News / Europe

Turkey's PM Attacks Popular TV Show

Poster for Turkish TV series "Magnificent Century"Poster for Turkish TV series "Magnificent Century"
Poster for Turkish TV series "Magnificent Century"
Poster for Turkish TV series "Magnificent Century"
Dorian Jones
Turkey is witnessing something of a battle royal. The country’s most popular soap television series, "Magnificent Century," is about Turkey’s most famous sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. The costume drama has been a hit not only inside Turkey, but also outside, from the Balkans to the Middle East. But Turkey’s prime minister sees the TV series as nothing short of historical heresy.

The legendary Roxelana, in an alluring dress, seduces Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire’s most famous sultan. It is a scene from "Muhtesem Yuzyil" -- or "Magnificent Century" -- Turkish television's historical soap opera. The steamy mix of intrigue in the harem between the rival concubines of the sultan and political rivalry at the court have made the program a smash hit. But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not a fan.
Erdogan says that is not the Sultan Suleiman Turkey knows. That is not the lawgiver who spent 30 years of his life on horseback, not in a palace like in the TV show. The prime minister said he publicly condemns the show's directors and the owners of the television station.

He also said that he had called on the authorities to investigate the program. It remains unclear what law the show has violated. But Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist and columnist for the Taraf newspaper, says history is not on the side of "the pious prime minister."

"As the strong man of Turkey, like all strong men around the world, daring to rewrite history of his land, according to his beliefs, and very ethical in sense that, there is no irregularities of these emperors. They just [pray] and run the empire and are good guys. These are totally ahistorical; no such things existed. Like almost all emperors, not only Ottoman, like all mighty men in this world, had several women and had very luxurious life," Aktar said.

The confrontation between Turkey's most powerful man and its most popular TV soap opera has made headline news and dominates the country’s discussion programs. But most actors and the producers of the show have kept a low profile.  They are aware that the future of the program could well hang in the balance.

Actress Nebahat Cehre did break the silence. She says one cannot have censorship in art. If they start doing that, where will it end, she asks. Muhtesem Yuzyil is just a story, she says. Children are curious about their country's history, and more and more history books are being published about the period.
Ironically, since the prime minister's attack on the show, Muhtesem Yuzyil has broken its own records, with viewer figures rocketing. But there is a sting in the tale -- one of the prime minister’s closest parliamentary deputies has promised that parliament will introduce regulations to protect the portrayal of historical figures.
That news is already on the streets of central Istanbul. As people head home, looking forward to spending a night watching "Muhtesem Yuzyil," there is a mixture of anger and resignation.

One man’s view is typical. 

"Well, nobody forces anyone to watch it," he said. "But it's no surprise for our prime minister to take into every business whatever he can. But making a law against a TV series, which is really ridiculous, what kind of stuff our parliament does. I don’t know which parliament passes against a TV program. Isn’t it absurd?"

"Muhtesem Yuzyil," the TV show, like Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, could soon well become history itself, with the government claiming Turkey's historical heritage is too important to be in the hands of television soaps. But critics claim the sound of a new sanitized history being written can already be heard in the corridors of power in Ankara.

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Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
December 17, 2012 11:58 PM
This show was being broadcasted into Iran by banned satellite channels outside Iran. However, the people who were translating the show were inside Iran, and they have been arrested recently. That is what I read on a few news website. And as a result, the Persian version of the show is not currently on air for the Iranians.

by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
December 14, 2012 12:51 AM
The glorification of a mass murderer, destroyer of the balkans, etc is not a good thing. To this day, all over the Balkans this Ottoman mass murderer, and his empire of evil deeds are not forgotten. The Ottomans are third to Hitler/Atila/Huns in terrible deeds/followed closely by Dracul. In places like Serbia, Montenegro/ Greece, Bulgaria and so on, the great evil is not forgoten. Much of the hatred against the Ottoman persists to this day. The desecration of the holiest site of the Orthodox Christians, in Constantinople, Ste Sophia does not seat well with any one in the Orthodox world. Glorifying, someone that persecuted/murdered/raped/looted millions upon millions, in this day and age can only awaken further hatreds. It is best that such characters like the Huns/Ottomans/Dracul/Nazis/ etc be burried and not glorified. I am sure that if people in the Balkans glorified Dracul, for the terrible deeds, including horrendous ways of killing Tuks, the Tuks would not be happy.

