Conservatives say the internationally popular television series portrays the Ottoman Sultan in a blasphemous way.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 03/12/12
"The Magnificent Century" series has gained the ire of conservatives for its portrayal of the Ottoman family. [AFP]
In a statement that stirred the press and millions television viewers, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised one of Turkey's most popular soap operas recently, calling on the judiciary to take action.
The prime minister targeted "The Magnificent Century," which depicts Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent's personal life and the intrigues in the harem and royal family.
"We never knew such a Suleyman," Erdogan said. "He spent three decades on horseback, not in the palace as we see from those series. I'm condemning both the director of that series as well as the owner of the television station before my nation. We have already alerted the authorities about this and we are still waiting for a judicial decision."
Although some conservative circles think that the series undermines Turkish history by portraying Suleyman in a blasphemous way, "The Magnificent Century" remains a popular television show in Turkey and abroad.
According to estimates from the Copyrights General Directorate of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the show is watched by 150 million viewers in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Turkish republics.
The popularity of the series has inspired renewed interest in the Ottoman Empire, dubbed by some as "Ottomania," arousing curiosity in history, jewelry, traditional food and the Ottoman way of life.
Responding to the prime minister's comments, actress Mujde Uzman, who plays Armin, the lover of an Ottoman soldier in soap opera, called it "an unnecessary discussion."
"After all, this show is only fiction inspired by historical events, and it should be perceived as fiction, that's it," Uzman said.
"People who have special interest in Ottoman history can have all necessary information from history books as well as in-depth research. However, we want to have enough information about the harem life, the passionate love between Sultan and his wife Hurrem, as well as the Sultan's exceptional talent in culture, arts and poetry," she added.
Ahmet Kuyas, a historian at the Istanbul-based Galatasaray University, agreed.
"I find [Erdogan's] involvement in that series wrong. He is not a historian and most probably he is approaching this subject from an ideological perspective," he said.
"Calling on the judiciary is an even more wrong thing to do," he added. "In that case the day will come when books will be collected."
Kuyas said that in the west there are series like "The Tudors," which explain history in a fictional and glamourised way to attract viewers.
Nilgun Ozden, a fan of the Turkish TV series, told SETimes she doesn't agree with the prime minister, nor with those who say the series is only fiction.
"There's a strong team of historians behind the series. The main reason the series has angered conservatives is that it explains history in an easy and unusual way, different than what we read in books," she said.
"It is unacceptable that political figures call on the judiciary for a matter that concerns the society itself. I don't think that this call can result in any action and it is just a random statement."
Government officials have taken action against the television programme.
The Supreme Board of Radio and Television gave the series a warning in 2010 for producing content against "the national and moral values of society and the structure of the Turkish family." In November 2011, the series was fined for promoting violence in a bloody scene.