Foreign Policy Magazine

How Turkey’s Soft Power Conquered Pakistan

WHEN ESRA BILGIC, THE 27-YEAR-OLD STAR of the popular Turkish television drama Dirilis: Ertugrul (“Resurrection: Ertugrul”), posted a picture of herself in a bralette and blazer on Instagram, she couldn’t have anticipated the collective lamentation that would follow. Bilgic—who plays Halime Hatun, a Seljuk warrior princess married to the titular Ertugrul Ghazi and the mother of Osman, eventual founder of the Ottoman Empire—received thousands of comments, but the response from a certain segment of fans was doleful, to say the least. “Where is halima Sultan i saw yesterday night,” one commenter inquired, echoing the distress of his compatriots and noting that he had been seeking repentance for himself as well as for the actor. “What will you do when Allah will ask you about your this posture. … Stay blessed Love from Pakistan.”

Today, Turkish dizi—television dramas—are second only to American ones in terms of global distribution. Turkish is now the most watched foreign language in the world, beating out French, Spanish, and Mandarin. Ertugrul, which began filming in 2014, first became popular on Netflix and has since been licensed to 72 countries.

When its finale aired in 2019 on TRT, Turkey’s national public broadcast channel—serendipitously on the anniversary of the Ottoman capture of Constantinople and the fall of the Byzantine Empire—more people searched YouTube for Ertugrul than for the character Jon Snow, whose own show had ended 10 days earlier. The series is set in 13th-century Anatolia as Ertugrul Ghazi, a warrior leading

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