ANKARA, Turkey – An epic French documentary about the mass murder of Jews under the German Nazi regime has appeared on Turkish television to mark international Holocaust Remembrance Day — the first time the film has been aired on public television in a majority-Muslim country.
State television TRT’s documentary channel showed the first episode of filmmaker Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah” late Thursday — the eve of the day of remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust.
The film has been subtitled into Arabic, Farsi and Turkish by the Paris-based Aladdin project as part of its campaign to promote understanding between Jews and Muslims and to fight Holocaust denial.
Last year, a Los Angeles-based Farsi satellite channel broadcast the 9-plus-hour documentary in Iran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has questioned historical accounts of the Holocaust and called for Israel’s destruction.
The film is not the first Holocaust film to be shown on television in Turkey, a secular country that is seeking membership in the European Union. Turkey also has its own Holocaust film: “The Turkish Passport,” which was released last year and tells the true story of Turkish diplomats who saved thousands of Jews by issuing them Turkish passports.
“Shoah” has also been shown to a limited audience at a Turkish film festival.
Nevertheless, it was the first showing of “Shoah” on a public television channel in a Muslim country. The director said he hoped more Muslim countries would follow suit.
“It is a historical event,” Lanzmann, 87, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his home in Paris. “It is extremely important that it is being shown in a Muslim country.”
“The Turks are engaged in a pioneering work and I am sure it (the showing) will be followed by other Muslim countries,” he said.
The documentary’s airing comes at a time when some Jewish groups have warned of growing anti-Semitism in Turkey, following the country’s frayed relations with Israel.
Turkey was outraged by the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians during Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip three years ago. Ties worsened in 2010 after Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turks in a botched raid on a flotilla that was trying to breach Israel’s Gaza blockade. Israel’s refusal to apologize for the flotilla killings sent relations deteriorating even further.
The documentary was also aired amid an escalating dispute between Turkey and France over French legislation that would make it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks amounted to genocide.
Most historians contend that the 1915 killings of 1.5 million Armenians as the Ottoman Empire broke up was the 20th century’s first genocide, and several European countries recognize the massacres as such.
But Turkey rejects the term genocide, saying there was no systematic campaign to kill Armenians and that many Turks also died during the chaotic disintegration of the empire. It also says that death toll is inflated.
“Shoah” includes testimony from concentration camp survivors and employees about the slaughter of millions of Jews in Europe during World War II. Lanzmann worked for 11 years on the film, which was released in 1985.