Soft power broadcasted through Turkish lenses abdullah ergun
med cezir

There is an immediate tendency to relate towards traditional tools when it comes to power. It is in regard to military, political, economic structures, which guide the directions that are practiced by states and further on, by non-governmental actors when piped in international relations. Yet, headlines and recent realities bring into debate constantly the importance that soft power instruments start to have in relation to the behavior of the players on a global, constantly moving, interdependent and interconnected scale of action (s).

One of the currently most debated cultural interventions relates to the role played by the Turkish soap operas, firstly on a local perimeter – the Balkans – and then further on, encompassing as well states of the Middle East’s audience and its neighborhood. While Westerner distributors are still at the beginning, states like Bosnia, Macedonia, Romania, Greece and Middle Eastern states are currently more and more interested in the unique brand that Turkish TV series propose and broadcast. 

Obvious shifts towards Turkish cultural exports became more dynamic, given the Yunus Emre Cultural Centers being opened under the governments‘ initiatives, which have the meaning, among others, of transforming Turkish soap operas in practical impact factors on a micro-level, towards various kinds of public, with different ages, lifestyles, pre-modern or modern beliefs and backgrounds, but with significant echoes on macro understandings of Turkey’s ambitious and fascinating culture.

These soap-operas diplomacy which keeps captivating more attention orchestrates the way the outsiders view Turkey, in realistic or idealistic ways with its contradictions and daily standards. By combining old and new, Western implemented concerns and Eastern, Oriental, Arabesque nuances, the episodes draw environments in which the broader followers identify themselves, a world where feminist undergrounds transform into debatable gratifies, a world where high-level politics and economics can be as well major burden and nucleus of discussion.

Sociologists argue that: “Social norms and values, the general mentality, family relationships, lifestyle, clothing, food, furniture, character names – [...] viewers can easily identify with all these cultural elements in Turkish soaps. Scenarios are constructed in such a way that both dialogue and events are simple, sometimes verging on banality.”

By all means, soap-operas concentrate on a revealing landscape and lifestyle, mentalities and values. And that is a factor that could help in covering step by step principles that emphasize the existing, numerous times invoked gap between the East and the West. It could target the things that bind people and their immaterial ideas together, rather than focus on the differences." 

Furthermore, as Hurriyet Daily News (major national newspaper in Turkey) states: “In 2012 Turkey exported more than 70 shows to over 20 countries from Ukraine, Greece and the Balkans to Asia and even Latin America. Moreover, as the Oxford Business Group’s 2012 Report on Turkey points out, the soap’s financials are far from soft, too. In 2011, Turkey earned $60m-plus from exporting over 100 television series to more than 20 countries” which is definitely in Turkey’s short-term and long-term advantage, adding an extra budget to the already boosted economic structure, that encountered multiple changes since the years of 2000-2001.

It is indeed a relative, highly debated scale of credibility in relation to the plots of such highly publicized productions, given the fact that fiction doubtless plays an important element when creating the scenarios but it could become a real conundrum when reality plays an unbalanced, biased place. 

“Closer to home, these programs have inflicted some collateral damage by exposing Turkey’s internal contradictions: The narrative of a modern, prosperous Turkey is being challenged by a conservative, intolerant backlash.”

While fiction is always the continuity of reality’s boulevards and its importance is surely recognized and understood, it is important to be responsible when it comes to portraying societies and cultures abroad, given the fact that ideas are filtered by personal interpretations.

For a more detailed look on Turkish soap-operas I recommend Al-Jazeera’s documentary:  

Edited by: Lisa Enocsson