. Besides being the director, Crowe is the star and driving force in the film’s conception, and hence fully responsible for the result. His intention: ‘It is time to teach our children the other side [i.e. the Turkish side] of the Gallipoli story’.

Many of the media reviews have been just as presumptuous and wrong-headed. The Age, for instance, tells us ‘This is perhaps the first Australian war movie to deal honestly with the Turks and that is one of its achievements’.

Well, not really. This highly sentimentalised and rather pointless attempt to depict the human dimension of the Gallipoli campaign, as experienced by an Aussie father (Crowe) searching for the bodies of his three sons, fails both as plausible drama and as an honest attempt to confront the actual behaviour of the enemy (the Ottoman empire), not to mention the moral justification for the terrible sacrifice of Allied lives.

On that last point, distinguished British historian Jeremy Black recently wrote: ‘The current fashion for commemorating the dead by honouring their struggle does not in fact honour them unless we explain why they were fighting and facing the personal, moral and religious challenges of risking and inflicting death. Why did men volunteer in 1914? Why did they advance across the ‘killing ground’? To mark the struggle without recalling its point and value is both to lack a moral compass and, indeed, not really to seek one’.


And for those who believe, as Crowe seems to, that Britain and Australia entered the war for ignoble reasons, or no reason at all, it is worth ‘remembering’ that Britain was responding to a clear act of German aggression against a neutral country, Belgium, with which it was honour bound by treaty to defend, a decision overwhelmingly supported at the time by the Australian government and the Australian people. Turkey threw in its lot with the Germans and made itself the enemy.

Not only does the film fail to show the slightest inkling of interest as to why the allies fought and, for that matter, why the hero’s sons died, but Crowe bathes the whole story in a painfully mawkish and barely credible tale of a heart-broken water diviner (Crowe himself) who miraculously emerges as a body diviner rambling around the rocky cliffs of Gallipoli ‘bonding’ with the very soldiers responsible for his sons’ deaths, with of course the now obligatory Aussie sneer directed towards a British officer made out to be a right pompous git (shades of Weir’s Gallipoli?).

Leaving aside aesthetic considerations, the fact is the film’s lack of any historical context is breathtaking. There are many, but there is one really glaring omission.

It so happens that the well-documented genocide of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks was initiated on the day immediately before the Gallipoli landing, an overlap that traditionally receives hardly a mention from Australian historians, and no reference whatsoever in this film.

What happened to the Armenians? Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, author of The First World War in the Middle East (2014) paints the basic picture:

The Armenian genocide started in earnest on 24 April 1915 with the arrest and deportation of thousands of Armenian political leaders and intellectuals. This act triggered widespread massacres that subsequently killed an estimated 1 million Armenians. The combination of the outright killings and the forced marches through the Syrian Desert constituted one of the earliest examples of a ‘crime against humanity’…

The mass murder of this ancient Christian community made no exception for women and children and was conducted with a barbarity that shocked even officers of the Ottoman’s German allies, some of whom witnessed the gruesome scenes first hand, as did missionaries and other outsiders.

The legacy of what happened a hundred years ago in Turkey this April is now taking on all the characteristics of a diplomatic perfect storm. Obviously, the Australian centenary commemorations at Gallipoli will be more elaborate than anything previous, the worldwide protests by the Armenian Diaspora will be more vociferous than ever, and the Turkish government’s fierce opposition to even the mention of the word genocide will be as aggressive as ever.

This combination of factors is now coming to a head with Turkey virtually ruling itself out of any hope of having its stalled application to join the EU accepted, its position on the Armenian issue being a major factor. If all this were not enough, more evidence is emerging that highlights Turkey’s current machiavellian position vis-a-vis the Islamic State’s forces on its borders, a savage army currently trying to murder what’s left of Iraq’s and Syria’s Christian communities, and other demonised faith communities.

Where does Australia sit in this gathering storm with its myriad strategic and moral conundrums? Not well. While Opposition Leader Tony Abbott did not hesitate to condemn the Armenian genocide, last June Foreign Minister Julie Bishop issued a statement that called the Armenian killings ‘a tragedy’ but added, quite unnecessarily, ‘we do not recognise the events as genocide’ for which, according to (former Speccie Diarist) Geoffrey Robertson QC, ‘she was duly lauded in Turkey as a genocide denier’.

