Turkey: Turkish soap operas invade the Middle East

Soft power for a neo-Ottoman expansion, experts

13 December, 10:39

The poster of The poster of "Forbiddden Love", a successful Turkish soap opera

(ANSAmed) - ANKARA, DECEMBER 13 - People in more than 20 countries watch Turkish soap operas and experts say that these television shows are spreading Turkish values and lifestyle in the Middle East and North Africa. It is also believed that they exercise a ''soft power'', supporting Ankara's neo-Ottoman diplomacy.

Television serials like ''Muhtesem Yuzyål'' (''Magnificent'' Ottoman ''Century''), "Ask-i Memnu" (Forbidden Love) and "Yaprak Dokumu" (Falling Leaves) are breaking records in the number of viewers. The more than a hundred episodes that are in circulation have earned the producers the equivalent of more than 60 million USD this year only. These facts are reported by Turkish websites, which point out that a Japanese television channel has made a documentary on Turkish soap operas and their impact on tourism and export. And the American Time Magazine recently called these series ''the secret of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan''.

''With the increase in the number of soap operas circulating internationally, learning the Turkish language and culture has become very important in the Arab and Balkan countries,'' a sociologist of the Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, Nilufer Narle, wrote on the website of the Turkish newspaper in English Hurriyet Daily News. She added that ''this is what we call 'soft power' in the context of cultural industry." According to the internet site dailybeast.com, the final episode of the Turkish soap opera ''Noor'' was seen by 85 million viewers, ranging from Syria to Morocco. Moreover, Hurriyet reports, 78% of people who were interviewed in a poll carried out in the Arab world and in Iran said that they had watched Turkish soap operas. Kemal Uzun, director of ''Noor'', claims that viewers ''feel part of what is happening'' on the screen. ''Our cultures and geography are closely related, we have strong ties,'' he added. ''These series have an enormous impact,'' said Izzet Pinto, head of the company that distributes ''Magnificent Century'' and ''Thousand and One Nights'', set in modern Istanbul. The writer of a report with the title ''The image of Turkey in the Arab world,'' Paul Salem, underlined that ''the stars of Turkish television become pop idols'' and these soap operas create ''great sympathy for the Turkish identity, culture and values,'' a role that was played in the past decades by Egyptian television and film. The spread of soap operas seems to follow the geography of Turkish foreign policies and even goes beyond that, following global taste: ''We started broadcasting in the Balkan countries this year,'' said Firat Gulgen, president of Calinos Holding which produces 80% of the series exported by Turkey. Pinto, chairman of distribution company Turkey's Global Agency, pointed out that babies in the Balkan area are now named after characters from the series ''Thousand and One Nights." But Turkey also exports its soap operas to many countries in central and eastern Europe and the Far East, even to Japan and Malaysia. (ANSAmed).

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