November 22, 2020


How Ertugrul resurrected the Muslim imagination: A minor 13th-century character in Turkish history has taken centre stage in Dirilis: Ertugrul and become a cult figure for millions of Muslims around the globe (Azad Essa, 20 November 2020, Middle East Eye)

On 10 December 2014, a new television show, or "dizi" as they are called, aired for the first time in Turkey on TRT 1.

Dirilis: Ertugrul (Resurrection: Ertugrul), created by Mehmet Bozdag, told the story of a young warrior in 13th-century Anatolia who embarks on a mission to find a permanent home for his Turkic tribe, known as the Kayi, who lived as nomads on the steppes of central Asia. There, they seek shelter from the elements, navigate food shortages during harsh winters, and battle marauding Christian Crusaders and Mongols. 

At the time the so-called Islamic world, as it is now, was in disarray, with empires like the Ayyubids and the Seljuks a shadow of their former selves. Ertugrul (played by Engin Altan Duzyatan), son of Suleyman Shah, pursues a dream to unite Muslims and finally secure a home for the Turkmen tribes. 

Ertugrul horse
To achieve this he moves westward towards Anatolia, the large peninsula which now forms the bulk of modern-day Turkey. At this time, the Seljuk empire, considered the hegemon of the wider region between 1037 and 1194, had suffered from in-fighting and infiltration by both Byzantium and the invading Mongols. And it is within the Seljuk sultanate of Rum, which had seceded from the larger Seljuk empire in 1077, where much of the action of Dirilis: Ertugrul takes place.

Ertugrul and his unit of elite warriors, known as alps, battle the Templars, the Crusaders, the Byzantines, and the Mongols, as well as several collaborators within their own camp and traitors within Rum itself, all in a bid to carve out a home in Anatolia.

Soon, Ertugrul emerges as a key commander and begins to consolidate the Turkic tribes as the sun begins to set on the Sultanate of Rum. His exploits, victories and inspiring leadership eventually pave the way for the formation of a new empire. Ertugrul's heir, after all, is Osman - the eventual founder of the Ottoman Empire. 

Dirilus: Ertugul ended in May 2019 after five seasons. Each season comprised 30 two-hour episodes per season - overall, that's about 150 films. On Netflix, where it was released internationally, it has been edited to accommodate around 80 episodes of 40 minutes a piece, per season.

Watching Dirilis: Ertugrul is a marathon effort. Each two-hour instalment carries its own arc: intrigue, moral dilemma, bloody battles and a cliffhanger ending. Despite this, its reputation and popularity continues to grow more than a year after it ended, transcending time, space and TV itself.

Like Lion of the Desert, the show is about Muslim history, Islamic ideals and resisting tyranny. Social codes and values are not just relatable, they are the norm and the standard; a self-contained universe of thought and practices, where Muslims are able to see themselves as heroes, villains, collaborators, and not as caricatures written by outsiders. 

In Dirilis Ertugrul, standing up to injustice or cruelty aren't lofty ideals, they are incumbent on faith. But unlike Lion of the Desert, it is a story beyond resistance. It is about overcoming - and winning.

Posted by at November 22, 2020 12:00 AM