The moral issue at stake is neatly captured in the subtitle of Robertson’s recently published book on the genocide: ‘Who now remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?’ It was Hitler’s comment to his generals on the eve of the invasion of Poland urging them to show no mercy as there would be no retribution. It’s all part of ‘the other side of the Gallipoli story’ that Russell Crowe somehow didn’t get around to even hinting at.

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  • hyemarsh

    I am not sure where to begin, but I know where to end – great article – your incredibly frank discussion on the Armenian Genocide (my grandfather spent time in Turkish prison during the Genocide as a teenager) is well received and greatly appreciated. Everybody knows what happened, but not everybody knows what moral depravity exists among our elected leaders and our entertainers – one thing this article does not mention is just how much Turkey paid Crowe to exclude the Genocide issue, or how much they paid him to paint Turks as some kind of good human. I am also curious how much Bishop got/is being paid to “not recognize the events as genocide” – I wonder if she made as much as Dennis Hastert when he was Speaker of the United States House of Representatives…I digress, but to conclude – accurate and excellent article – keep it up.

  • Peter Georgeson

    You forget to mention the genocide of the Greeks and the slaughter of many others at the hands of the Turks, otherwise a well written article

    • Maria Sevastos

      Not to mention how many Greeks remained in Turkey living in the shadows of… In fear of losing their lives and wealth… Kalimera zoi!!!!!!! Make coffee, can you smell it???

      • Maria Sevastos

        Greeks live all over the World – some in fear and some in denial and some forgot who they are!!! How’s that for insight? Millions of Greeks slaughtered or pushed out to die in the elements – starving to death.

        • Maria Sevastos

          Xenomania!!!

  • kubilaybalci96

    Well to this Russel Crowe making a war seem heroic thing i want to say, how many war films you have seen that truly show war as it is ? It is a film i mean, the battle of Troy was probaly some 50 guys against 50 other guys but they dont show that in the movie, since you know its a movie. Its not a documentary but a movie.

    “And for those who believe, as Crowe seems to, that Britain and Australia entered the war for ignoble reasons, or no reason at all, it is worth ‘remembering’ that Britain was responding to a clear act of German aggression against a neutral country, Belgium, with which it was honour bound by treaty to defend, a decision overwhelmingly supported at the time by the Australian government and the Australian people. Turkey threw in its lot with the Germans and made itself the enemy. ”

    Second of all, anybody who believes that the UK joined the First World War for Belgium is a retard, sorry if i offend anybody with this but if you truly believe that the UK was going to put itself in a war for a little country like belgium you should visit a doctor.

    “It so happens that the well-documented genocide of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks was initiated on the day immediately before the Gallipoli landing, an overlap that traditionally receives hardly a mention from Australian historians, and no reference whatsoever in this film. ”

    Is the writer seriously accusing the whole Turkish race of genocide ? thats nice and very openminded of him, anyway i didnt watched the film but how do the deportations of istanbul and massacres in eastern anatolia connect with the battle of gallipoli ?

    “The Armenian genocide started in earnest on 24 April 1915 with the arrest and deportation of thousands of Armenian political leaders and intellectuals. ”

    Rebel leaders* i love how armenians and pro armenian writers always try to change the words

    Armenians killing Turks= self defence
    Turks killing Armenians= act of extermination
    to give you another example

    “The mass murder of this ancient Christian community made no exception for women and children and was conducted with a barbarity that shocked even officers of the Ottoman’s German allies, some of whom witnessed the gruesome scenes first hand, as did missionaries and other outsiders. ”

    There were also Russians and Christian missionaries shocked by the brutality of some Armenian gangs, however i guess thats not important

    Suddenly the autor talks about Syria and ISIS

    ‘Who now remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?’ It was Hitler’s comment to his generals on the eve of the invasion of Poland urging them to show no mercy as there would be no retribution.

    Fake quote, but i hope that the Armenian diaspora pays this man well

    • Panos Dionysopoulos

      Have you ever studied history or are you just coming up with all of this via your brain and skimming wikipedia? Your lack of knowledge is staggering.

      • kubilaybalci96

        not a single argument to prove one of my statements wrong, and yes ive read quite alot books about this issue, whether it was a genocide or not, one thing is sure: the greeks and armenians arent that holy as they say to be.

