Wed 27 May, 2020

Dirilis Ertugrul - Pakistan's New Identity Obsession

Pakistan’s new found love and its desperate attempt to be called as descendants of the erstwhile Ottoman Turks is manifest in the recent nationwide craze for the Turkish series ‘Dirilis Ertugrul’. It is amusing and stems from the vulnerability and desperation of its deep state to find an India-unaffiliated identity. 

Pakistan was an integral part of India which was essentially a loose union of kingdoms. However, since its inception, Pakistan has had to wear an image of an imported Islamic society that, in fact, has a huge contrast to the Arabic and Turkish social fabrics.

With its dependence on Urdu, a language that originates in India and is rarely spoken in FATA & Balochistan provinces, Pakistan finds itself in a confused state of individualistic fervour. 

Every country pays its respects and gratitude to its roots and ethnic culture but for Pakistan it’s a thorn in the flesh, as any reverence to its roots will link it to the Indus Civilization and its shared history with India.

This has generally led to Pakistanis being addressed as Indians, Hindis or people of Indian origin in the West and Middle East. Pakistan’s government and its military establishment have always wanted to scrub off Indian influence on their culture and their younger generations.

Following this trend is the latest obsession floated into mainstream entertainment of Pakistani households: the Turkish TV series Dirilis Ertugrul dubbed in Urdu and re-telecasted on the state-run PTV channel.

The series is historical fiction, focusing on the prelude to the foundation of the Ottoman Empire. Its central characters are Ertugrul Gazi played by Engin Altan Duzyatan, and Halime Sultan played by Esra Bilgic. 

Diliris Ertugrul is a Netflix drama that has been dubbed into Urdu and re-telecasted on PKTV. Source: Dawn.com

While the TV series has been present on Netflix, it was recently dubbed in Urdu and re-telecast on PTV, on the personal insistence of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Unsurprisingly, it became an instant hit.

Beyond the obvious cultural reasons, there are many aspects to Pakistan’s new found obsession with this Netflix series. 

Pakistan is a perfect breeding lab to promote Turkish and Ottoman influence. Its identity crisis and strong desire to sever its Indian roots compels it to look towards its west for historic linkages. 

In addition, Pakistani support serves Turkish President Erdogan's interests in having a nuclear-powered ally in the latter’s Middle Eastern initiatives. All Erdogan needs to do is extend occasional support to Imran Khan’s Kashmir banter

The two countries have seen engagements in terms of defence and trade. Erdogan harbours a larger idea of reigniting the former glory of Ottoman Empire and reinstating Turkish clout over the Islamic world. Propagating this Neo-Ottomanism through an entertainment show in a country like Pakistan becomes an easy sell. 

A mix of history, war, conquest and romance, all guided by the principles of Islam, develops into a perfect recipe for the content-starved young Pakistani viewer who often suffers from stringent censorship. 

The story of Dirilis caters to action and adventure lovers. For the romantic drama buffs, the chemistry between Duzayatan and Bilgic makes the show special. Whereas, the Islamic traditions and practices resonate well with the conservative audience. 

The show has thus become a perfect premise to declare that Ottomanism and its traditions and culture are still alive in Pakistani households. The idea of Pakistan having Turkish roots is not a difficult jump from here. This translated into a social media trend and admiration for the lead actors turned them into demigods. 

Then came a reality check when the cast of this Turkish version of Game of Thrones appeared in Western attires on their Instagram accounts.

Pakistani fans reacted angrily, resorting to hyperbolic moral policing and online lynching of the lead cast; after all, they had conferred the title of role models on them. 

The biggest worry of Pakistani establishments, both civil and military, is the influence of Indian soft power that hits a chord with their young population. India has a huge media and entertainment industry that dominates the South Asian entertainment space.

During the Agra summit in 2001, the then Pakistan Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf mentioned how actress Madhuri Dixit enthralled Pakistani men.

Majority of the Pakistanis are in love with Indian Cinema, especially Bollywood, which rules the viewership records in Pakistan despite regular bans. With access to Internet, India's entertainment industry's influence is a challenge to the Pakistani deep state that fails to counter it.

Pakistan is thus left tattering when it comes to countering India's point of view and narrative on the big screen.

Pakistan's desperation to come out of the Indian cultural shadow and its ordeal to project itself as part of the Original Islamic World Order is an act of desperation. Anti-India sentiment is a lifeline for the survival of the ruling dispensation in Pakistan. It is because of this necessity that marriages and public functions playing Indian songs do not gel well with the ruling class of Pakistan.

While the national debt, failing economy and social unrest expose the fault lines within Pakistani society, animosity with India is often looked upon as a final resort to provoke nationalist sentiments.

For political and electoral revenue, the Imran Khan led government encashes on any possible avenue that could take the young population away from a pro-India mindset. 

Pakistani politicians such as Jibran Nasir have raised concerns on the broadcast of Dirilis, referring to it as an epicentre of increasing identity crisis and cultural invasion among Pakistani households. 

Jibran Nasir, a Pakistani politician has been vocally critical of the obsession with the show. PC: Twitter

It has sparked a debate within Pakistani intellectual circles as they see a desperate nation trying to dissociate itself from its roots and rewrite its history, differing from its Indian origins, which seems half-witted and ill-thought. 

However, India needs to understand that Pakistan is traversing a new route in countering the Indian narrative and shaping its society through a soft approach. 

The Dirilis fiasco may be laughed off for now, but the deep state's intent portrays a larger picture about things to come. A binge-watching Imran Khan makes not just the Turkish premiere happy. It lays the foundation to a soft approach towards a long prevailing goal of diverting Pakistan’s youth from its original history and culture and deepening Pakistan’s identity crisis.

Abhilash Halappanavar

Abhilash Halappanavar is a software engineer by profession. His areas of interest are foreign policy and international trade

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd