Tag Archives: nationalism

Milat’tan önce* Valley of the Wolves – Nationalist drama borrows heavily from predecessor

*”Milattan önce” is Turkish for “before Christ,” but here means “before Milat.”

2198762-Milat-bilboardTurkish national TV station TRT’s latest effort in a series of moves to rebrand the channel through a combination of big-budget projects and pro-government messages appeared on April 3rd in the form of the new international spy drama Milat. As with the channel’s biggest success to date, the pre-Ottoman costume drama Diriliş Ertuğrul, the new series borrows heavily from an already established program. But while Ertuğrul‘s homage to the globally popular Magnificent Century is primarily a question of inspiration,[1] Milat openly adopts the themes, characters, and plot of the 12-years-and running Valley of the Wolves franchise, tweaking the formula in only one respect: whereas Valley weaves open praise of the current AK-Party government throughout its plot, Milat is such overt propaganda that it threatens to destroy the willing suspension of disbelief so necessary for drama to work.

Both shows center on the actions of a central male figure who was orphaned as a child and comes into a national intelligence service. In the case of Valley it is Polat Alemdar (né Ali Candan) who joins the fictional KGT (Kamu Güvenlik Teşkilatı – Public Safety Organization); in Milat it is Hamza who joins the “real” MIT (Milli Istihbarat Teşkilatı – National Intelligence Organization). (In fact, the show’s name, “Milat,” is the Turkish for “the birth of Christ,” but the logo is designed to reveal the letters “MIT” in reference to the group.)

In both cases there is a father figure who represents traditional values and to whom our hero can turn in times of trouble. Valley’s Ömer Baba, Polat’s adoptive father, was known to viewers as a muezzin who played the ney and practiced ebru; Milat‘s Agah Bey appears to be a retired intelligence operative who practices Islamic calligraphy.

kurtlarvadisipusuAn action drama can’t take place without a love interest and Milat has taken a move from the Valley playbook in positioning Duru, an optimistic lawyer who wants to do good in the world, under the wing of a father who heads a large and corrupt holding company. This is Ender in Milat, the head of Ender Energy, and his Valley counterpart would be Davut Tataroğlu, the media magnate whose daughter Inci had a troubled relationship with Polat, at one point bearing his child.

Characters are not the only thing reprised by Milat, as actors Demir Karahan, Volkan Özgömeç, and Yasemin Öztürk all had roles in Valley as well. The stylistics of the show are also similar, particularly when it comes to action scenes. Milat may actually outdo Valley, however, in one of that show’s key claims to fame: the glorification of violence. The first episode contains an extremely graphic medium shot of the head of a militant being gunned down by one of the MIT team in Nigeria. (This also appears in the introductory sequence at the start of show. Of note, the militants in this attack are described as fake Islamists financed by the “west” to interrupt Turkish Airlines traffic to the region, thereby retaining “western” control of Africa. ) Images far more tame than this got Valley censured in its early years, but since Milat airs on TRT, it may have less to worry about from RTÜK, the state-run commission tasked with regulating TV.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of mimesis comes not through characters, cast, or style, but, rather, the overarching effort to create a world that straddles the line between fact and fiction. In only the first episode we are introduced to two corporate tycoons (the aforementioned Erdem and the ascot-garbed Yıldıray), who are clearly meant as references to some of the “old Turkey” magnates that have managed to weather the rise of the “new Turkey” (read AK-Party). Two of the prime candidates here would be Turkey’s enormously powerful Sabanci and Koç families and, in a reflexive turn that already has internet chat rooms buzzing and puzzling, multiple scenes involving Yıldıray are actually filmed at Istanbul’s well-known Koç Museum of Transport, Industry, and Communication.

Milat Koc museum
Scene from Milat featuring Yıldıray at the Koç Museum

A third candidate for these roles is Aydın Doğan, head of Turkey’s largest media empire, and this is where things get strange. In Valley, the aforementioned Tataroğlu was clearly meant to evoke Doğan, and depictions of him shifted depending on what channel happened to be airing the show at the time. In Milat it’s too early to tell yet what direction these characters will take, but by making such clear mimetic overtures, the producers have set up and uncanny echo-chamber for those familiar with Valley. Courting an audience already conditioned for games of reference, they seem to be trying to add yet another dimension to the field.

Whether this will prove to be too much for viewers remains to be seen. My own uneasy moments while watching came not from puzzling over who represented whom but, rather, trying to stomach the overt propaganda of the show. One example should suffice. Early on we’re introduced to a family in a shantytown who have had their natural gas cut off by Ender Energy. The daughter of this family writes a letter explaining the situation to the Minister of Energy and he promptly responds with a personal phone call to her house and an audit of the company. He takes these steps despite the fact that he’s also in the midst of intense negotiations for the country’s energy future which include, among other things, a trip abroad on which his associate, the head of MIT, is assassinated.

