A historical TV drama dubbed the “Turkish Game of Thrones” is currently breaking records in Pakistan, to some controversy.
Dirilis Ertugrul (Ertugrul’s Resurrection), which is available on Netflix, was released in Pakistan as a dubbed version in April this year, and has proven hugely popular over the course of five seasons, as the BBC reports.
It has also become a hit in the Middle East, South Africa, and South America. Venezuala’s president, Nicolas Madura, was pictured wearing the hat of a Turkish warrior during a set visit earlier this year.
The series, starring Engin Altan Düzyatan, Serdar Gökhan and Hülya Darcan, is based on the life of 12th-century Muslim Oghuz Turk leader Ertugrul. It follows the Muslim Oghuz Turks as they battle Mongol invaders, Christians, Byzantines and the Knights Templar.
Critics believe Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan has backed the show, which has a large budget and employs Nomad (a stunt company popular in Hollywood), because it meets with his vision for Pakistan as the “ethical and political ideal” of Islamic society.
Politicians have since become involved in the debate as to whether the show promotes violence or serves as a positive celebration of Muslim heroes, and as a means of combatting Islamophobia.
An article in the daily Dawn suggested that “the reason may lie in a much-publicised, behind-the-scenes meeting, where Prime Minister Khan met with Turkish president [Recep] Tayyip Erdogan and [then] Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammad at the UNGA (UN General Assembly)”.
In September 2019, Khan met with Erdogan and Mahathir to discuss the idea of floating a dedicated English-language TV channel to create a counter-narrative against Islamophobia.
In an article in The Diplomat, it was suggested that Khan was “probably trying to score political points in Turkey, a country with which Pakistan is strengthening its partnership”, by promoting the show.
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The Dawn article pointed out that the show manages to challenge a number of negative perceptions about Muslim culture.
“Powerful and willful, the ladies of Dirilis: Ertugrul are very different to the weeping females we see in Pakistani and Indian dramas but neither do they live up to the Game of Thrones analogy used to describe this show,” it said.
“The women often act as Beys or chieftains in place of their husbands and brothers as required, they fight with swords or daggers and won’t quietly marry any man chosen for them to please anyone – even if it’s a sultan.”
A 2017 New York Times article commented: “Series like Dirilis: Ertugrul express the idea that Turkey has a unique mission as the heir of a great empire, a nation founded by men of strength, courage and wisdom.”
It also pointed out that the popularity of Dirilis: Ertugrul and similar dramas may reflect their audiences’ desire to escape “into a fantasy world more comforting than the messy reality of Turkey today”.
“In a fiercely polarised country troubled by rising economic strife and roiled by war over the border in Syria, Dirilis: Ertugrul soothes viewers by tapping into a flattering foundational myth of Turkish glory,” it said.