Turn on the TV in any part of Southeastern Europe today and you may well tune into a Turkish soap opera. Booming in popularity across the region, according to media research agencies, dozens of these imports are being screened daily on televisions from Albania to the Black Sea.
Romania is no exception, with a good number of Turkish soap operas being currently broadcast by TV stations all across the country, and watching them has become something of a favorite past time for many Romanians, judging by ratings and by the TV stations’ eagerness to explore more of the genre.
The now-mainstream Turkish soap opera movement was first known to a niché segment promoted by private TV channels such as Kanal D, a station with Turkish shareholders which broadcasts several Turkish productions. Soon after Kanal D started airing Suleyman Magnificul (photo) in 2012, the series quickly became a favorite among Romanian audiences. Suleyman Magnificul’s success, as reflected by Kanal D’s high ratings, opened up the door to a whole new soap opera world for the Romanian public and media providers as well, who made the switch from Latin telenovelas and Korean soap operas to the now popular Turkish productions.
The series’ impact echoed all across the Romanian media landscape and drew other TV stations into the game. In late 2014, CME’s ProTV started broadcasting a Turkish soap opera called the Black Rose – Karagül in Turkish. Not long afterwards in early 2015, it added a second Turkish series, The Power of Destiny (in Turkish Sila, as the name of the main female character), which airs in prime time Monday to Thursday.
The TV channel replaced some of its local productions – including Romanian productions that used to run at prime time hours during the week – with Turkish movies. It now airs almost four hours of Turkish soap operas a day, including a one-hour re-run in the morning, and over an hour and a half during prime time.
Romania has retained strong commercial and diplomatic ties with Turkey since it gained independence in 1878, yet it comes as a surprise to learn of the increasing popularity of Turkish soap operas aired on Romanian TV. Providing a portal into the Turkish way of life and language, such soaps have led to a gradual increase in the number of tourists visiting the country.
The cultural exchange provided by the Turkish TV series, however, is a two-way street, as many of the 30,000 Turks who have lived in Romania choose to keep up with cultural events related to Romania after they return to Turkey, according to historian Silvana Rachieru, former Director of the Romanian Cultural Institute in Turkey.
Sociologists explain the phenomenon, in part, as a sentimental reaction on the part of viewers in Southeastern Europe to an old patriarchal family model that appears dead in Southeastern Europe but which is still alive in Turkey – at least in TV shows.
Darko Brocic, head of AGB Nielsen, specialized in media research across the region, says that while Turkish shows are widely watched throughout the region, their popularity depends on the particular show. “Generally, love stories do better among audiences because these shows are mostly watched by women. Even the historical topics are imagined more as stories from everyday life, so the historical component is not the main one,” Brocic adds. Suleyman Magnificul is one such example where the emphasis lays more on the intricacies that take place at court than on the historical events.
Serbian sociologist Ratko Bozovic says people identify with the patriarchal values of the Turkish shows, and enjoy spotting the many cultural and linguistic similarities that they recognize while watching the shows. “The mentality depicted in those shows has to do with a traditional understanding of morality that people in Serbia remember at some level,” he says.
Artan Muhaxhiri, a Kosovo-based sociologist, attributes the success of these series more to the fact that they do not require much intellectual effort. Scenarios are constructed in such a way that both dialogue and events are simple, sometimes verging on banality, he maintains. “The stories are melodramatic, lengthy and emotionally charged, which promotes the establishment of relations of viewers to crowds of characters,” he says.
*Note: This piece is an updated version of an earlier article published in BalkanInsight and Romania-Journal.