Explained: Why Imran Khan is urging Pakistanis to watch Diriliş: Ertuğrul, a Turkish television drama

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Written by Neha Banka
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Updated: May 25, 2020 3:15:47 pm





It appears that Khan has a particular fondness for Turkish historical dramas.

Last month, in a conversation with YouTube users, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan discussed a range of issues, one being a popular 2014 Turkish television drama production named ‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’, also available on Netflix. According to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, this hit television drama has been airing on the PTV channel since the first day of Ramzan, dubbed in Urdu, at Khan’s request.

It appears that Khan has a particular fondness for Turkish historical dramas. Just days after the conversation with YouTubers was broadcast, Pakistani politician Faisal Javed Khan, tweeted on May 4 that the prime minister wanted another historical drama, ‘Yunus Emre: Aşkın Yolculuğu’, to be broadcast in Pakistan.

What is this about?

Imran Khan’s admiration for Turkey is no secret. In the past, he has called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan one of his political heroes, along with the Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Turkey for its part, has been an important ally for Pakistan, supporting it on key issues such as Kashmir. Khan also admires Turkey’s model of economic growth and has indicated that he hopes to see it replicated in Pakistan under his leadership. Khan, by his own admission, also admires Turkish historical television dramas and has been openly urging Pakistan’s citizens to watch them to learn “Islamic values” and “culture”.

Pop-culture content, Khan said, starts from Hollywood and then goes to Bollywood and then reaches Pakistan. “A third hand culture is being promoted,” he said. Interestingly, Khan implied that Turkish television dramas, particularly the historical dramas, were representative of Pakistani culture. “We also have a culture. It has romance….but it has Islam’s values,” he said.

“Unfortunately, I have to say that I am seeing that through Bollywood….30-40 years ago even in Bollywood, you wouldn’t see these kinds of things. Now there is so much dirt in it. They have adopted the worst of Hollywood’s traits. But they don’t show the strength of their own legacy. Our children are being very negatively affected by this,” Khan added. He went on to say how Bollywood films were negatively influencing schools, promoting a drug culture and were leading to an increase in sex crimes and crimes against children.

According to Khan, Turkish historical dramas will show Pakistan’s citizens that there is a world, culture and values beyond Bollywood and its negative influences, particularly the influence Bollywood has on the country’s family system. Turkish news outlet TRT reported that Khan had learned of the popularity of ‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’ following an official visit to Turkey last year.

Why are Turkish television dramas popular in Pakistan?

Turkish television dramas and films are popular around the world, including in India. Turkish actors and drama productions have loyal fans around the world, who eagerly consume content related to their favourite stars in their languages using subtitles or dubbings. In the Indian subcontinent, Turkish television dramas have been popular for at least one decade if not longer.

People have their own, varying reasons for why they like Turkish television dramas and films and fans consume a wide range of productions in various genres, not just historical dramas and films. In general, Turkish television dramas are high-budget productions, well made, with engaging story lines and talented actors. In 2016, Turkish television dramas were broadcasted on the Zindagi channel, starting with the extremely popular ‘Fatmagul’, a shortened name of the original ‘Fatmagül’ün Suçu Ne?”. It was followed by ‘Adını Feriha Koydum’, shortened to ‘Feriha’ for Zindagi’s Indian viewers.

‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’ is a 2014 production that ran for five seasons with 179 episodes in total. While fans always go back to rewatch their favourites on various online platforms, this most recent discussion about ‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’ came about because of Khan’s promotion of the production. After the first episode was broadcasted in April on Pakistan’s PTV, #ErtugrulUrduPTV began trending on social media in Pakistan. Within a month of the start of its broadcast on PTV, the television drama’s YouTube channel with dubbings in Urdu, called ‘TRT Ertugrul by PTV’ reached 4.02 million subscribers and counting.

Why is ‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’ popular?

Again, people have their own reasons why they like Turkish drama productions. It may just be the storyline, the actors, the sets and production, the overarching messages etc. ‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’ tells a dramatised story of the prehistory of the Ottoman Empire, focusing on the life of Ertuğrul, the father of Osman I, who is considered to be the founder of the Ottoman Empire. While some people have labelled it the Turkish ‘Game of Thrones’, this association and labelling may be oversimplifying the story and doing the series a disservice by making these comparisons.

Turkish actor Engin Altan Düzyatan plays the role of Ertuğrul Gazi and Esra Bilgiç as Halime Sultan, Ertuğrul’s wife and the mother of Osman Gazi I, who is considered to be the founder of the Ottoman Empire. Through the five seasons of the drama, called dizi in Turkish, ‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’ that ran between 2014-2019, takes viewers through a series of dramatised events that ultimately lead to the founding of the Ottoman Empire. One of the most popular television dramas of 2014, ‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’ is one of those dizis that continue to draw viewers no matter how much time has passed since its first broadcast.

Such has been the popularity of the series in Pakistan that Engin Altan Düzyatan recorded a special message for Eid for the fans of the series.

Fans of the series include Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had visited the production sets with his family, as well as Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro who visited the sets in 2018 and posed for photos wearing costumes and other props. If his social media posts are anything to go by, Pakistani politician Faisal Javed Khan is also a big fan of the series. He has been regularly tweeting about the series and has also contributed several opinion pieces for various news publications in Pakistan on the television drama. Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi also appears to be a fan of the series. In March 2019, he tweeted “Watching the Turkish series Diriliş: Ertuğrul I’m just overwhelmed by their achievements and victories that came as a result of their faith in ALLAH and the empire of justice which they were able to establish as a result of. May we be like that once again.”

However not everyone has been taken in by the popularity and interest in ‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’. According to local news reports in Turkey, as recent as February 2020, the series had been banned in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Turkish news publication Yeni Safak reported that Darul-İfta, Egypt’s official fatwa organisation, had released a statement accusing Turkey of using its cultural exports to influence the Middle East.

The fatwa specifically mentioned ‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’ as one of the Turkish television dramas that should not be watched. The statement accused Erdoğan of attempting to revive the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East by gaining control over Arab countries that were once a part of the Ottoman Empire. Observers say that bans instituted against the broadcast of Turkish television series in Saudi Arabia and the UAE were attempts to curb Turkey’s soft power and the attractiveness of its cultural exports.

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