Ertugrul: Turkish Game of Thrones

Dirilis: Ertugrul (Season 1) depicts thestory of the Muslim Oghuz Turks against the Crusaders in the 12th Century anddescribes how the Muslim Resurrection took place, culminating in theestablishment of the Ottoman Caliphate. The serial has Ertugrul as the maincharacter and the plot revolves around him. One of the important aspects of theserial is that most of the characters are not fictional but are historicalfigures about whom historical sources have at least something to say. ErtugrulGhazi was the son of Osman Ghazi, the founder of Ottoman Sultanate. SuleymanShah, the head of the Kayi tribe and father of Ertugrul is a historical figurewhose tomb, containing his relics, is in Syria and is the only property Turkeyowns outside its territories. Similarly, Bamsi and Turgut, the two brave alps ofErtugrul are believed to have lived in 12th century Anatolia whose tales ofcourage and bravery have entered the Turkish folklore. The Templar Knights,wearing distinctive white mantles with a red cross, were a Catholic militaryorder of the 12th century and were the most skilled fighting units of theCrusades. The serial has interwoven the historical characters with fiction in astunning manner and has resulted in one of the most intriguing plots with fullof adventure, love, hate, bravery and treachery. Though the serial has beendubbed in Urdu, it, however, lacks the vigour and enthusiasm of the charactersand does not translate the emotions of the actors in actuality.

With the Kayi tribe as the main platform,the serial gives a glimpse of the tribal life and its various vicissitudes withsurvival. As the serial starts Kayis are in distress as the lands they havesettled in do not provide enough means of survival. There is scarcity of waterand the pasturage is not sufficient to feed their livestock-their principalsource of wealth. Historically, nomadic tribes were in constant search forbetter pasturage and lands which led to inter-tribal conflicts and sometimesgeographical boundaries were redrawn and empires were born. Indian subcontinentin the major chunk of its history was dominated and ruled by the tribal hordeswho came in search for better opportunities. In case of the Kayis, theirmigration to Aleppo changed the boundaries not only of Middle-east but also ofEurope. The serial glimpses the tribal culture in its multi-faceted moods-war,peace, happiness and sorrow. The tribal cuisine, eating habits (with everyonebringing his own spoon to feasts), dressing style (the headgear of every womandifferent), the modes of celebration and mourning have been depicted in theirpeculiar ways. Tribal notions of loyalty and utmost dedication to their chiefin every situation are highlighted in the best possible manner.  The setting of the serial is amazing asnowhere during its entire course would a viewer doubt about its medievallinkages.


One of the important aspects of the serialis that the martial character of the Kayis has been depicted with its Islamicundertones. The characters are seen continuously engaged either in battles orpreparing for the war. Though the tribal customs and traditions are important,it is Islam which reigns supreme and provides overall justification for thebattles. Everything, from battles to peace overtures, from executing thetraitors to honouring the heroes, is done to concord with the tribal customsand to please Allah. No wonder, the most repeated dictum is ‘battle belongs tous but victory belongs to Allah’. The depiction is presumably in consonancewith contemporary Turkey where Erdogan is attempting a careful mixture of Turkishnationalism and Islam, given the fact that a large number of Turkish populationwatch television on which the serial was first broadcasted. This is wheregovernments attempt to use history for the furtherance of nationalism.

The principal characters seem to franklytalk about their moral dilemmas and their resolution. The character of IbnArabi (though his actual association with the Oghuz has been doubted by thehistorians) reverberates every time a moral disjunction looks possible. Thus,when Ertugrul was disheartened at the prospective marriage of Halime Sultan,Ibn Arabi appeared to console him and remind him of his duty towards the largercause. He nurtured the dream of a powerful Islamic State in Ertugrul andfunctions as his conscience keeper. But for him, Ertugrul would have diedearlier on. Ibn Arabi’s zikr halqas and soulful duas not only keep thecharacters focussed but also add to the Islamic undertones of the serial. Hischaracter is also reminiscent of the powerful influence of Sufis in themedieval Islamic world and their role in transforming the lives of Muslims aswell as non-Muslims, depicted here through the stories of Seljan Hatun andClaudius.

