« En visite dans la province de Mardin pour visiter le plateau de la série TV « Aşk Bir Hayal » (L’amour est un rêve), Çelik a fait remarquer qu’un nombre croissant de séries télévisées turques sont diffusées sur les chaînes du Moyen-Orient, des Balkans et des nations turcophones et qu’elles brisent constamment les records d’audience de prime-time.
« Il y a un grand intérêt pour la Turquie à travers le monde. En outre, de nombreuses sociétés de production cinématographique désirent tourner des films ou des séries télévisées en Turquie où elles sont fascinées par la beauté naturelle du pays qu’on voit dans les séries télévisées turques », a noté Çelik, soulignant aussi que certains films étrangers et projets télévisés sont actuellement en préparation pour être tournés en Turquie. […] »
« Given the Ottoman Empire’s history in the Middle East, Turkey’s secularism upon the founding of the republic has left many with a less than favorable perception of the country among Arab states. However, the tide seems to be changing. Anyone who has lived in the Middle East or at least visited an Arab household has witnessed the predominance of a soap opera culture that engrosses men, women, and children alike. One of the most popular soap operas in the Middle East currently is in fact a Turkish series entitled Gumus (or Noor in Arabic), and it’s safe to say that it has helped “conquer hearts and minds in the Arab world.”
It’s not just the striking good looks of the lead characters that appeals to the Arab viewers; the series also tackles contentious norms that a male-dominated region would otherwise sweep under the rug. The show’s courage in taking on these issues has struck a chord with audiences beyond Turkey, providing a fine touch of cultural diplomacy to complement the Turkish government’s broader initiatives.
The German Marshall Fund held a roundtable discussion April 21 on a recent survey released by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV, a former CIPE partner) that measured the perception of Turkey among seven Arab nations: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq. Indeed, this “newfound positive image” is also demonstrative of Turkey’s shift in its foreign policy priorities since the 1990s and its ongoing efforts to be an influential player in the region (as seen in the globe-trotting Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s numerous trips to the region). Turkey’s growing role as a mediator in the region and Prime Minister’s Erdogan’s heated exchange with Israeli president Shimon Peres at Davos in support of Palestinians following the 2008 Gaza war have slowly led to a warming of opinion for the nation of 72 million. […] »
» Who said that capturing hearts and minds in the Muslim world is mission impossible? It’s just that the United States hasn’t figured out the right way to do it. Sometimes, it seems the U.S. government still thinks that public diplomacy is exchange students and a few diplomats who can speak Arabic and struggle on satellite television in the region to explain U.S. foreign policy.
Welcome to the power of the stars! I am not talking about the ones in the sky, but rather a handful of good-looking blond and dark Turkish movie stars who are taking the Arab world by storm. Four-hundred years after a nasty occupation of Arab land by the forefathers of these young Turks, the Arab world is embracing Turkey, opening its living rooms and flocking around their television sets to watch over 140 episodes of second-rate Turkish soap operas that don’t even do well in Turkey itself.
If only the sultans knew that it could be done on the cheap, they could have dispatched these handsome men and beautiful women and assembled them to conquer hearts and minds in the Arab world on their behalves, saving the treasury endless amount of cash.
But how could how this state of affairs be?
Quite simply, the Arab world is taking to these soap operas like a duck to water. The final episode of the most famous one — broadcast on MBC TV — called Gumus (or Noor as it’s known in Arabic), pulled in 80 million viewers from Morocco to Palestine. For Saudi women, the example of the main Muslim character « Muhanned » treating his wife well was an especially powerful one. And the message was clear: Islam is not the reason why they were being ill-treated by their own husbands. The idea of watching Muslim men and woman who share the same values and cultural background with their brethren in the Middle East is a very appealing one because it raises taboo subjects and challenges conservative values by someone from within, as opposed to an outsider.
The Turkish soaps have been daring and candid when it comes to gender equality, premarital sex, infidelity, passionate love, and even children born out of wedlock. Coming from a Muslim country like Turkey (even one imbued with a strong secular identity) made it easy to penetrate the thick walls of conservatism in the Arab world where bigotry and misogyny often masquerade as « moral » or « ethical » issues.
