The Prime Minister of a country dealing with huge problems both inside and right on its border, who spends his energy criticizing a TV series. Funny as it seems, the way the ‘problem’ of this highly popular TV series, “Magnificent Century”, is being handled at the moment isn’t very funny at all. Far from it. The law being drafted to ban the Magnificent Century is the sister of the infamous penal code article 301, which makes ‘insulting Turkishness’ a punishable offense.
The law, or more precisely an extra article in the law concerning media watchdog RTÜK, is ready to be sent to parliament. It’s expected that The Magnificent Century, about the life and especially the loves of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, will disappear next year. The series, is Erdogan’s verdict, doesn’t show enough of the political and military triumphs of the Sultan and too much of his interest in the feminine beauty in the harem. The bill reads: ‘Historical events and figures that are highly esteemed by society cannot be shown in a way that humiliates, belittles or distorts them or doesn’t reflect their reality’. Do you see that phrase, ‘that are highly esteemed by society’? It worries me. A lot.
Atatürk is highly esteemed, of course
It will be up to RTÜK, a state institution with only politicians as board members, to decide which historic events and figures that comprises. The state and the Members of Parliament in the board are strongly rooted in Turkish nationalism. They will define what society esteems highly, as the state has already done for so long. Atatürk is highly esteemed of course, as are for example the Turkish army, Ottoman history, Members of Parliament in general and the Prime Minister and the President in particular, and the War of Independence.
Where popular TV can play a big role in breaking the imposed sanctity of these highly esteemed events and figures, and advance democracy by letting people make up their own minds about all the information they get through several different channels, the AKP says: let the state once again decide for you how you should look at our history. Let’s not welcome new interpretations, new visions, new angels. Let’s not sometimes laugh about historical figures, get some amusement out of them, amaze ourselves, get angry, or whatever.
Protect the greatness of Turkey
What worries me even more: how about historical events and figures that are not highly esteemed by society? It’s apparently okay to humiliate, belittle and distort those. Anybody can go ahead with, to name a few, humiliating, belittling and distorting the Armenians and Greeks who once lived in Anatolia in large numbers. It is okay to not show the reality of events like the Armenian genocide, the burning of Izmir, the Istanbul pogrom or the Dersim massacre. Actually, some of these events are actually on the list of ‘historical events esteemed by society’, but then described the way the state prefers to look at them.
In practice, you can say, this situation has already been the reality for ages. True. But putting it down in a law is quite something else. Not only will it lead to high fines and subsequently to self censorship, and not only is it a blow to democratization, it also strengthens the already strong and weakens the already weak. The law is a way to protect the greatness of Turkey, Turks and their official history, and once again leaves the ones that suffered in that history to their fate. It makes the new RTÜK law article basically the sister of the infamous article 301 of the Turkish penal code, in force to this day, which makes it punishable to ‘insult Turkishness’. People have died because of it.