Turkish dramas excite polar responses in Yemeni viewers

By Maram Alabassi

For six years, Turkish television dramas such as “Noor” and “Fatima” have left a significant number of Yemeni audiences captivated. However, it is the dramas’ great popularity – primarily among young people – which has made them both socially relevant and open to sharp moral criticism in Yemen.

Turkish Ambassador to Yemen Fazli Corman told the National Yemen, “In Turkey, people are more exposed to Western culture than here in Yemen. They are more open regarding relationships and women’s roles.”

Ali Alothrobi, a Sana’a University lecturer, suggested that it is the dramas’ content, which differs greatly from their Arabic counterparts, which has drawn in Yemeni viewers. In Arab dramas, dominating patriarchal males tend to steal scenes; heroism is most often reserved for male actors, with women filling support roles.

In Turkish series, however, it is the female actors who often shine most brightly, placed as they are in the center of events. Men, meanwhile, are romantic and always in love with their wives or girlfriends no matter what they do. And not only are the men romantic, they are generally also rich and handsome.

“One of the main reasons why people, and especially women, watch these series is because our Arab dramas lack emotions – that’s why these Turkish series are popular and interesting,” said Yemeni viewer Belqees Al-Sharafi.

Enthusiastic responses to the series in Arab markets have translated into shops brimming with products bearing the Turkish actors’ names and faces. Newborn babies are often named after series stars. Even haircuts, t-shirts, dresses, shoes and contact lenses have been named after the Turkish actresses.

“Some people are obsessed with these series,” said Al-Sharafi.

The Turkish dramas can be seen to raise emotional expectations in viewers, serving up fantasies of perfect men and lives to female viewers in particular.

However, for Yemeni critics of the dramas, such fantasies are dangerous for women to take in.

“The ideas the Turkish series attempt to portray do not match our Islamic values,” said university student Ibrahim Alamaoi. “Ideas such as relationships before marriage, illegal pregnancies and a secular lifestyle in general.”

A Yemeni man named Farooq Al-Dobaibi said, “Young people tend to believe in and exaggerate what they see in these actors and actresses.”

While criticisms of the Turkish dramas have been launched by a number of Arab religious figures and intellectuals, they continue to be broadcast by a number of channels. Although Yemeni channels have yet to broadcast the dramas, viewers here have no difficulty finding them on other Arabic channels.

Alomaoi offered his opinion as to why Yemeni viewers track down the Turkish series: “Yemeni dramas don’t satisfy the needs of the youth and the population as a whole; that’s why they tend to turn to Turkish dramas.”

Turkish audiences have shown little interest in the dramas, and little attention is paid to their actors and actresses.

Back in Yemen, there appears to be little to no middle ground between die-hard fans and critics of the Turkish dramas. In response to their undeniable popularity in Yemen, Al-Othrobi flatly declared, “Only young people go after this fake glamour, in which no meaningful messages are conveyed to our youth.”