A bit much, perhaps. In a country where the government routinely expropriates residents from such shantytowns so that AK-Party affiliated construction and investment firms can make a killing on real estate. Where the real Minister of Energy, Taner Yıldız, has presided over the worst mining disaster in the country’s history and retains his position despite a troubling record of failures to enforce workplace safety. Where unexplained blackouts come at very strange times and where electricity rates have jumped not least due to a series of privatization and speculation measures put into effect by the AK-Party. Where anyone who has ever tried to hook up, alter, or discontinue a utility is well aware of the countless lines, repeat visits, myriad copies of multiple forms, in short the Kafka-esque bureaucracy that is unavoidable in such situations.

The question is whether audiences will gloss that over. Milat is delivered with the same dose of nationalist verve that Valley viewers have come to expect and, coupled with the high production values and, thus far, admirable acting, it is certainly a step up from many of TRT’s efforts of the past. But such blatant propaganda rarely goes unremarked, and this is all the more true when it flies in the face of personal experience.

Milat premiered at 5th in the ratings on the night of Friday, April 3rd. That’s not bad for a new program, much less one appearing on TRT. The norm in the Turkish sector is four to five weeks for a series to prove its mettle but, since TRT is not accountable to commercial interests, its shows often get a longer run regardless of ratings. In the case of Milat, I’m guessing we’ll see it through the first week of June, at least. Just long enough for a trial run in the alternate ratings system of parliamentary elections.

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This post published simultaneously on End Times Cafe.

[1] For an exploration of some of the other efforts to follow Century and their failures, see Carney (2014).

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5 Yorumsuz – 5 Without Comment – 2015-03-30

1 – The International Press Institute (IPI) issued a special report on Turkey regarding freedom of expression and democracy, noting that,

Turkey has seen increased pressure on media in recent years, part of a drift toward authoritarianism that has led to a pervasive climate of self-censorship and one of the most troubling press freedom pictures in Europe.

2 – A nationalist retelling of the Gallipoli battle, Son Mektup (Final Letter), released in honor of the 100th anniversary of the battle, has garnered some controversy as Kemalist groups question why Mustafal Kemal Atatürk, a national hero and by many accounts a key figure of the Gallipoli defense, was left out of the film. ODA TV, an independent and often anti-AK-Party news site, asks where the money for such a project came from and notes that the steel, energy, and shipping industry firm İÇDAŞ was a major sponsor. Radikal, meanwhile, notes that the Ministry of National Education has paved the way for the film to be shown to millions of school children across the country. Emine Yıldırım from Today’s Zaman provides a cinematic critique of the film in English.

3 – The Kabataş fiasco described in previous entries (here, here, and here) has taken a new turn, as Hürriyet columnist İsmet Berkan, who claimed via Twitter to have seen footage of the attack, thereby lending weight to a story which has since been widely discredited, issued an apology to his readers at the prompting of Hürriyet’s reader representative, Faruk Bildirici. The story was covered widely, including in Hürriyet, and Today’s Zaman (English). In response, AKP Adiyaman MP Mehmet Metiner says that he trusted Gülenist police directors who told him that they had evidence of the Kabataş harassment and that’s why he had announced that the AKP had such evidence. He says that he doesn’t understand why İsmet Berkan felt compelled to lie about such things during Gezi nor why he feels compelled to confess it now.

4 – Crackdowns on perceived insults and critiques of the government continue to increase in the lead-up to the June parliamentary elections. Today’s Zaman provides a general summary, noting, that

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has filed complaints on charges of “ insult ing” him against a total of 236 people in the 227 days since he was elected president in the election held on Aug. 10, 2014.

In another article, the same paper notes that,

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office is seeking a prison sentence of two years for Gonca Vuslateri , an actress who works in theater and television, on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan , who has so far filed more than 220 complaints against people for allegedly insulting him since he was elected president in August of last year.

One of the cases gathering the most attention is that of cartoonists Aydoğan and Baruter. As Hürriyet Daily News notes,

Two cartoonists for the popular satirical weekly Penguen have been jailed to 11 months in prison, over a satirical piece on free speech in which they were convicted of including a hidden gesture “insulting” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Cartoonists Bahadır Baruter and Özer Aydoğan were sued for the Aug. 21, 2014, cover of the magazine, which satirized Erdoğan’s election as Turkey’s president. In the drawing, Erdoğan is seen asking whether officials at the new presidential palace in Ankara have prepared “any journalists to slaughter,” referring to ritual sacrifice in Islam, to mark his inauguration.

According to Radikal, Penguen has released a statement regarding the 11 month prison sentence, noting that they are saddened that a trial can even take place against a cartoonist and that this is bad for the whole country, especially given the fact that there is no insult on the cover in question. They state that they will continue to draw cartoons and that they hope this trial is the final example of attempt to intimidate free expression.

