Pop Nationalism and Neo-Ottomanism

Radikal invites four critics to consider the wild success of a film on the conquest of Constantinople, in the context of Turkey’s new political order.

Fetih 1453 (The 1453 Conquest) broke box office records with revenues of 4,651,000 lira. Academics, producers and film critics tell us the reasons behind this success.

The pop nationalism wave

Orhan Tekelio?lu (Sociologist, Professor and Dean of the Department of Journalism, Bahcesehir University): People are going watch to The 1453 Conquest for the same reasons they’re watching The Magnificent Century [a popular TV series based on the life and times of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent]. Ultimately, the most important sentiment that this government has offered the population is a sense that Turkey is a great nation once again, that its strength is comparable to that of the Ottoman era, and because of this the country is a significant power in the region. Political transformation such as this is echoed in popular culture. In other words, the country is experiencing a wave of “pop nationalism.” It is not, however, the sort of classic, introverted “Turks are the only friends of Turks” stance, but a more expansive and gregarious pop nationalism. Instead of the conservative nationalism of the National Pact [Misak-? Milli–the parliamentary pact which transformed the Empire into the nation of Turkey], which closed itself inside defined national boundaries, this is an Ottoman type of pop nationalism, which remains open to the outside world, ready for growth and expansion if necessary. With these elements combined, the Conquest of Istanbul becomes a reference point and an opportunity to re-enact the event that makes it so inevitably popular.

The conquest of Istanbul is a special story

Mehmet Soyarslan (Producer, Ozen Film): Parts of our recent history are being laid bare by the media. This is why, at the moment, [film makers]are hesitant about delving into matters concerning the War of Independence. It appears that the most uncontroversial period of Turkish history for Turks today is the conquest of Istanbul, the event that laid the foundation for an empire. In such an atmosphere, it was of course necessary to construct a dramatic presentation of the conquest. This couldn’t be done with the siege of Vienna, for instance. Vienna doesn’t belong to us now, after all. But we still exist in Istanbul-the results of the conquest are still right in front of our eyes. History shows that movies that stimulate people’s feelings of love, adventure and heroism typically do well. Accomplishing such a project in just over three years is admirable. Can you be this successful in any other area? We need to stop and think about this.

The “Neo-Ottomanism” effect

Tunca Arslan (S?YAD [Screenwriters Association] President): I think that the film is the effect of today’s political climate and the clouds of “Neo-Ottomanism” that have been floating around for quite some time. When we think of the values imposed by the state through the repression of other values, it is clear that a movie, for example, about the War of Independence or the foundation of the Republic would not have captured this much attention, no matter how much it tried. I would say that films telling the story of say, the siege of Vienna, won’t fare very well either because defeat is implicit in those types of narratives. In other words, here we have a situation where an opportunity has become a commercial advantage. There’s something else at play here too-the conquest of Istanbul is a significant and huge military event. The story promises the viewer a real adventure that ends in victory. I’ve read seven or eight books on the subject, so it was only natural that I would go to the movie, no matter who filmed it and for whatever purpose.

A result of interest in the past

Atilla Dorsay (Film Critic, Sabah Newspaper): The success of the movie Fetih 1453 at the box office is not surprising. Turkish moviegoers are not simply consumers of silly and obnoxious comedies. Just as the way Nuri Bilge’s [a contemporary Turkish film director]last film reached almost 160,000 in ticket sales-becoming a phenomenon in its own right-the 4.6 million tickets sold in twenty days for The 1453 Conquest is also a remarkable event. We should read this as proof of how much-acknowledging the great influence of TV-people’s interest is aroused about the country’s history and culture. Yes, we will be learning more about what really happened at Dersim [scene of an Army massacre]but isn’t it better to first start with Suleiman or the Conquest? Because every discussion, every truth uncovered, will shed some bit of light on the situation of today.

Radikal Hayat