As a result of the popular soaps (which by the way are watched not only by women but entire households), Turkey has carved out a strong place for itself on the Arab street. Thousands of rich Gulf Arabs flock to Turkey on every occasion, as Istanbul has lately rivaled London and Paris as a favorite tourist destination. While enjoying touring the Topkapi Palace or reminiscing in the glory of the Muslim empire, Arab tourists also hope to catch a glimpse of the handsome actors as they film in one of Istanbul’s many suburbs. In 2009, Arab tourism to Turkey took a dramatic rise, including a 21 percent rise from the United Arab Emirates and a 50 percent rise from Morocco.
Since Noor’s inception in 2006, there have been a slew of other Turkish soaps on Arab screens, the latest of which, Asi, is an adaption of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. Its main leading characters were played by two rising stars, Murat Yildirim and Tuba Buyukustun. Both are becoming instant celebrities in the Arab world, with some reports even suggesting that one of them was requested for an audience with a member of the Saudi royalty. The soaps’ success lay on several elements: the quality of production, the stories of ordinary people wrapped in glamorous lifestyles, and the easy-to-listen-to Syrian accent in which these soaps are dubbed. The Turkish actors in these shows have become known throughout the Arab world by their translated character names — whether « Muhanned, » « Amir, » « Lamis, » or « Noor » — and many viewers don’t even know their real Turkish names.
The broader impact of the story is that a simple television production can be utilized as a potent social tool to effect change and influence thinking — and in the process win a few million hearts and minds. And Turkish soaps are not just about romance, glamour, and secular values wrapped under a Muslim banner. A new soap with more overt political overtones has recently gone on air on MBC (where I am a reporter). Sarkhet Hajar as it is known in Arabic (Cry of a Stone) is the latest Turkish soap causing a frenzy among the Arab viewers. It depicts the daily life of Palestinians under Israeli military occupation, and it looks like a dramatization of a daily news bulletin. In response, blogs and websites have been going wild debating its influence. It was filmed in Turkey, the West Bank, and even inside the al-Aqsa mosque. Although it mainly focuses on the suffering of Palestinian civilians, it also digs deep into the division among the Palestinian factions and talks about taboo issues such as honor killings. It even dares to raise the hitherto unthinkable: a love story between an Israeli Shin Bet officer and a beautiful young Palestinian activist.
In the end, Turkey and its government should be thankful to the soap stars who are conquering hearts and minds on their behalf — and on the cheap. The government can claim the benefit and ride a wave of popular support among the Arab masses, something which burnishes Turkey’s already popular image in the Arab world (indeed, Turkish Prime Minister Receip Tayyip Erdogan is already considered a hero on the Arab street due to his strong show of solidarity with the Palestinian people). Between topics including romance and social upheaval that rattles traditional values, and highlighting the Palestinian cause, one can see a blurring of the lines between art and reality, and the effect one has on the other. »
« According to a drafted amendment of the Law on Radio and Television Broadcasting Institutions and Publishing Rights, the limit of foreign investment shall increase to 50 percent and RTÜK shall take over supervision and the ascertaining of the number of viewers.
The government plans to amend the Law on Radio and Television Institutions and Publishing Rights (no. 3894) as a supposedly required step on the way to the accession to the European Union. Due to the amendment, the maximum share of foreign capital shall be increased from 25 to 50 percent. Should the amendment be ratified, a foreign private person or a legal entity can become a direct shareholder of two broadcasting institutions.
Another amendment proposes the transfer of supervision from the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) to the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK). Accordingly, provisions regarding special regulations for public and private broadcasting organizations would be lifted. (…) »
« TURKEY— Three industry associations have joined forces to revamp TIAK, the joint industry committee for TV ratings in Turkey, after the country’s Competition Board ordered the body to restructure.
TIAK was initially given a 90-day deadline to restructure itself, hire professional staff and make its methodology publicly available, having been found by the Competition Board to be “lacking in structure and technical ability”.
That deadline expired yesterday, however TIAK has been given a 60-day extension after the chairman of the Advertising Association (RD), the Association of Advertisers (RVD) and the TV Broadcasters’ Association agreed to establish a new association to replace the existing TIAK set-up.(…) »