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Relevance Of Netflix Series ‘Ertugrul’ To Turkey’s Current Politics

The moment the historical series Ertugrul got premiered on 10th December, 2014, on Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), hand-in-hand the process of sharing Turkish culture began. The series has been translated into many languages, and was officially broadcast in many countries. Recently, during the lockdown period, its viewership broke many records in the Indian subcontinent.

However, it is not just these records that make this series important, but the unheard voices of Turkey’s politics, history, religion, narrative and representation that echo all the time. Here is an attempt to trace down some of those voices.

Does Turkey Support Terrorism? Is It Against the Christian World?

This is perhaps a very serious question. With terrorism as one of the biggest threats to humanity in postmodern times, anything that supports it should be banned — this is the narrative presented by the media of the Western countries, mainly the developed ones. Is there really some sugar in this allegation or is it merely jealousy of developed countries who cannot bear to see anybody else better than them in any field, even in media?

There are many pan scenes of mortal combats, close-up scenes of heads being chopped by swords, arrows piercing the throat into two, or axes of the kind that Turgut Alp carries — this was how battles were fought in those days, and the series is perhaps a correct depiction of warfare in the era.

The important thing in the series is ideology — the character of Ertugrul is shown as a devotee of Hazrat Ibn Al Arbi, a prominent figure of Sufism. Ertugrul repeatedly seeks guidance from Hazrat, whose advise is not confined to religious prayers. At Halep, a dargah became the planning base to shut down traitors.

The characters repeatedly chanted the name of Hazrat Abdul Qadir Jelani, who is another prominent figure of Sufism. Characters believe in Al-Fatiha, Waseela, Zikr, Sama and Wajd, and constantly visit their graves. In many scenes, Ertugrul, along with his Alps, wishes that even after generations, people come to their graves and recite Fatiha. These views, practices and beliefs juxtapose together with all terrorist groups in the world.

Some people may criticise Sufism for introducing new practices in Islam — ‘bida’at’ (however, there is a concept of Bida’at e Hasana, emphasised particularly in the Hanafi School of Thought, which is a question of scholarly debate). But none can link Sufism to terrorism. In opposition to this, Sufis are frontliners, from issuing fatwas against terrorist organisations to raising up arms and joining the national force in countries including Somalia against terror groups.

Ulemas of Ahle Sunnah Wa Al Jamaat is a group often misunderstood as the alternate word for ‘Barelwi’ in the Indian subcontinent. However, in reality, it has never been confined to any such madrasa. The group comprises almost 70% of the Muslims around the world who believe in the ‘Taqleed’ of the four Imams — Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali and Shafaii. Despite minute differences, all agree that the teachings of all these Imams were right. Therefore, one may choose anyone of them.

Various Ulemas of Ahle Sunnah Wa Al Jamaat see this serial as the Rise of the Ahle Sunnah and hope that by watching this series, those youth who were brainwashed by terror groups would return to the actual teachings, and the real purpose of Sufism — which was never limited to the present-day superstitions and practices at most of the shrines — may become clearer again.

However, such Ulemas still can’t directly propagate this drama due to various orthodox reasons, such as permission of photography, and likewise. But it is a crystal clear hidden voice for all those who are ready to do a little research in this direction. Hence, in this way, Ertugrul drama actually blocks the ideological road for terrorism.

Credit: Netflix

A set visit by the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to show his love for this drama diminishes the chance that it is against the Christian world (Venezuela comprises almost 71% Catholics and 17% Protestants and other sects, in total about 88% Christians).

It is true that Ertugrul glorifies Islamic values, but it never advocated that all the people in a particular religion as good or bad. In fact, the biggest villain in the show was Sadettin Kopek, who was an ‘Emir’ (quite a respectful post). There were greedy ones like Kurdoglu, and cruel ones like Bahadur Bey and the Ural.

In one of the scenes, the Ural purchased old slaves just to kill them for entertainment. He organised an attack on Bandit on a caravan of women and children, and didn’t shy away from giving his own sister to them. In another scene, Mah-e-Pari, wife of Sultan, was involved in poisoning her own husband. There were many more like them, all Muslims by religion. There is one scene at Halep, where a Qazi (religious judicial head) is shown as a corrupt person who agrees to give a wrong judgement for the sake of acquiring a higher position in the court.

At Sogut Bazaar, provisions were made for “Church Bell” by Ertugrul, also at Hanli Pazaar, which is shown as the symbol of religious brotherhood. When it was captured by Ertugrul, he said that one-third part of the booty collected should be distributed among the neighbouring Christian villagers, as it was the result of unfair taxes collected from them.

All traders enjoyed the same rights, Ertugrul appointed a Christian as the Head of the Financial Department, and stated that honesty and talent matters, and jobs should not be given on the basis of religion. Hacaturyan Ustad, again a Christian, was a highly respected figure, and the words that Ertugrul uttered near his grave while burying him are quite notable.