Other charges filed include the case of students in Trabzon, as covered by Today’s Zaman:

Thirty-seven students and teachers have recently appeared in court on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan , while criminal complaints have been filed against 11 others accused of breaking Law No. 2911 on Public Assemblies and Demonstrations while attending a protest in Trabzon. Education Personnel Union (Eğitim-Sen) Trabzon branch head Muhammet Ikinci was among those who have been summoned to testify before a court on charges of breaking the law, which regulates the actions allowed in demonstrations and protests. Reacting to the decision, Ikinci said, “This intolerance to people in a country where the government is responsible for guaranteeing fundamental freedoms and rights, including the expression of all ideas, gives us a clue about the want sort of regime the government is becoming.”

Erdoğan is not the only one being “protected” from such insults. Today’s Zaman details stories of journalist Ergun Babahan being indicted for alleged insults to Erdoğan’s son, Bilal, and Prime Minister Davutoğlu suing the paper’s own journalists, Bülent Keneş and Celil Sağır, over allegedly insulting Tweets. The PM apparently also managed to block access to the tweets. Even the state run news service, Anadolu Agency, is apparently now to be shielded from critique, as Hürriyet Daily News reports:

An investigation has been launched into a total of 58 well-known figures in Turkey on the grounds that they criticized the state-run Anadolu Agency on Twitter, daily Cumhuriyet has reported. Top journalists, including daily Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar, Hürriyet columnist Melis Alphan and Taraf columnist Emre Uslu are among the suspects, while the former general manager of the agency, Kemal Öztürk, and Vice-General Director Ebubekir Şahin are the complainants. The suspects have been accused of “provoking the people to hate and enmity, as well as defamation, slander and intimidation” for their posts on social media.

5 – In related news, Hürriyet Daily News reports on a new law that could affect social media users:

Social media users who share content that has been subject to a legal complaint in Turkey will be punished, according an omnibus bill currently being debated in parliament, daily Radikal has reported. The Telecommunications Directorate (TIB) will be able to decide for the removal or blocking of Internet content based on an article about the “protection of national security and public order” in the omnibus bill, and users who share such content will also be punished. On March 20, parliament approved a key article of the contentious omnibus bill that gives power to the prime minister and other ministers to shut down websites within four hours. The approval came just six months after a similar bill was overturned by the Constitutional Court.

5 Yorumsuz – 5 (or 6) without comment – 2015-02-23

1 – Guardian

Turkey has staged its first open military operation in Syria, dispatching hundreds of ground troops, tanks, aircraft and drones to extract 38 soldiers guarding a historical Ottoman tomb besieged by Islamic State (Isis) militants. In the first such incursion into Syria since the start of the civil war nearly four years ago, Ankara launched the operation – dubbed “Shah Euphrates” – to move the remains of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman empire. The operation was conducted through Kobani, the Kurdish-controlled enclave south of the Turkish-Syrian border that was the scene of a recent victory over Isis by the US-led military coalition.

2 – Hürriyet Daily News

A high school student in Turkey was sentenced to 12 months in prison on Feb. 15 for insulting then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The incident took place as the student, identified only by the initials U.H.C., attended a demonstration in Attalos Square in the southern province of Antalya, in protest at a case involving two other high school students who had been charged after protesting against Erdoğan.

3 – Radikal – Notes that the new film Kod Adi KOZ, which deals with Gezi Park and the 17 December corruption investigations, did poorly in its first few days. Producers were hoping it would break Recep Ivedik 4‘s box office record, but it sold only 127,743 seats during its first three days, meaning it would take a small miracle to reach that goal at this point.

4 – Hürriyet Daily News

A ruling party lawmaker has blamed popular Turkish soap operas for the increase in the number of rape cases in the country, arguing that such series were ruining the nature of the Turkish family structure. “You shoot series and you know no bounds in the relationship between the brother’s wife and uncle. You set no limits, and then you complain about the increase in rape. What were you expecting?  Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind,” İsmet Uçma, a deputy from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a member of parliament’s commission investigating the reasons for violence against women, said Feb. 18 during a panel meeting.

5 – Today’s Zaman

The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) has levied a nearly TL 1 million penalty on the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group in what Samanyolu executives consider yet another attempt to silence media outlets close to Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. “As if there were no other channels, RTÜK is exclusively following our channels and attempting to silence them with astronomic penalties,” said Samanyolu Haber TV Editor-in- Chief Metin Yıkar, commenting on the fine. “RTÜK should be the institution that monitors and regulates this country’s television networks, but it has completely abandoned this role and assumed the position of a political actor,” added Yıkar.

6 – Hürriyet Daily News – Turkish Parliament refuses to probe issues it claims to be very concerned about. The AKP majority voted against suggestions from HDP lawmakers that probes be conducted into (1) the so-called parallel state run by Fethullah Gülen, and (2) ISIL activities in Turkey.