From Greek-Turkish relations to sectarian tensions, from the rise of Islam to the Kurdish question by way of the right-left wars of the 1970s, the shows deal with serious national issues once deemed too delicate for prime-time viewing.
The eastern city of Gaziantep, the location for several scenes of The Foreign Groom, has a crush on blond and beefy Niko, the child of Greeks who fled Turkey in 1964 and who must now face prejudices on both sides of the Aegean to win his true love.
With a Turkish father-in-law who refuses a transfusion of Greek blood to Greek parents who insist on a church wedding with his Muslim Turkish bride-to-be, Niko’s adventures top the ratings every Friday night.
The aim is not to preach reconciliation between the two nations, according to Tunca Kunter, an executive with the production company that made the series.
“A screenwriter proposes his script and if the producer thinks it’ll sell, he buys it,” Kunter said. “What sells is things that can happen in everyday life – after all, my sister could fall in love with a Greek.”
“No series so far has dealt openly with the question of ethnic Kurdish identity because it is still too serious a problem for the state”Nilufer Timisi,
Professor of communications, Ankara University
Unsal Ozkay, a popular culture specialist at Beykent University in Istanbul, said: “The aim of television is to allow society to take a look at itself. To sell ads, the networks must now address the problems of the metropolitan suburbs, where all kinds of minorities abound.”
A professor of communications at Ankara University said the country’s moves towards Europe have brought changes.
“Turkey’s bid to join the European Union from the year 2000 required a number of legal reforms” that changed the national mood and led people to confront issues once considered taboo, Nilufer Timisi said.
“Without really making a conscious political choice, producers simply reflected this new mood … and produced dramas dealing with identity simply because they were profitable,” she said.
The series Lacework Roses on My Headscarf deals with the years of near-civil war in the 1970s when clashes between right- and left-wing fighters left dozens dead daily in the cities of Turkey, while February Cold looks at the rise of Islam that continues to shock Turkey’s dyed-in-the wool secularists.
Is Turkey ready to deal with such vital issues in such a format?
Gul Dirican, who scripted Time of the Dawn, a Romeo-and-Juliet saga set against a backdrop of sectarian tension between majority Sunni Muslims and minority Alevis – a long persecuted Turkish version of Shia – recalls some trepidation during the shoot.
“The Alevis were worried when we filmed an Alevi funeral,” she recalled in an interview with the daily Aksam. “They said, ‘This is the first time Sunni society sees us like this – is this a good thing?'”
Despite these times of openness, the Kurdish question remains a hot potato.
The Exiled Woman tells the tale of a family from the southeastern province of Urfa, with mysterious “bandits” (read Kurdish tribesmen) lurking in the mountains; the lovers in June Night bear the Kurdish names of Barran and Havin but never mention that they are Kurds.
“No series so far has dealt openly with the question of ethnic Kurdish identity because it is still too serious a problem for the state,” Timisi said. “The shows speak of (Turkish) easterners only in generalities, in terms of feudalism, land conflicts and vendettas.”