Being set in the backdrop of the Crusadesand the continuous fights between Muslims and Christians for the control ofJerusalem, the serial highlights the power and hypocrisy of the popes who whileburdening the common masses with taxes, enjoyed wine and women. Theirorientalist prejudices are evident in talking about Muslims in disparaging termslike goat herders and shepherds while also disapprovingly admitting theircontribution in preserving the ancient Greek literature which was deliberatelydestroyed by the popes. The pathetic conditions of the Muslim rulers, theirdisunity which made them play into Templars’ hands and conspiracies and theirluxurious lifestyles have been beautifully illustrated. El-Aziz, the ruler ofAleppo seemed to be more concerned about his poetry and love than the affairsof the State. The fact continuously stressed throughout the episodes is thatthe Muslim resurrection is possible only with the unity of Muslim rulers.

Every character has delved deep into hisrole and made stunning performances. Ertugrul lacks oratory skills but is a brave and intelligent warrior whosedeep love for Islam and a vision for the Muslim world makes him fit to be thelead protagonist. Bamsi loves his horse and swords and talks humour, the onlycharacter who makes the audience laugh. Turgut has amazingly performed his dualroles. When he is Yahuda, he means it and forgets that he is Turgut. SuleymanShah wields his authority both through his sword and oratory skills. Thestory-telling skills of Del Demir are superb as he actualises the events andmakes the audience feel them.  One of thesatisfying aspects is that unlike Bollywood movies, the antagonists are smart,skilful and intelligent who outwit their opposites on a number of occasions andstand their ground till the end. Titus gives a tough time to Ertugrul and likehim is very dedicated to his cause.

The serial has one of the most amazingplots and is rightly called as the Turkish Game of Thrones. There is a carefulmixture of ambition and adventure, conflict and peace, love, hatred,conspiracy, dedication and faith. It succeeds in keeping the audience on theedge of their seats in each episode. Most importantly, it is full of suspenseand it is almost impossible to anticipate the next move. In all the mayhem ofconflict and conspiracies, the audience is kept well informed through powerfulsoliloquies which makes one fall in love or hate the characters. The powerfulstories and anecdotes from Quran, Hadith and folklore throughout the serial addto the beauty of the plot.

The serial has successfully challenged theorientalist stereotyping of Muslim women and has given active role to them.They not only perform their role as mothers and wives but also as leaders ofthe tribe, occasional warriors and above all their gossips give direction tothe plot. Mother Hayme, drawing anaology to Hazrat KhadijaRA not onlyencourages her husband in tough times but also has an opinion regardingeverything which come out true as the serial moves on. Seljan Hatun is anambitious lady who has a purpose in seeing her husband become the Bey. She isdetermined to take revenge of her father’s killing and become the First Lady ofthe tribe. She does not hesitate in collaborating with Kortoglu, the traitor tofulfill her ambitions. However, when she repents she completely transformsherself and wins the hearts of the audience with her newly gained determinationdespite facing boycott from her family. Laila does not hesitate in moving outof the harem and help El-Aziz’s enemy despite facing threats to her life.Efftelya (Asma) is dedicated to her cause and outsmarts Ertugrul on manyoccasions. The serial has shown that Muslim women were not restricted to haremand influenced the decision-making process.

There are certain scenes which do not fit into the time frame of the serial. Though the love-story of Ertugrul and Halime Sultan has been added possibly to give audience some respite from the killings and conspiracies, it has gone too far. In the medieval Muslim tribal societies an open pre-marital love affair, with the love birds openly meeting and romancing was almost impossible. There are also some inconsistencies which could have been avoided. Though Ertugrul and others continuously talk of 2000 brave Alps, in reality even the entire population of the tribe seems not more than a few hundred. Apart from Ertugrul, Bamsi, Dogan, Turgut, Gondogdu and Hamza, no other Alp shows bravery and are easily run over by the opponents. Towards the last episodes the battle scenes turn somewhat dry as though the Templars are killed like flies their number only increases. While Titus escapes from the Castle alone and ambushes the Kayis, he is still able to gather his men out of nowhere. In a nutshell, the serial is amazing and is a must watch for those interested in history in general and the Muslim resurrection in particular.

Safeer Ahmad Bhat is Assistant Professor in History, J&K Higher Education Department

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