    • Chaos Noir

      There is no point arguing with a genocide denying Turk.

  • scartoon

    Historian Russell Crowe follows the well-worn media formula: you first raise someone (ex. an actor, singer, politician) to the stratosphere and then–to keep attracting readers/viewers–you reverse the story and call the celebrity a bum. Because Turkey has been justifiably condemned for its barbaric behavior during WWI (the genocides of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians), Crowe is playing the same opportunistic and immoral game: let’s hail Johnny Turk, he brays.

    Crowe is an ignorant git.

    • Aleteia

      He is the modern film industry prostitute.

  • ASUK

    Wrong on many points, here are some:
    Armenians took up arms against their own government; killed
    their Muslim, mostly Turkish, neighbors and other fellow
    Ottoman citizens, even Ottoman Jews. Armenians joined the
    invading enemy (Russian, French, British, and Greek) armies.
    Turks defended their home against a serious military threat
    posed by the Armenian insurgency at a time of brutal
    multiple foreign invasions. The measure the Turks took to
    mitigate the Armenian threat was temporary
    resettlement (order of May 31, 1915) of those in the Armenian
    community that supported the Armenian insurgency, directly
    or indirectly, not wholesale massacres that took place in Africa, Malaysia and more recently in Rwanda.
    Figures involving loss of Armenian lives have been highly exaggerated and strongly refuted by many respected scholars such as Prof. Justin McCarthy (Death and Exile: 1995). Many more Muslims than Armenians died during this period due to multiple causes, including massacres in the hands of Armenian bandits.
    There is no judgement regarding the genocide claims in this case by any Internationally recognised court. The strict criteria of Intent has to be met for proof of genocide according to UN regulations. Is it any surprise that the accusers never want to go down this route?
    2015 provides an opportunity to reflect on the
    100th anniversary of the Dardanelles Campaign, fought mostly between Turks and
    the ANZACs, where violence and bloodshed had an unusual
    byproduct: mutual respect and lasting friendship. Why spoil the memory and the success of a film which depicts this event with falsified claims of Armenian Genocide.
    Lastly, Robertson has proved to be a human rights lawyer who ignores historical facts and UN regulations.

    • Chaos Noir

      Yes and all the documentation about the genocide, including the visual footage, is just ‘made up’ and portrayed by actors….
      Go and crawl back into the dirty hole you came from.

  • Anthony McAdam is entitled to his opinion, of course, but I must say I find his remarks dishonest and racist. He takes Armenian claims at face value, totally disregarding Armenian complicity in war crimes (terrorism, revolts, treason, territorial demands, and more) as well as Turkish suffering at the hands of Armenian insurgents. When one is indoctrinated with a “belief” that Armenian claims are right, one cannot explain photos like this: http://www.ethocide.com where Armenia military cadets, who killed my grandparents, seen while arrogantly brandishing their Russian-made “Mosin” rifles. The year, you ask? Fasten your seat belts (you, too, McAdam) for this one: 1906 !

  • JGArslan

    Are we talking about 1915? Hımmm, More oil was discovered ( see.William Knox) in the Middle East ,….For some it was a great news that a war was inevitable in the area so that oil resourses could be captured….

    Let’s look at this statement then;
    Sir Maurice Hankey: “Control of these resources becomes a first-class war aim”

    “LEST WE FORGET THE ULTIMATE PRICE OF THE WARS!” Michael Leunig ( Australian cartonest), April 23, 2005

    Must be supported and encourged to develope wars between the people of the region and then what?…OİL could be easily hand over!

    On the other hand, somehow, some say different. Which one is true then?

    Lets look at just few:

    “You will hear extraordinary horrible stories practiced by Turks. Well, don’t believe a word of them. They are grossly exaggerated if not wholly false. You will be surprised at the gentlemanly way the Turks has fought us. ” [Jim Haynes Cobbers – Stories of Gallipoli 1915 p. 178) ]

    “Turks were fighting in at least seven fronts at that period.There is nothing to do with the Turkish commanders. All to do,” the blood for oil strategy” conducted by the bloodthirsty commanders compelled the people to fight each other. Unfourtunatly nothing much changes descpite of 100 year passed.

