Suleiman the Magnificent TV drama opens Turkish divide on religion

February 28, 2011
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(Demonstrators attack billboards advertising the TV series "The Magnificent Century" in Istanbul January 9, 2011/Murad Sezer )

A steamy television period drama about a 16th century sultan has angered conservative Muslims in Turkey and sparked a debate over the portrayal of the past in a country rediscovering its Ottoman heritage.

“The Magnificent Century” chronicles the life of Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled the Ottoman Empire in its golden age. Scenes which have particularly offended show a young and lusty sultan cavorting in the harem and drinking goblets of wine, pursuits frowned upon by the Muslim faithful for whom the sultan had religious as well as temporal authority.

Producers of the series, which has drawn huge audiences and boosted sales of history books on the period, said they wove in imagined elements to the love story between Suleiman and his favorite slave concubine, and later wife, Hurrem, with the aim of presenting the characters as more human. But for many pious Turks, including Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who leads a government with its roots in political Islam, the series is an insult to the nation’s forebears.

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(Members of a Mehter team, or Ottoman military band, join pro-Islamic demonstrators against the show in Istanbul on January 9, 2011/Murad Sezer )

That is not something he welcomes at a time when he is trying to revive Turkish influence in the old Ottoman domains across the Middle East. Tens of thousands of complaints have been filed with the national TV watchdog. Known as the “Lawgiver” among Turks, Suleiman is regarded as a sacred character, whose rule from 1520 to 1566 marked the height of the Ottoman military, political and economic power, when it stretched from Budapest to Mecca, Algiers to Baghdad.

Read the full story by Ece Toksabay and Ibon Villelabeitia here.
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