Anti-Americanism Wins at the Turkish Box Office


Feb. 14, 2006 — -- Anti-Americanism is everywhere you look in the Middle East and many other parts of the world. Now it's a box-office hit in Turkey, an important American Ally.

"Valley of the Wolves Iraq," the most expensive Turkish movie ever made at about $10 million, is an action-packed movie based on actual events. It opens with a real incident that took place in Iraq on July 4, 2003. American Marines raided Turkish Special Forces offices in Sulimaniyah, threw hoods over the soldiers' heads and held them in custody for a number of days, claiming they mistook the soldiers for insurgents.

Turkey, a longtime NATO ally of the United States and a model of a secular democratic Muslim state, took the incident as a national humiliation. According to ABC's Ali Nun in Ankara, "currently in Turkey there is anti-American sentiment dating back to Sulimaniyah. The image of the hooded Special Forces soldiers hasn't been forgotten."

In this film, the fictional hero sets out for revenge after the leader of the soldiers commits suicide upon his return home. The plot continuously plays the good Turks against the bad Americans, creating a cocktail of fact and fiction stirred with nationalistic edge.

In one scene, U.S. soldiers attack a wedding, killing dozens, shooting the groom and arresting the rest. The survivors are dragged off to prison. For the first time, the real-life abuses by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib are played out on the big screen, but the Turkish imagination gets the better. Once in Abu Ghraib, the prisoners have their organs removed by a Jewish-American doctor who sells them to rich clients in New York, London and Tel Aviv, Israel.

Not only does the film depict multiple executions and an attack on a mosque during evening prayers, but it typecasts the Americans as evil and psychotic. Gary Busey and Billy Zane are the American stars.

Busey plays the doctor in Abu Ghraib, and Zane's American commander is a self-righteous man driven by God as he kills thoughtlessly. His character is more of a caricature embodying the stereotypes that make American soldiers so unpopular in the Muslim world.

Turkey currently showcases a struggle that confronts many countries in the Muslim world: the divide between public opinion on the streets and the government's foreign policy. On the surface, the United States and Turkey are committed partners and strategic allies. Yet America has been easily typecast as the bad guy since the invasion of Iraq, the pictures of Abu Ghraib abuses and the "rendition" cases.

A number of factors contribute to the film's mega-success. First, it's a spinoff from a cult TV series from the same producers. The TV show generally had the hero fighting the Turkish mafia, but for the big-screen version he takes on a new enemy. And second, "Valley of the Wolves Iraq" follows closely on the heels of the novel "Metal Storm," about a war between Turkey and the United States over Kurdish Iraq, a sensitive geo-political area for Turkey.

The book sold close to a million copies, an unusual feat in the Turkish publishing world, and managed to map a mood of opposition toward America. The combination has allowed "Valley of the Wolves Iraq" to exploit the atmosphere and win at the box office.

Nevertheless, screenwriter Bahadir Ozdener insisted at the gala opening in Ankara that the film is inspired by facts.

"What seems to be as anti-Americanism in the film are a few human rights violations that the press has covered in Iraq, we just followed," he said. And the film's Web site goes a step further in drawing the line in its synopsis with "in the changing conjuncture, America wants to be the only power calling the shots. To them, there is no place for Turks in the region …"

Fact or fiction, it is clear that the Turkish audience has taken a liking to this film as the packed theaters house crowds cheering, clapping and whistling while their action hero Polat Alemdar gets the better of the Americans.

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