A hit television show about the Ottoman Empire’s longest-reigning Sultan has raised a political storm in Turkey, with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan urging legal action over historical inaccuracies and the opposition accusing him of artistic tyranny.
Erdogan tore into weekly soap opera Magnificent Century, which has an audience of up to 150 million people in Turkey as well as in the Balkans and Middle East, in response to criticism of his government’s foreign policy.
The lavish series, which grips audiences with tales of power struggles and intrigue, is set during the 16th-century reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, when Ottoman rulers held sway over an empire spanning three continents.
Bristling at suggestions that Turkey was meddling too much in its neighbors’ affairs, Erdogan recalled Turkey’s heritage and said Suleiman had been a proud conqueror rather than the indulgent harem-lover seen on the show.
“[Critics] ask why are we dealing with the affairs of Iraq, Syria and Gaza,” Erdogan said at an airport opening in Turkey on Sunday. “They know our fathers and ancestors through Magnificent Century, but we don’t know such a Suleiman. He spent 30 years on horseback, not in the palace, not what you see in that series.”
Scenes that showed Suleiman with women in the harem have prompted calls from viewers in the mostly Muslim and largely conservative country for broadcasting regulator RTUK to ban the series. However, it tops the viewing charts each week.
Erdogan said the director of the series, which has been on air since January last year, and the owner of the channel that broadcasts it had been warned, adding that he expected the judiciary to act, without elaborating.
Erdogan’s opponents accused him of authoritarianism.
“The prime minister must be jealous of the series’ popularity. He thinks there’s no need for another sultan when he’s in power,” said Muharrem Ince, the deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party. “Erdogan wants to be the only sultan.”