A much published and hyped up Turkish blockbuster, glorifying the 15th-century Ottoman conquest of Constantinople has taken the nation by storm. All this at a time when the government is flexing its muscles as a new regional strongman.
“Fetih 1453”, translated as Conquest 1453 has drawn record crowds since it opened on February 16, recounting what is upheld as one of the most glorious moments for the Turkish nation.
The buzz has left few indifferent and it taps into Turkish national pride. However it is also fuelling a debate which accuses Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government of aiming to make Turkey, as in Ottoman times, the most powerful regional player.
The film has been hailed as a milestone in Turkish cinema, by some. However others have dismissed it as a Hollywood copycat that distorts history.
It should be noted that its budget, at 17 million dollars, surpasses all other Turkish features. But this was recouped quickly as a massive 3.4 million people flocked to see the film in the first two weeks, according to Box Office Turkey. It is also expected to further shatter records held by previous domestic productions.
“It is not the first film with the theme of (Constantinople’s) conquest but it is the first movie ever shot in Turkey at such a scale, and with such a big budget,” Filiz Ocal from the film’s press office told AFP.
Even its first public showing, at precisely 14:53 pm, was symbolic.
“As a producer, I am proud of our history, our past like everyone living in this country,” Faruk Aksoy, the film’s director and producer said in a statement.
“The conquest of Istanbul is an undisputed event, not only for our country but also in terms of world history that closed one era and opened another.” The Turkish press said Erdogan was given a sneak preview and liked the film, which comes amid accusations that his government is promoting “neo-Ottomanism” as a foreign policy tool to restore Turkish influence in former Ottoman zones — a charge it denies.
The movie depicts the 1453 capture of the Byzantine capital, which was renamed Istanbul and served as the capital of the Ottoman Turks — one of history’s longest and biggest empires that stretched from southeast Europe to the Middle East and North Africa — until its collapse in World War I.
Turkey has changed its political positions in recent years from being Israel’s closest ally in the Muslim world, to taking a keener and more Islamic and Arab friendly position. This was evident even before the Arab uprisings and Turkey hops to forge a new role as a regional standard-bearer in the wake of the ongoing chaos in the Arab world.
As the only mainly Muslim member of NATO, Turkey had long been seen as having its diplomatic feet firmly planted in the West.
But under Erdogan’s term, it has increasingly rewritten the script, not only falling out with Israel and breaking ranks with the West over its response towards Iran’s nuclear ambitions but also showing a willingness to get tough with Syria’s brutal crackdown on regime opponents.
Mensur Akgun, international relations professor at Istanbul’s Kultur University stated that, “with its booming economy and political influence, Turkey is perceived as a model in the Middle East. It is only natural that the stronger Turkey gets, the more seriously it is taken by the world”.