In Major Step, Turkey Airs Holocaust Documentary

An epic, nine-hour film about the Holocaust has begun airing in Turkey. It's the first time such a film has aired on public stations in a Muslim country.

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Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and in Turkey, some are hailing what they call a historic step. Last night, Turkish State Television began broadcasting "Shoah" - that's the 1985 French documentary about Nazi Germany's mass killing of Jews during World War II.

As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul, it's the first time the documentary has been seen by a mass audience anywhere in the Muslim world.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Claude Lanzmann's documentary featuring Holocaust witnesses and survivors has been hailed as a masterpiece of non-fiction filmmaking. Last night, Turkish State Television showed the first two hours of it. There are more than seven hours to go.

The decision comes at a time of chilly relations between Turkey and Israel. And Ankara is also on the defensive about its refusal to accept the term genocide for the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman forces during World War I. But supporters say Turkey's decision to air "Shoah" is important.

The Aladdin Project, a U.N.-backed effort to counter Holocaust denial, had the film subtitled in Turkish, Farsi and Arabic. Last year, a U.S.-based satellite channel with some viewers in Iran aired the Farsi version. But Aladdin executive director Abe Radkin says this is the first time the film has been broadcast throughout a Muslim country with the government's approval.

ABE RADKIN: What is important for us is that when it's being shown on a public television channel, inevitably you expose it to a large section of the population. That's what we would like to see in this part of the world, where, for the past 60-70 years, the Holocaust and any mention of the Holocaust has been largely ignored, except for quarters that deny it. It is an important development.

KENYON: Radkin is in Turkey for the airing and he says he's talked to Turks who watched the first episode and found it interesting. His next hope is to see the Arabic-subtitled version air in Mideast countries soon.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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