When Karacahisar Castle was conquered, Ertugrul gathered all Christian traders and religious heads. and guaranteed religious freedom to all. He ordered his soldiers to not jump into anybody’s religious practices; otherwise, they’d face his anger.

He didn’t pay attention to the religious call from the man of Sadettin Kopek. “Will you kill me for a Christian?” but killed him instead and saved the Christian Governor and said, “The fight was never against any religion but was against the cruel corrupt system.”

How Is The Series Related To The Year 2023?

2023 is a special year for Turkey. Those who are unaware of this might want to revisit their history books on the World Wars. Turkey was on the side of Germany, who lost the War. The nation signed one of the most compromising treatises, the Treaty of Versailles. Germany was not the only nation who suffered; Turkey also faced such circumstances. For a period of almost 100 years, Turkey, due to similar restrictions, could not even dig out all the resources from its own land. In the year 2023, most of these treatises are going to end and Turkey may become a superpower.

It is quite a notable fact that before going into such circumstances, Turkey had a huge Empire, the Ottoman Empire/Osmania Sultanate (whose founder was Ertugrul, the Empire itself was named after his son Osman).

The end of the Ottoman Empire was not that simple. It didn’t end just because of the World War, rather, it was also the result of Arab Nationalism, the idea that was first sowed by Lawrence of Arabia (originally a British Officer, an intellectual, who lived like a Muslim until his actual identity was revealed).

Another undisputed historical fact is that first Sharif Hussain and then Al-Saud favoured this idea and attacked Ottoman soldiers who were deployed in Hejaz (older name of present-day Saudi Arabia, which was changed to honour Al Saud). They were supported by a group of Ulemas, mainly the group who followed the preacher Wahab and called themselves “ghair muqallids” (those who don’t believe in the Taqleed of any one of the Imams).

This group considered the beliefs of the Ottomans as an addition to the mainstream Islamic views, so they justified the wipe-out of the Ottomans from the Holy Land and presented this newly formed Saud Dynasty to be the representative of the whole Islamic world (TRT World released a video in February 2020, targeting these teachings for similar religious and political reasons).

Turkey did not retaliate for two main reasons — first, because it was fighting with the superpowers in the World War; and second, because Muslims at that time could not bear any other dispute. After the loss of almost all the empires as well as institution of the Khalifa, there was no representation left so they let it go. However, there were continuous disputes, both ideological and political, between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The recent ones were due to the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, military rebellion against the Egyptian-elected government of Mursi, relationship with Qatar, perception on Palestine, and many more similar issues. The present President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has constantly criticised the Saudi government for “not speaking” on any of the Muslim issues.

Saudi Arabia, for these reasons, was not surprisingly among the first nations thereby, to raise their voice for boycotting this drama series and similarly, the religious people who were inclined towards it, did the same. It is quite obvious that the opposition was not simply due to religious reasons, which they claim, but the politics behind this — there have been many historic-religious series on screem before Ertugrul, but none faced such opposition.

Egypt, which is currently run by Abdel Fattah el Sisi, whom Saudi backed for the military coup against the Mursi government, was the next nation to warn people against this drama series (TRT World raised this issue in a video released on 13th February, 2020).

These nations, along with developed nations, have said that Ertugrul is an attempt made by Erdogan to bring back the Ottoman Empire, both ideologically and politically. This claim may have some ground — the way Erdogan has been involved in the making of this drama series is exceptional for a President. He, along with his officials and family, visited the set many times.

Credit: Netflix

Besides Erdogon, the head of the states of many other nations including Ramzan Kadyrov (Head of the Chechen Republic), were reportedly going to dinner parties with the series’ actors, which is not usual. It is possible that Ertugrul is an attempt to demonstrate the glorious past to the world and has given the nation a vision to decide whether to follow the footsteps of Kamal Ata Turk or choose the alternate way of the Ottoman legends like Ertugrul when the country, if and will, gains power in 2023.

 The Role Of Women In Ertugrul

Another aspect that makes Ertugrul important is the way women have been depicted in this series. Usually, in most adventure series, women are shown as secondary or minor characters. When a drama is based on some medieval historic adventure, women are only shown as figures waiting behind the walls of a castle, but that has not been the case with Ertugrul. Female figures were equally dominant in this drama. In fact, their roles were not confined to “helping hands” or supportive figures in the storyline.

They were running the “Jirgas” like Aslihan Hatun, and leading the tribe for a long time like Hayme Hatun. From good to bad, or flat to round characters like Maria and Selecan Hatun, who was, in fact, the plot mover of the first two seasons, women are omnipresent. No one is now talking about Ertugrul without the name of Halima Sultan.

This drama has changed the representation of women. Mehmet Bozdag (writer of Ertugrul), knowingly or unknowingly, has started a new saga in the way women should be represented in a historical drama.

There is a lot that can be said on this, as it is a very long series, and this article may not justify the efforts of the team who were involved in the making, so go and watch it, now!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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