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Entertainment or Politics? Why Turkish TV Show 'Ertugrul' is Breaking Records in Pakistan

A still from the the Ertugrul | Image credit: Twitter

A still from the the Ertugrul | Image credit: Twitter

The show, popular as 'Muslim Game of Thrones', started airing in Pakistan earlier in Ramzaan and has been gaining popularity after PM Imran Khan urged people to watch the show for its 'Islamic values'.

Fans of the HBO's hit fantasy-action saga Game of Thrones may have been left disappointed last year after its rather unpopular finale. Now, a Turkin version of the show is currently slaying viewers, particularly Muslim audiences.

Dubbed popular as "Muslim/Turkish Game of Thrones" by fans, the show titled "Dirilis: Ertugrul" recently started airing in Pakistan's national broadcaster and has been going viral since. While the show is breaking viewership records, it has also led to controversy in the country with many claiming the show - with its gratuitous violence and lavish depiction of Turkish history and culture - was harmful to local Pakistani culture.

"Muslim Game of Thrones"

The show depicts the life, valour and struggles of Ertrul Gazi, the father of the Ottoman Empire's first ruler Osma, from 13th century Anatolia. Rich in violence and packed with action as well as high familial drama, the series was first released in Turkey in 2014 and became one of the most-watched shows in the country. It is currently available on Netflix and many fans have described the historical drama as reminiscent of Game of Thrones, with its sprawling castles, sword-fights, warriors and period costumes. Unlike the HBO series, however, the series did not have any sex scenes.

Ertugrul comes to Pakistan

The Turkish show made an appearance in Pakistan after Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Turkey and caught wind of the popular show earlier in the yeat. He decided to bring a slice of the international show to Pakistani audiences and expressly got it to air on Pakistan TV, the state broadcaster. The show, which has nearly 500 episodes, was released in 2020 on the first day of Ramzaan and has since become one of the most-watched shows in Pakistan. The show has also been gaining popularity in India. Recently, a couple in Kashmir's Pulwama went viral after they named their new-born child "Ertugrul".

Entertainment or politics?

In April, Khan in conversation with Pakistani YouTubers urged audiences to watch the series in order to learn "Islamic values" and culture. But Erdugrul is not the only Turkish historical show that khan apparently likes. A week after his comments about Ertugrul, a Pakistani minister announced that Khan liked another Turkish show ‘Yunus Emre: Aşkın Yolculuğu’ and wanted it to be released in Pakistan.

While audiences in Pakistan as well as in other countries lapped up the show, critics in Pakistan felt that PM Khan's push toward airing the Turkish show had ulterior political motives. Some even suggested that the PM was kowtowing to Turkey, a long-time and powerful ally for Pakistan, by propagating Turkish culture and entertainment.

Khan has, on previous occasions, made no bones about expressing his love for Turkey as well as President Recep Erdogan whom he has referred to as one of his political heroes. Pakistan and Turkey enjoy bilateral ties with the latter supporting Pakistan on various diplomatic matters such as Kashmir.

But the real picture might be even larger. As per a report in the BBC, Khan's interest in Turkish historical dramas could be an early sign of a new collaboration with Turkey. In September 2019, Khan along with Erdogan and then Malaysian PM Mahatir Mohammad floated the idea of launching a jointly-run TV channel. As per the report, the channel was meant to counter rising "Islamophobia".

While no such channel has since materialised, PM Khan's penchant for the Turkish show has sure managed to pique imaginations and speculation.