TURKEY'S TURN TOWARDS NEO-OTTOMANISM THROUGH A POPULAR SHOW'S PERSPECTIVE
Dirilis: Ertugrul (Resurrection: Ertugrul) is as refined a period drama can get. Sophisticated production, a stunning ensemble cast, remarkable historical Turkish costumes; in all, it is a superbly shot Turkish dizi (television series). This Turkish dizi has become massively popular and has been licensed to 72 countries (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/09/05/ertugrul-turkey-dizi-soft-power-pakistan/). However, interestingly, the show has garnered extraordinary attention from Pakistani audiences. DirilisErtugrul was dubbed into Urdu at the special request of Prime Minister Imran Khan during his recent visit to Turkey. The show, translated to Ertugrul Ghazi (Ghazi meaning a brave Muslim soldier in Urdu), has become so popular in Pakistan, that recently a statue of Ertugrul erected in Lahore square. Local shopkeepers hoist the side of the Pakistani and Turkish flag by side in front of their shops (https://www.aa.com.tr/en/culture/turkish-ertugrul-tv-series-takes-pakistan-by-storm/1843726). To understand this overflowing sentiment of Pakistanis towards this often-called “Turkish Game of Thrones”, we need to explore the theme of the show, what it aims to achieve, changes in Turkey’s foreign policy, as well as the history of Turkey-Pakistan relations.
What is so special about Ertugrul?
Dirilis Ertugrul is based on the life journey of the father of Osman 1, founder of the Ottoman Empire[HN(J1]. There is little information about the lineage of Ertugrul, with sources claiming him to be the son of Suleyman Shah, of the Kayi tribe, but others link him as the son of Gunduz Alp. With about a few pages of historically disputed information on his life and legacy, the director MetinGunay has managed to produce a 5 seasons marathon with graphics, costumes and a cast which would make a Hollywood producer jealous. Although the series is riddled with bloody battles between Ertugrul and various “infidels” like the Knight Templars (symbolising the Christians), Mongols, and the Byzantines; it also seeks to impart “true” spiritual Islamic wisdom through the teachings of Ibn Arabi of Andalucía- one of Islam’s greatest philosophers (https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2020/aug/12/ertugrul-how-an-epic-tv-series-became-the-muslim-game-of-thrones). Furthermore, Ertugrul is portrayed as a noble ruler with good Muslim values, one who fights to protect his subjects from invaders, respects women and elders and strives to spread the good messages of Islam worldwide, to invite new people into the right faith.
This righteous, justice-hungry Turkish-speaking hero is just what the current PM of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants. Erdogan is on a mission to reinvent Turkey’s standing in the Middle East as the rightful protector of Islamic values, history, and culture. Naturally, this does not bode well with Saudi Arabia, who have continued to claim to be the protectors of the two Holy Shrines and thus, Islam itself. Thus, Erdogan has used many strategies to influence the Muslim world geopolitically; but it cannot garner enough legitimacy that the recognition of the leader of the Muslim world demands. Hence, Erdogan has begun the campaign of using tactful soft power to conquer hearts, minds, and souls of the Muslim populace with his ideological rhetoric of Neo-Ottomanism. He claims that the Ottoman empire was the guardian of the Holy Shrines, thus modern-day Turkey needs to be recognized as the leader of the Sunni Muslims, instead of Saudi Arabia.
This romantic period drama has been actively supported by Erdogan, personally by visiting shooting sets regularly and providing funds. In fact, the producer of DirilisErtugrul, Kemal Tekden, is an active member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party while the director Mehmet Bozdag is also a prominent supporter of the regime. The political reason given for such a high-budget venture is to counter the rise of Islamophobia and violence against Muslims in the world and portray the true, respectable, and noble version of Islam and its history. The director Bozdag is quoted saying, “Today we have to tell the whole world about the beautiful voice of Islam” (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/09/05/ertugrul-turkey-dizi-soft-power-pakistan/). Although this reason is good enough to convince the global audience, Erdogan sees this as an opportunity to rally the sentiments of the Sunni populace to their glorious and just Ottoman history.