    “Turks have treated our captured men and officers excellently”
    [The diary of the Aus. Official Corres. C.E.W.Bean]

    “They (Turks) too were fighting for their country. Good and fair fighters. No. They fought very fair and honestly like us. Both sides lost their very valuable men.‘
    – E.W.BARTLETT – was born in Australia, 1891. 11. Light Horse Regiment. One Hundred years old. He was one of last two hundred who left the Dardanelle. He joined and works in many battles.

    “The Anzacs left Gallipoli without hatred in their heart for their enemy or bitterness at the incompetence of their own high command”. – A.K.Macdouggall

    There are many more…So, be frank, ok?
    Thanks to honest Australians. There were/are still great people in the world.

    What a Hypocracy he!

  • JGArslan

    1 – THE UNKNOWN FACE OF SO-CALLED ARMENIAN
    GENOCIDE

    Atrocity stories have been vastly overdone; some
    of the more recent massacres have been wholly nonexistent. One of the local
    (Constantinople) members of the press and of a relief organization told some
    friends openly that he could only send anti-Turkish dispatches to America
    because that is what gets the money…”

    Source : E. Alexander Powell, The Struggle for
    Power in Moslem Asia, New York, 1925

  • JGArslan

    ARMENİAN TRİALS

    “Armenia was in ancient times a buffer kingdom between rival empires. Armenia was
    frequently invaded-by Assyrians, Persians, Arabs, Greeks and Romans. Withal,
    the Armenians retained their identity. This kingdom in its turn was destroyed
    in the 14th century by invaders from Egypt. Under the Ottoman Empire, Armenian
    merchants and financiers thrived. When the struggles broke out between Turks
    and Armenians for the possession of Anatolian lands, many Armenians died;
    others fled abroad. ”

    Desmond Stewart is a British writer, graduated at Oxford in 1948.

    – THE MAKE UP TOOLS OF SO-CALLED ARMENIAN GENOCIDE; LIES, THE MOST POPULAR LIES.

    “… A circular was issued by the War Office
    inviting reports on war incidents from officers with regard to the enemy and
    stating that strict accuracy was not essential so long as there was inherent
    probability (p 20). Atrocity lies were the most popular of all, especially in
    this country and America; no war can be without them. Slander of the enemy is
    esteemed a patriotic duty…” p 22
    .

    Source : Arthur Ponsonby, Falsehood in
    War-Time, New York, 1928

  • Guest

    “Armenia
    was in ancient times a buffer kingdom between rival empires. Armenia was
    frequently invaded-by Assyrians, Persians, Arabs, Greeks and Romans. Withal,
    the Armenians retained their identity. This kingdom in its turn was destroyed
    in the 14th century by invaders from Egypt. Under the Ottoman Empire, Armenian
    merchants and financiers thrived. When the struggles broke out between Turks
    and Armenians for the possession of Anatolian lands, many Armenians died;
    others fled abroad. ”

    Desmond
    Stewart is a British writer, graduated at Oxford in 1948.

  • Chaos Noir

    A few days ago in Australia, the supermarket giant Woolworths was condemned for cashing in on the on the acronym ANZAC, by the use of imagery and the phrase ‘Fresh in our memories’ [‘Fresh’ being the keyword used by Woolworths in its advertising]. People were so mortified they stampeded [virtually] Woolworths’ social media sites, a government minister telephoned Woolworths to remind them that it was agains the law to use ANZAC in any marketing without permission and so on. But what Russell Crowe has done here, in a cunning way, is cash in on the ANZACs. He hasn’t gone all out to use the word, but this entire film, including the absence of historical context, is an exercise in historical revisionism.

  • Jankers

    A psychic, seriously? It’s like the mentalist 1915.

  • Elis.G

    Are we still talking whether it was a genocide or not?
    Why because a prick expressed an uneducated opinion based on magazines and tabloids?
    When in doubt return to the roots. Read the original resources.
    Turkish newspapers of the era, described very colorful the ‘feelings of victory’ of the Turks when pictures of hundreds of beheaded Armenian and Greek bodies laid on anonymous graves.
    A book written by a biased professor is merely an opinion and not a fact.

  • Guney

    What a load of nonsense.The Armenian massacres have become the Turkish variant of Godwin’s law. Why expect to hear anything about Armenians, when the movie is about a completely different event altogether? It seems to me the author just can’t handle the fact that the Brits aren’t positively portrayed in this movie.

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