by: Fatih Uckun from: CA
December 13, 2012 1:06 AM
I am a Turkish-American physician scientist and a professor at the University of Southern California. I have always been interested in he European history with a special emphasis on Ottoman Empire and Roman Empire. In this particular case, I agree with the Turkish Prime minister. Indeed, several months ago, on 4th of July 2012, I tweeted about this problem and asked officials to look into this matter (see The problem stems of the specific use of the name of a historical figure as if the film series is a documentary but do so without any due attention to detail in terms of language, costumes, social settings, actual events etc.

Let me explain this: Just imagine you have a program running in CNN and it is called the Magnificent Century and the Life of J.F. Kennedy. Then, let's imagine you have J.F. Kennedy shown raping 14 year old girls, getting drunk while deliberating on the Cuban missile crisis, and his brother having an incestual relationship with daughter.....How do you think the American public would or should react.

Please note that He is known in the West as Suleiman the Magnificent[3] and in the East, as "The Lawgiver" (Turkish: Kanuni), for his complete reconstruction of the Ottoman legal system. Suleiman became a prominent monarch of 16th century Europe, presiding over the apex of the Ottoman Empire's military, political and economic power. Suleiman personally led Ottoman armies to conquer the Christian strongholds of Belgrade, Rhodes, and most of Hungary before his conquests were checked at the Siege of Vienna in 1529. He annexed most of the Middle East in his conflict with the Safavids and large swathes of North Africa as far west as Algeria. Under his rule, the Ottoman fleet dominated the seas from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.

At the helm of an expanding empire, Suleiman personally instituted legislative changes relating to society, education, taxation, and criminal law. His canonical law (or the Kanuns) fixed the form of the empire for centuries after his death. Not only was Suleiman a distinguished poet and goldsmith in his own right; he also became a great patron of culture, overseeing the golden age of the Ottoman Empire's artistic, literary and architectural development

For those who are interested in historical truths, please go to the references listed at

As long as it is clearly stated that what is being shown is a fiction with no relationship to historical truths, then I do not believe anyone would have an issue with it. But irresponsible dissemination of unsubstantiated false representations of a well studied and reported historical figure can not be accepted just because the misconduct is in the context of a movie.

At a time when the Turkish lawmakers have put a large emphasis on women's rights and have introduced stiff penalties for violence against women, it is understandable that the Turkish Prime minister would have an issue that the idol of many young Turks would be portrayed as someone who enjoys violence against women.

Another major problem with this movie series is its anti-semetic nature. Within the Otoman empire, the Jewish citizens lived as respected members of the society and made very substantial contributions to science, arts, and military technology. Many of the Jewish financiers were originally from Iberia and had fled during the period leading up to the expulsion of Jews from Spain. The most notable of the Jewish banking families in the sixteenth century Ottoman Empire was the Marrano banking house of Mendes which moved to and settled in Istanbul in 1552, under the protection of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. In this movie series, the Jewish citizens are being portrayed as they were in some of the Nazi propaganda movies !

by: Mike S. from: United States
December 12, 2012 8:19 PM
So I guess a television show in Turkey about the Armenian Genocide would be totally out of the question.
In Response

by: reşat from: konya
December 13, 2012 2:25 AM
historical leader (emperors) like suleiman the magnificient who assumed sacred symbol for conservative power and community in turkey so that prime minister must adopt this political line
In Response

by: J in LA from: Los Angeles
December 13, 2012 1:36 AM
No, actually they are totally OK with fabricated stuff.

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