The virulent xenophobic sentiment openly fanned by the poisonous narratives of the Turkish leadership has footprints in TV series and movies scripted and produced in Turkey by people close to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
One such notorious person is Osman Sınav, a producer and scriptwriter who was involved in the popular ultranationalist TV series “Valley of the Wolves” (Kurtlar Vadisi), which featured an undercover Turkish agent who became a mafia leader fighting evil characters. Violence, torture and killings were depicted in various episodes. The script was full of anti-Christian and anti-Semitic themes and revolved around plots aimed at fanning xenophobia in Turkey.
Sınav is a staunch supporter of Erdoğan, who he sees as a hero and great leader. In an interview he gave in May 2018, he claimed that “the Christian world wants to purge Turks from the Middle East.” Claiming that Turkey is the only country that stands up to the United States, Sınav maintained that the US wants to redraw the 100-year-old Middle East map and that Turkey is the only obstacle to such an ambition. “That is why the US is targeting not only Turkey but also Erdoğan himself,” he added.
“The only thing that halted the Crusades was the presence of the Turks in Anatolia. Today, the Christian world wants to uproot Turks from these lands to reach its goal. By establishing a Kurdish state, it wants to move the energy hub to the Mediterranean and build a wall between us and Jerusalem in order to to destroy our ties. But Turkey is opposed to this and spoiled the game by launching a military operation [in Syria],” he explained.
The main character in “Valley of the Wolves” was Muhammed Necati Şaşmaz, a Turkish actor who played the lead role in the series as Polat Alemdar. His elder brother, Raci Şaşmaz, was the producer, and Sınav wrote the script. The “Valley of the Wolves” series was seen as in tune with the policies of the Erdoğan government from the very beginning. Both Şaşmaz and Sınav frequented Erdoğan’s lavish palace in Ankara where they were photographed dining and meeting with the Turkish president. Şaşmaz expressed support for Egypt’s ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, and his followers in 2013 and joined Erdoğan in April 2018 to visit a province bordering Syria to meet and support soldiers taking part in Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch,” which targeted Afrin in northwestern Syria.
It was reported that the producers had registered a website domain — “Valley of the Wolves – Coup” (kurtlarvadisidarbe.com) on May 18, 2016, two months before a false flag coup attempt took place in Turkey. “Did ‘Valley of the Wolves’ know about the coup in advance?” was the question asked by many in Turkey. Şaşmaz’s film company Pana Films later produced a movie about the coup reflecting the views of the Erdoğan government, which accuses US-based Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen of staging the abortive putsch. Gülen denies any involvement and demanded an international investigation, which the Erdoğan government declined to pursue.
The fictional roles and demonized figures involved in the anti-Semitic and anti-Christian themes in the series produced and played by these two unfortunately had real consequences in Turkey. In one episode, Israeli Mossad agents were depicted as spying inside Turkey and kidnapping Turkish babies. The episode sparked a row between the Turkish and Israeli governments at the time of airing. In another incident, Kürşat Mican, an ultranationalist figure who was enlisted by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) as a go-between with Turkish youths to recruit jihadists to fight in Syria, showed up in front of the Neve Shalom synagogue late on July 20, 2017, with a group of militants, calling for jihad in front of the cameras.
His thugs kicked and threw rocks at the building, while one climbed up on the wall to hang a banner. It was bizarre that they were protesting the Israeli government’s restrictions on Palestinians’ entry to the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by threatening Turkish citizens of Jewish background. Instead of protesting in front of the Israeli Consulate General in Istanbul or Embassy in Ankara, which represent the government, Mican led the group to the front of the synagogue. Public records show Mican was involved in an organized crime network in June 2015 when at the age of 23 he was part of a plot involving the abduction of a businessman for ransom. Zübeyir Temurtaş was abducted by Mican and his gang of 12 in Eyüp and was tortured for eight days. Mican was detained as he was about to pick up the ransom money. It turned out he and his gang were using code names borrowed from the anti-Semitic “Valley of the Wolves” during this kidnapping conspiracy.
Another example dates from Dec. 31, 2007 when a man named Murat Tabuk was captured and arrested for planning to assassinate a priest in Antalya’s historic Kaleiçi neighborhood. Murat, 25 at the time, was captured before he was able to assassinate priest Ramazan Arkan of St. Paul Union Church. Unaware that the police were following him, Murat apparently made two separate trips to the church to check out the surroundings. The suspect told the police he had been influenced by “Valley of the Wolves.”
Sketches of the floor plans of St. Paul Union Church were found in the young man’s home. During initial questioning Murat admitted his plans to kill the priest. Father Ramazan, a Turkish national from the province of Sivas who had converted to Christianity 10 years earlier, said he did not know his would-be murderer but noted that he had received calls from him twice in the previous 15 days asking for an appointment to supposedly ask the priest questions about Christianity. Tabuk was released pending charges and started working as a bouncer for an entertainment venue. On Jan. 23, 2015 he was found murdered execution style in a car along with another person, Murat Yavuz, in Antalya.
Sınav started producing and directing another TV series called “Kızılelma” (Red Apple) for state-run broadcaster TRT in 2014 that was more like a publicity stunt for MİT in the midst of a series of incidents in which MIT was exposed for transporting illegal arms shipments to jihadists in Syria. “Kızılelma” in Turkish literature refers to a prophecy of conquering lands far beyond existing frontiers and an ambition to set up a global empire.
In response to criticism of the series, Sınav was quoted as saying: “After so many years, this is the only project that was able to excite me about television. Now they are bashing us for telling the story of our own national intelligence agency. What was I supposed to do? Tell the story of the CIA? Mossad? If they call this propaganda, the British have been doing it for decades.”
“MİT is the only organization in this country that we should trust in terms of waking up safe every morning,” he claimed. The screenwriter for the series is Süleyman Çobanoğlu, a poet and writer known in conservative circles that are part of Turkish President Erdoğan’s support base.
More series are being aired on public and private TV networks in Turkey that echo the Erdoğan government’s narratives, which are poisonously xenophobic. Producers, directors and celebrities like Şaşmaz, Sınav and many others have been using TV series and movies to amplify Erdoğan’s hateful narrative and project his views in fictional scripts to a larger audience, from Afghanistan to the Balkans, from North Africa to the Middle East.