A popular Turkish television series brings people from the Balkans and Turkey together through a common past.
By Ivana Jovanovic and Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Belgrade and Istanbul -- 21/12/12
"The Magnificent Century" was first broadcast in 2011. [AFP]
Turkish emperor Sultan Suleyman's life has been portrayed in many ways -- a TV series, books, travel packages -- and has drawn fans from near and far. Syleyman's popularity has also become a large part of Turkey's unofficial foreign relations with the Balkans, analysts said.
"The Magnificent Century" is a television series based on Suleyman's love for Hurrem, the slave who became his wife. The series was first broadcast in 2011, and is currently in its 3rd season.
"Turkey's relations with neighbouring regions are not taking place [just] at the level of states any more, but also at the level of societies and individuals," Birgul Demirtas, a Balkan expert from the international relations department of Ankara-based TOBB University, told SETimes.
She said that the Ottoman past used to be perceived as "a black page" in the history of almost all Balkan nations, but "The Magnificent Century" has allowed people to evaluate the common history through different perspectives.
"Sultan Suleyman is modern now. The whole region watches the show and reads the book about the ruler who had loved just one woman and had had the whole world, because all Ottoman countries have been noticed there in some idyllic manner. With this, Turks have done some kind of soft occupation and made the whole Balkans almost nostalgic for a not so fabulous past," Milica Mijovic, an employee of Serbian book publisher Narodna Knjiga, told SETimes.
Although the regional tradition of travelling to Istanbul is a long one, interest has been increasing since the show started. According to Jasmina Delic, deputy director of Travelino in Belgrade, nearly 50 percent of travellers to Istanbul are fans of the show.
"They became fascinated with Istanbul and Suleyman's heritage. The show and their love use to be the main topic during the travel. But the biggest positive surprise is the moment of recognising numerous similarities [with] Turks," Jasmina told SETimes.
Sonja Kostakieva, a 32-year-old pharmacist from Skopje, decided to visit Istanbul after watching this great love and she changed her mind about Turks, too.
"I thought Turks are conservative but I discovered it is a stereotype. They are great tourists and salesmen and the city is magical," Kostakieva told SETimes.
Turkish actress Mujde Uzman, who plays Armin on the show, believes that the magic on the screen can bring people together to share a common enthusiasm, regardless of the distance and historical phenomenon that separate them.
"This [series] shows that we are all coming from a common history and geography, having its deep roots in the Ottoman heritage. So why can't we resuscitate those common bonds which strengthen our mutual understanding and try to "re-invent" our friendship? It is a great opportunity," Uzman told SETimes.
"My grandmother was talking to me about Turks in such bad way which is not the case with me and my granddaughter, at all. But, we are watching Suleyman together. I promised her I'll take her to Istanbul for New Year's holidays since both of us deeply want to go there. Our next holiday will be in Turkey, too," Stana Georgijevski, a 60-year-old economist in Belgrade, told SETimes.