Turkey Pulse

How TV series can create new reality for traumatized Turks

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Article Summary
Riding the populist wave of patriotism, Turkey’s entertainment sector has tuned to stories of bravery on the battlefield.

For Turkey, 2016 was marked by ongoing operations against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Islamic State (IS), the coup attempt on July 15 and the launch of Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria later in the summer. In domestic politics, this resulted in populist bombast and bravado further fueling the clamor over the planned shift to a presidential system, which, in turn, has proven a key dynamic behind the emerging “National Front” between the country’s conservative and nationalist quarters.

As a result, stories about the heroism of Turkish soldiers and police, be it at home or in northern Syria, have taken the Turkish public by storm. A daily fixture in the media, they are boosting the people’s morale and their confidence in the state and the army, while at the same time covering up the failures incurred from poor political and strategic judgments.

To give credit where credit is due, the Turkish security forces have done and continue to do their best to achieve the targets set by decision-makers, putting their lives on the line despite all the demoralizing events of 2016. Their bravery on the ground is something that both the political establishment and the public desperately need.

The entertainment sector, meanwhile, seems keen to convert this sentiment into profits. The cinema sector was already riding on the wave in late 2016. “Dag 2” (“Mountain 2”), a movie about special forces rescuing a journalist awaiting execution at the hands of IS, hit the big screen in November, attracting 3.6 million viewers in 17 weeks. Shot on a budget of about 7 million Turkish lira ($1.9 million), the movie generated more than 40 million Turkish lira ($11 million) in revenue.

Now, three ambitious TV series will debut in April, drawing on similar themes of heroism, sacrifice and national pride.

The first, called “Soz” (“Promise”), is about a special forces unit fighting against what trailers suggest is a terrorist group in northern Syria. One trailer shows soldiers uttering religious lines. “Allah is sufficient to us and he is the best disposer of affairs,” one soldier says, reciting a verse from the Quran, while another exclaims, “It’s a beautiful night to fall a martyr.” The soundtrack includes a military hymn evoking Ottoman nostalgia. Another trailer features intense scenes of urban warfare.

Abdullah Agar, a veteran special forces captain and now a popular TV commentator, serves as a concept consultant to the series. Last week he published a book about the braveries of Turkish soldiers in Operation Euphrates Shield and the fight against the PKK in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Agar said the public was hungry to know what transpired on the ground in the fierce clashes that raged in urban areas in the southeast from November 2015 to March 2016. “The curiosity about what goes on in conflict zones increased further after the July 15 coup attempt and peaked with Operation Euphrates Shield,” he said. “The Turkish nation is one that upholds the military. The big shock of July 15 and then the developments in northern Syria traumatized the public psyche, and so those heroes and their sacrifices on the battlefield have played a great role in strengthening the bond between state and people and rebuilding the bond between army and nation.”

A second series, called “Savasci” ("Warrior"), will air on a channel with a more secularist leaning. “When the homeland is at stake, the rest is detail,” its promotional slogan says. Special forces are at the center of this series, too, but the plot seems to be more sentimental, highlighting human feelings. The trailers feature themes such as the sanctity of the national flag, the anxiety of a mother with a son in the army and Turkish soldiers rescuing a young child in a war zone. “War is not something to be cherished, but we’ll do our best if we are left with no choice,” a special forces captain says in one of the trailers.

A third channel will air a series about the police’s special operation units. Called “Isimsizler” (“The Unknowns”), its message appears to be a textbook example of the synthesis between Turkish nationalism and Islam. The soundtrack is inspired by a popular song called “Turkish Blood” and the promotional slogan says, “This homeland will never be short of unknown heroes.” One of the trailers shows a gun, bullets and dollars on a table, with blood and oil oozing between them, in addition to scenes from urban clashes in the southeast. In another trailer, which highlights religious themes, police officers — fully equipped and wearing balaclavas — pray for a fallen comrade, and their prayers merge with those of their mothers waiting for them.

The series follows the story of three policemen from the special operations units who volunteer to fight in the southeast, leaving comfortable posts in Istanbul despite the objections of their families. A third trailer starts with the slogan “Only we can foil this ploy” and suggests that the storyline will extend to Europe, where the officers will apparently confront exiled PKK militants. Unlike the two other series, the stories of heroism in “The Unknowns” are complete with political messages, including how the PKK allegedly enjoys support in Europe. Besides fighting scenes and patriotic messages, the last trailer includes hidden advertisements of weapons, armored vehicles and equipment manufactured by leading Turkish defense companies.

So it seems Turkish viewers will be busy discussing these three series, all broadcast on top channels, as they head to a critical April 16 referendum on constitutional changes, designed to equip President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with sweeping executive powers. The “emotional reality” the series will create is likely to supersede the “actual reality,” which will play into the hands of both the entertainment sector and the prevailing political mindset. The emotional reality will certainly come as a relief for Turkish political and foreign policymakers, whose focus nowadays is shifting from “what do you think?” to “how do you feel?”

It is probably safe to say that the series will increase interest in the army’s commando and special forces units and the police’s special operations teams. The recruitment efforts of the army and the police are likely to get a serious boost, in addition to promotional benefit for the Turkish defense industry.

Finally, the series will have a soothing and morale-boosting impact on Turkish society’s psyche. Thanks to the bravery stories of soldiers and policemen — elite servicemen but at the same time men of the people — Turkey’s political and strategic debacles will be projected as “badly managed success stories” instead. The notion that “unknown” heroes are teaching lessons to all those foreign forces envious of Turkey’s rise and their cohorts at home will put millions to bed in peace.

Found in: movie, tv, turkish military, turkish security forces, populism, pkk, recep tayyip erdogan

Metin Gurcan is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. He served in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Iraq as a Turkish military adviser from 2002 to 2008. After resigning from the military, he became an Istanbul-based independent security analyst. Gurcan obtained his PhD in 2016 with a dissertation on changes in the Turkish military over the preceding decade. He has published extensively in Turkish and foreign academic journals, and his book “What Went Wrong in Afghanistan: Understanding Counterinsurgency in Tribalized, Rural, Muslim Environments” was published in August 2016. On Twitter: @Metin4020

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