Popularity in Pakistan
Through the months, Erdogan’s desire is being fulfilled. The show has found a massive fan following from the Pakistani audiences. Due to the immense success, TRT World, the channel which airs Ertugrul, has gifted the show to Pakistan sans the licencing costs (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/09/05/ertugrul-turkey-dizi-soft-power-pakistan/). The Pakistan public has been reportedly glued to their television screens to watch the courageous and family-orientedErtugrul winning gritty campaigns against the enemies of the faith. In fact, Turkish dizis have been quite popular in Pakistan even before Ertugrul, but it never reached the level of fandom and sentimental attachment before. PM Imran Khan claims that due to Ertugrul Ghazi, Pakistani audiences have moved away from the “thirdhand culture” of the Bollywood and Hollywood films (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/09/05/ertugrul-turkey-dizi-soft-power-pakistan/).
The immense amount of love received by a Turkish dizi from the Pakistanis can be attributed to the geopolitical challenges Pakistan faces today from China, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan has become a good location for Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia to assert their cultural influence over. Turkey has always considered Pakistan as its brother country and has stood by Pakistan right from the time it gained independence in 1947. As mentioned earlier, Pakistan is in a fraught position today, and Turkey is trying to woo its brother to recognize Turkey as the torchbearer of the Muslim world and Erdogan as its Sultan. This seems to be working in Pakistan when local vendors display red flags with a white dot and crescent portraying their love for their Turkish brothers and sisters. A Pakistani tourist also remarked that “I like this red flag and I love Turkey. President Erdogan is my favourite leader” (https://www.dailysabah.com/arts/cinema/resurrection-ertugrul-boosts-pakistani-turkish-relations). Pakistan is enjoying the positive portrayal of the Muslim world and the glorious time when the Ottomans ruled the Muslim ummah.
Pakistan’s reasons for affinity to this dizi is also due to President Erdogan’s strong stand on the issue of Kashmir, which is dear to the Pakistani populace. Erdogan, a guest in the Pakistani parliament in February, claimed that “there is no difference between Gallipoli and Kashmir” referring to the most brutal campaign during the Ottoman Empire’s fight against the Allies in WW1 (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/09/05/ertugrul-turkey-dizi-soft-power-pakistan/). Recently, during his UN general assembly speech, Erdogan mentioned concerns regarding the Kashmir issue which is still a “burning issue” and should be resolved through dialogue within the UN resolutions framework (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-terms-turkish-president-recep-tayyip-erdogans-remarks-on-kashmir-as-completely-unacceptable/articleshow/78280777.cms).
Although India has condemned Turkey’s interference in its domestic affairs, it is a welcoming sight for Pakistan. After Section 370 imposition in Kashmir, Pakistan had sought help from Saudi Arabia but had received a notice to pay back its oil payments and loans were withdrawn (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/09/05/ertugrul-turkey-dizi-soft-power-pakistan/). Thus, due to lack of support from the Saudis and Pakistan’s lacking infrastructure, dilapidating economy, corruption, they see Turkey and Malaysia as role models of the Muslim world.
Both Turkey and Pakistan are at crossroads now. While Turkey is trying to gain influence politically and culturally in its neighbourhood, Pakistan is finding solace in Turkey’s support. The Pakistanis have also been particular to associate themselves with the glorious Ottoman history rather than their historical origins in the Indian subcontinent, owing to their distinct ethnicity from the Middle Eastern Muslims. While Turkey’s actions have unnerved many of its neighbours, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are especially worried and as a counter to Turkey’s use of soft power have launched a similar show, “Kingdoms of Fire”, which portray Arab resistance to the Ottoman rule. Thus, this power play will continue to rage in the Middle East which is bound to affect some geopolitical and cultural shifts.
Cover Image: Source
Bhutto, F. (2020, September 5). “Ertugrul” Reveals How Turkey’s Soft Power Conquered Pakistan. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/09/05/ertugrul-turkey-dizi-soft-power-pakistan/
(2020, September 17). “Resurrection: Ertuğrul” boosts Pakistani-Turkish relations | Daily Sabah. Retrieved from https://www.dailysabah.com/arts/cinema/resurrection-ertugrul-boosts-pakistani-turkish-relations
Khan, A. (2020, August 12). Ertuğrul: how an epic TV series became the “Muslim Game of Thrones” | Television | The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2020/aug/12/ertugrul-how-an-epic-tv-series-became-the-muslim-game-of-thrones
(n.d.). India terms Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks on Kashmir as “completely unacceptable” - The Economic Times. Retrieved from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-terms-turkish-president-recep-tayyip-erdogans-remarks-on-kashmir-as-completely-unacceptable/articleshow/78280777.cms