Greeks Tune in Turkish TV, Despite Critics



The Turkish television series The Magnificent Century depicts the life of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and is popular in Greece. (Reuters)

Greeks have been enthralled by Turkish TV series, The Magnificent Century in recent months. The series is comprised of historical recreations of 16th-century Sultan Suleiman’s life and slick soap opera-like tales of intrigue and family drama, prompting alarmed nationalists to issue warnings that fans should stop watching.

Greek viewers said they love the vicarious thrill of seeing how rich Turks live, and the shows make Istanbul seem an irresistible place to visit, while others relate to the problems of ordinary Turks.

“The plots are very intricate and there is a lot of tears and drama, and there are shootings too,” Antonia Thoma, 84, told Southeast European Times. “The direction and casts are better than Greek TV,” Regina Antoniadou, 51, a language tutor, told SETimes. “They present the beauty of their country and it makes you want to go there.”

Greek fans of Turkish actor Burak Hakki, who plays Dudaktan Kalbe in the series, created a fan club with 4,500 members. One hundred lucky fans were chosen to travel with Hakki on a mini-cruise on the Bosphorus. Hakki said he so appreciated the admiration of his Greek fans he decided to visit the country to express his gratitude.

The series has become so popular that nationalist Thessaloniki Bishop Anthimos and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party have both condemned the show and urged Greeks not to watch. “No one should watch Muhtesem Yuzyil, The Magnificent Century,” Anthimos said. “By watching the Turkish series we are telling them we have surrendered.”

But the attempt at prohibition has fallen on deaf ears as the glitzy tales of forbidden love, adultery, clan loyalties and betrayal have become a comfort for recession-hit Greeks. The Turkish shows’ prevalence is also a matter of economics as Greek television stations find it less expensive to buy them than to produce their own.

“I hope the Greek people and administration are not affected by such discriminatory views,” Tamer Kasim, Deputy Chairman of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organisation (USAK,) told SETimes. Kasim said encouraging people in both countries to watch the shows could foster cultural interaction between the two countries.

In addition to the fan clubs on Facebook, Greek viewers are using Turkish words on their accounts and magazines have begun offering CDs for intensive Turkish language lessons. The critics are missing the point, according to Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, an Associate Professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. “This siege mentality has had an impact on one’s outlook toward the rest of the world, so it is also ‘anti-anything not Greek’,” Triantaphyllou told SETimes.

Other Turkish shows such as Ezel, Ask ve Ceza  and Ask-I Memnu show panoramic shots of Istanbul, alluring to potential visitors. “Ezel and the other series portray a lost dimension of Greek society that has been buried in recent years. It awakens in today’s Greek a lost identity,” Nikos Heiladakis, a novelist, said.

The TV series have shown that despite the Greek nationalists’ grudge over the 400-year-long Ottoman rule that ended almost two centuries ago, Greeks and Turks have many cultural similarities. Kleon Antoniou, a guitarist with the Greek music group Mode Plagal, which has worked with the Turkish group Orchestra Bosphurus, said cultural exchanges break down prejudices. “A lot of music today in Greece we took from Asia Minor. We communicate with our colleagues in Turkey and are close to them,” Antoniou told SETimes.

Many doubt the critics will stop the cultural phenomenon and keep Greek fans from watching the Turkish shows, especially by using shaming language.  “I do not see it as unpatriotic, and I am the daughter of a priest,” Thoma said.

(By Andy Dabilis and Erisa Dautaj for Southeast European Times, www.setimes.com, in Athens and Istanbul. Reprinted by permission)