December 8, 2012
*** For high resolution pictures of the meeting: www.turkishcoffeebriefings.org ***
Within the framework of the European Parliament Young Leaders Seminar, which was organized for the fifth time under the auspices of the President of the European Parliament this year, a Turkish Coffee Briefing was held in Brussels.
A new Turkish Coffee Briefing was focused on the topic of “Turkey’ and the Middle East : Shadow-boxing or Soft Power” The introductory speech was given by Emre Kızılkaya, a well-known foreign affairs journalist in Turkey and Vice-President of the International Press Institute National Committee .
During the debate moderated by Mr Stefan Krauss from the European Parliament, European Parliament, Young Leaders Programme participants exchanged views. The meeting was held under Chatham House rules and following issues were raised by Emre Kızılkaya and the participants:
- Turkey is a common denominator for the EU countries, the Arab world and Israel, as it has deep cultural and historical relations with all of them.
- As such, in a time where Turkey’s rising “soft power” was being discussed, praised or criticized, Turkish TV series as a mass-communication tool, are becoming more remarkable signifiers.
- They don’t only give hints about the demands and the aspirations of several societies in Turkey, the Arab world or in the Balkans, but they also put challenges in front of the Turkish government by creating contradiction in its policies and discourse.
- Most of these TV shows, which have recently become export goods that bring millions of dollars to Turkey, are independently created and funded. But the Turkish government indirectly encourages them, as it gives a leverage to Turkey’s current foreign policy, too.
- Nour is the most popular Turkish TV show, especially in the Arab world. Several articles in journals and newspapers had inspected its effect. Some say that many Arabs see in this Turkish love story that “another life” is possible for Muslims. The Turks, as they see in the show, are Muslims and they live like Europeans: women are strong and independent, people can have girlfriends and boyfriends before marrying them and drinking alcohol is part of the Turkish social life etc.
- Magnificent Century is another popular export of different genre: historical drama. The real Sultan Suleiman, which this show is focused on himself and his family, had ruled in 31 countries on today’s map. On the other hand, the fictional Sultan Suleiman is being watched in 42 countries from Russia to Mauritania. The leading women characters are again as strong as men in this series. And the Sultan is portrayed as a human who makes mistakes and who have sex with women, drinking wine, etc.
- As the plots of these series get deeper, several problems arose. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who many sees as a politician who would like to control everything himself, cannot come to terms with many elements in these fictional works.
- First of all, the government’s “at least three children policy” or its efforts to transform the education system into another one that many fear that would force children start schooling (also in Quran classes) as well as marry earlier, are contradictory to what we have seen in Nour, for instance. And the current perception of “de-secularization” in Turkey is especially contradictory, when you remember that Erdogan had advised secularism to the Arab world in Cairo last year.
- Erdogan’s personal temparament and mastership of directing the public debates challenged Magnificent Century as well. His latest outburst is followed by an initiative by one of his MPs to prepare a draft bill to ban “the denigration and misrepresentation of historical events and people.” Recently in another Turkish series called Behzat C., the lead characters who were unmarried lovers, had to be married in their fictional world, after Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin complained about the “issue.” As the worst jailer of journalists in the world, these are not positive steps for Turkey that publicly preaches the benefits of free speech and pluralism in the Middle East.
- To summarize, while it struggles to acquire hard power (a more productive economy and a stronger army), the Turkish government is not in peace even with its emerging soft power. It is now basically shadow-boxing with what they have been selectively encouraging a short a time ago.
- So, when answering the question regarding if Turkey is a good model for the Middle East or not, we should remember the two of the important pillars of democracy: The freedom of the speech and a secular state. If Turkey has both of them, then yes, it is a good example. To answer the question negatively, it is enough nowadays for you to watch some Turkish TV series and the latest news reports.