BURAK BEKDİL > How to produce fact-based fiction

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I was surprised that Turkish liberals were surprised by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s condemnation of a popular TV series that the prime minister, in his speech, said was a documentary misinterpreting Ottoman history. How bizarre that everyone, including Mr. Erdoğan’s “liberal” supporters, seems to be “shocked.” You are really cute and funny, lads!

About two years ago, I wrote in this column: “The AKP chaps and their conservative supporters should be able to understand the difference between documentary and fiction,” (“Where Islamists and secularists unite – and where they don’t,” Hürriyet Daily News, Jan. 12, 2011). Apparently, they still do not understand. Or they prefer not to.

My column went on to ask: “The alarming fact is that conservative Turks do not have tolerance even for fiction when their ancestors are at stake, not even religious figures… For God’s sake, can you not just change the channel that’s airing the soap you dislike?” The answer was simple: No, because we don’t want others to watch them either.

The prime minister is angry because the soap “The Magnificent Century,” which has 150 million viewers in 76 countries, portrays Ottoman ruler Süleyman the Magnificent as “Süleyman the Hedonist.” Mr. Erdoğan thinks that Süleyman spent his whole life on horseback conquering foreign lands, or, in his original wording, “traveling.”

Turks, the prime minister preached, should follow their ancestors’ footsteps and go everywhere they traveled. But, go? “Go” as their ancestors “went?” Or “go” as a tourist would? Did our ancestors “go” to lands in three continents to sightsee? Or does the prime minister want the Turks to go to the same lands with the same motives their ancestors went with?

Does the prime minister’s wish that Turks should follow their ancestors’ footsteps also include “doing” what they “did” in the lands they “went to?” Conquest? Marry multiple and mostly non-Muslim wives, have their own sons and grandchildren murdered (two sons and four grandchildren in Süleyman’s case)? Beheading, strangling and hanging?

How interesting, the prime minister objects to one fiction production because it misinterprets history but has no objection to another fiction production, and probably privately – and deeply – likes it. Could it be because the fiction he has not condemned is not misinterpreting history and facts? Let’s see.

The “Valley of the Wolves: Palestine” features Polat Alemdar, the Turkish James-Bond-plus-Rambo-plus-every-other-hero character, which debuted, coincidentally, on Jan. 28, 2011, the day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the film, Alemdar emerges from a series of bloody clashes to track down and kill the Israeli commander who ordered the storming of the Mavi Marmara.

In one particularly heart-wrenching scene, an Israeli soldier asks Alemdar why he came to Israel, and he replies: “I didn’t come to Israel, I came to Palestine!” Eventually, Alemdar manages to destroy a whole battalion of Israeli soldiers with a team of three men and returns to Turkey victoriously. At one point, the hero tells an Israeli officer: “I don’t know what part of these lands was promised to you, but I promise you the part that’s six feet under.”

Even before the film’s debut, the actor who played Alemdar, Necati Şaşmaz, told reporters who inquired if he was afraid to act in the film, “I don’t fear those who don’t fear God.” Thunderous applause.

Since the prime minister likes fiction based on facts, perhaps the prime minister should give orders to his master spies to send a team of four special agents to Israel to take revenge for the killing of nine Turks aboard the Mavi Marmara.

Mr. Erdoğan should make sure that the team members declare to the Israeli airport authorities that they have actually come to Palestine, not Israel. I am sure they will safely return home after having destroyed a whole battalion and punished the Israeli commanders who ordered the storming of the Mavi Marmara. That way, the “Valley of the Wolves” will metamorphose into a perfect fiction which accurately reflects facts and history.

Good luck, Alemdar! Remember to follow in your ancestors’ footsteps.


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ege capulcu mustafa

12/3/2012 4:26:20 AM

Why should N Sasmaz fear those who do not fear God? Those are not the dangerous people in the world. The dangerous people, the homocidal crazies, are usually the God fearing fundemetalist believers.

cloud chaser

12/1/2012 6:28:41 PM

@Inessa, Agnes - I could be mistaken, But I have never seen or heard of such displays from Israel towards any actor. Sure, the other way there are plenty of examples, but that was my point (possibly too subtle) - the clear difference between "modern" Israelis and "modern" fanatics - Israelis by and large are simply not the fanatics portrayed by either the actor or the reporter. That they believed their own propaganda is a shame.

pearl jam

11/30/2012 5:05:42 PM

What about 1453? The movie is a complete distortion of historical facts.

Sandra Jacoel

11/30/2012 3:42:31 PM

I would really like to know what David Cameron thinks about the portrayal of Henry VIII in "The Tudors". You're right BB if there's something on TV you don't like-change channels! I do, every time the esteemed one makes an appearance! Fantastic piece BB, keep it coming

Agnes Smith

11/30/2012 3:09:40 PM

@ cloud chaser - I remember a few years ago there was a movie planned portraying the life of Ataturk. Antonio Banderes was offered the lead role. He received a number of death threats from American Greeks and Armenians. He even took a body guard and then later turned the role down as he didn't what his family threatened in this way. And also there was a hieightened fury between Isreal and Turkey at the time of Valley of Wolves. We have some wackos in this world if you hadn't realized. Regards

stella maris

11/30/2012 1:46:25 PM

Now it is clear why AKP supports Hamas and what is their true face: Alemdar (= AKP) wants the very same than Hamas: "From the River to the see it is Palestine", "six feet beneath the earth". Shame on the Turkish rulers (NOT LEADERS!), praise on you BB for your eternal courage!

Recep Ozel

11/30/2012 12:11:49 PM

Brilliant writing Burak!! I have searched for your writing in Turkish, to share with others, but can't find it anywhere..


11/30/2012 12:05:11 PM

@Truther; the fact that other monarchs killed children too doesnt make it more humane. BB's article is a reminder that our Sultans are not smelling of roses either- dont you think that side of our 'glorious history' is underrepresented? Though admittedly history books and the general populace in the west have a similar bias concerning their histories but in Turkey you get convicted or at least attacked; even physical threatened..I think BB has courage.

Stefanos Kalogirou

11/30/2012 12:00:52 PM

I am sure that one of your next articles Mr Burak Bekdil will be titled "Once upon a time on a planet called Turkey". Not only the PM but many others are living on their own planet! Thank you once more for your article. Hurrieyt makes my day through your articles!


11/30/2012 11:57:22 AM

@DOGAN: 9 turks and others who boarded the flotilla were warned beforehand by israli authorities. They resisted and even attacked israeli soldiers who were carrying guns. What did they think would happen? It seems to me that they really wanted to be 'martyrs' and I doubt if their families think differently. I personally can not relate to such a mind set. Neither can BB and thats why his articles are important in an increasingly sunni minded Turkey.
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