It was 1988 and there was literally a “magnificent” Suleiman the Magnificent Exhibition traveling the world. Sultan Suleiman in our history is named “Kanuni” Sultan Süleyman, the law-giver, the law-maker Süleyman. While the entire world has named him Suleiman the Magnificent, in our history and in our minds he has been downgraded to merely being a lawmaker.
A columnist attributes this reduction to the Turkish feature of genetic opposition. