The introduction of photography and cinematography was the onset of a new era in history’s resources. Historians, though insistent on maintaining their classical tendencies with respect to resources, have also had to surrender to the power of visuals. Today, all sorts of visuals, miniatures, pictures, photographs, live footage, films, etc., are among history’s resources.
Visuals produced in the recent past will be used to write history today, and those produced today will be used to write the history of tomorrow. However, despite their strong stature and plausibility, they will always be open to debate. Because, even if it is a picture or photograph, each has its own “writer.” Hence, even the powerful image they transfer is a reflection of that painter’s, photographer’s, that writer’s emotions, their thoughts and what they want to portray. There is no doubt that film and cinematic language, which has turned into a massive industry, is more effective than a conqueror, invader, aggressive or destructive armies. Today, those who write scenarios and do not make films and television series in the future will share the pain of those who made history in the past but failed to write it.
I want to talk about the Kingdoms of Fire TV series, which made its debut in the Arab world on Nov. 17, with four subsequent episodes. I had mentioned before it was released that it would make a great impact. Hence, that is exactly what happened. It was first presented to the Arab media and then, partially to Turkish media, and reviewed. Naturally, those who liked the series and those who did not, those who discussed its artistic value and consistency with history all individually stated their opinions. Everyone was right in their own way. It was obvious from day one that a joint Saudi-UAE production, with the scenario written by an Egyptian, and directed by a Brit had to be far from being a work of art alone; on the contrary, that it would include a current message. However, how the political partnership of the last century would translate into cinematic language was in fact a matter of curiosity.
Let us reiterate that the subject of the scenario is about the battle between Ottoman Sultan Selim the Grim and the Mamluks, and eventually the transfer of Arab lands to the Ottoman administration. It is not difficult to guess the message that will be given through this production to those who are in the know about relations between Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt today. The first four episodes do not fully dive into the topic, but the main objective is to portray the Ottomans as invaders in the Arab region and, with a subtle message, lead on that Turkey’s current regional policies serve the same aim. The timing of the series’ launch coinciding right after the Peace Spring Operation is also a clear indication of the goal it seeks to serve.
In this article, I am concerned neither about this message – which is no task to figure – nor the scenario’s nonsense of deducing this outcome from what happened between two Turkish/Caucasus states (Ottoman-Mamluk). The impact and threat created by cinematic language, which is used as a resource, is what concerns me. One frame, one line and short statement in cinema language is more effective than dozens of volumes of books. This situation, which has the power to drag vast masses toward the same opinion, is clearly a defiance against thinking, research, history and philosophy.
Yavuz Sultan Selim the Grim has been the subject of numerous studies and literary works to date. Hence, these were the tools the series’ screenwriter Mohammed Suleiman Abdulmalik used. However, when transferring the language of the resources discussing their own age and conditions to the present era – or rather when using cinematic language – he created a monster. Egyptian Abdulmalik’s series of events is consistent with historical resources.
The chapter “Selim I” in the Islamic Encyclopedia by Feridun Emecen, who has the soundest grasp on the topic of Sultan Selim in Turkey, is basically the screenwriter’s source of inspiration. One who reads the said chapter and then watches the series will be surprised by how the chronology and chain of incidents have been adhered to. However, with one difference: the rumors in the chapter about Yavuz’s “stern nature, the fights with his brothers, and that he can easily shed blood,” have turned him, in cinematic language, into a killer raised in the palace. While the weak narration that he had another wife by the name of Aisha, besides Hafsa Sultan, creates no impact in the chapter, cinematic language has been centralized in this topic. As a matter of fact, one other narration Emecen mentions about Sultan Selim’s two sons dying in Trabzon, is used in the series to create images showing Selim, who has no tolerance for weakness, burning to death sick babies born from his weak wife.
The effects that the weak aspects of the narration will have on relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia-UAE-Egypt is a completely different matter.
The TV series, aiming to be an alternative to Turkey’s Resurrection: Ertuğrul, and to an extent Abdulhamid II, will be evaluated by critics in terms of its artistic value and production. However, cinema, the greatest tool of psychological wars and propaganda, especially in the Cold War era, is now being used to wage war against historical facts in our own region, and easily dismissing them as ineffective is a sign of a new era in history-cinema relations.