READING TURKS' MINDS THROUGH 'VALLEY'

Today's Zaman
June 2 2008
Turkey

Nothing worked. Due to the violent content of the series, I tried to
keep my son away from the television on Thursdays, when my husband,
who is normally committed to playing with our son after work, was
hypnotized by the "Valley of the Wolves, Ambush" series.

Eventually, I found the solution to be to knock on the door of my
next-door neighbor, who was kind of suffering from the same mania,
with my son and some slices of cake in hand.

But what is it that draws him and his fellow workers to the series,
so much so that Fridays were full of dialogue from the last episode of
"Valley"? "The Valley of the Wolves, Ambush," which will wrap up this
Thursday, usually gets the highest ratings, including its re-runs. "It
is themselves who they find so appealing in the series; it is their
lives and their souls that they find," says psychiatrist and associate
professor Erol Göka, chosen "Intellectual of the Year" in 2006 by
the Writers Union of Turkey with his book "The Psychology of Turks."

"The series is incredibly successful in dealing with the setting,
characters and action, and it sums up the state of the emotions of
our people very well. The work of fiction also does a good job in
making enemies," says Göka, who also heads the psychiatry clinic of
Ankara Numune Hospital.

On that point, Ä°lham Khalilov, a psychologist from the Zen counseling
center in İstanbul, agrees with Dr. Göka. "Every character is
depicted with a particular feature. For example, Ä°skender, the
narcissistic head of an unknown power, has been portrayed so well
that his character comes through even in the language he uses." The
characters even evolve as we do in real life, says Khalilov, pointing
to Abdulhey, the manliest man, the bravest heart of all, the one no
one can catch smiling, as an example. "He was more masculine at the
beginning of the series. Now he has turned into someone else."

Khalilov also links the obsession with strong, masculine characters
-- portrayed so well by protagonists Polat, Memati and others --
with the lack of an authority figure at home. In Turkey, he argues,
as the father is usually at work, a dependent relationship between
the mother and child exists. "For this reason the father figure is
usually not prominent in the family, leading the child to look for
an authority figure outside of home." But the argument does not apply
to adult men, Khalilov says.

The two experts share the same view on whether the series would ever
become a bad example for teenage boys -- who are already busy building
an identity and simultaneously trying to adapt to changes brought
about by puberty -- because it is a frequent scene of violence in
which people kill with no trace of regret on their face. That fact
alone would give a false idea to a young mind that killing a person is
not serious and that guns are not that harmful after all. Psychologist
Khalilov plays down this option but says there are exceptions. Only
mentally imbalanced individuals would be motivated by a work of
fiction -- say, a movie or a story -- according to him. A healthy
adult male can easily differentiate between fiction and reality,
and that is the case with "Valley," Dr. Göka believes.

The series tells the story of an intelligence officer, Polat, whose
mission, given to him by men from the deep state, is to infiltrate
a gang in order to get rid of it. He then ends up establishing his
own gang because of corruption in the system that once employed
him. Throughout this entire story, the men in his gang are depicted
as heroes in terms of their loyalty to Polat, though their human side
is portrayed at times. This characterization of the men as having
flaws makes the series likeable, says Khalilov.

A disturbing question, though, continues to bother the mind. It
is of no harm to adult men, but what about teenagers struggling to
find role models and dealing with raging hormones? That is, would
the series have played into the wicked hands of those who want to
use the young in their ill-intentioned scenarios like assassinations
of prominent public figures such as slain journalist Hrant Dink? The
Turkish-Armenian journalist was murdered by a 17-year-old who was later
found to have links to a gang. Dr. Göka disagrees with this argument,
voiced by many. He even goes further by saying: "No, I don't agree
with that at all. We cannot judge a whole nation by the crimes of a
few punks -- That is a crime bigger than crime itself." What he says
then is remarkable: "A Turk's mind doesn't understand racism. Though
Turks are a warrior community, as all historians agree, they are the
nation which has the greatest tolerance in the world."

Khalilov sees a connection between the socioeconomic background and
gangs. "Children of less educated and less wealthy parents are more
likely to be involved in gangs. A teenager who lacks those things would
look for wealth and power outside his or her family," Khalilov says.

Göka, who deals with the community psychology of Turks in his book
"The Psychology of Turks," discusses the argument that it addresses
Turks' need for guns and that it is for that reason popular among
a nation famous for its gift of forming armies. What he says is
nothing new: Turks are a military society. "The well-known trio,
'At-Avrat-Silah,' [Horse-Woman-Gun] is of great importance in our
'historical psychology.' The point is that it is not only the
weapons, but also our 'warrior state of mind.' I do not know how
other societies are, but Turks are like that. And we can never analyze
anything correctly without realizing this feature of ours. Turks are
well known in history for their warrior features. Turks, fighting
without gender discrimination, fought not only for their nation;
they were employed as warriors by other nations' armies because of
their well-established war tactics. Therefore it is not this relation
between Turks and guns which make 'Valley' a must-see on Tuesdays,"
Göka says, giving another perspective on Turkey's "deep state." "The
major part of the success of the series lies in the fact that it can
make us ask questions about some issues in order for them to come
under the spotlight in a country in which a great deal of secret and
suspicious business has taken place." "To some extent, it helps to
calm our paranoia [or the skeptic within]."

On the other hand, Zekayi Altun, a fan of the series, says, "I don't
think it is about the guns." What he finds so spellbinding in "Valley"
is its scenario, which ties the latest developments in Turkey with
fiction. He also dismissed the idea of guns being a "bad example"
by invoking Memati's drug problem. Memati, a picture-perfect example
of a strong man in the series with his courage, is forced to use drugs
during his captivity by the antagonists of the series. Polat then comes
to his rescue, but by then, Memati is already a drug addict. On that
point, Polat's father, a mosque preacher, tries to encourage him to
quit. The pious man functions as a messenger throughout the series,
says Polat. Therefore, the series can balance its violence with
a message about the results of the guns." He adds: "For instance,
in the latest episode, at least 10 minutes were spent explaining
the harms of drugs. I am sure those with a tendency to imitate the
crimes in the series also take their cues from what Polat's father,
who is even good to his enemy, preaches and models with his role."

The series' fans are not all men. Fatma Yeler, 85, used to watch it
when Elif, Polat's ill-fated lover in the series' first season, was
alive. The scriptwriter killed her in a tragic car accident. "They
fight less and are less entertaining," Yeler says. "They have not
filled the gap that Elif's absence has left," says another former
fan, Nevin Ozturk, a 40-year-old housewife from one of Ä°stanbul's
upscale districts.

The series is rated "seven and above" by the Radio and Television
Supreme Council (RTUK). I ask Zekayi if his wife and young
daughter watch it. "No," he says. The series' season finale is this
Thursday. Though the questions asked above still remain unanswered,
there is something for sure: Zekayi's wife, children and I will
finally catch a breather from this show this summer.

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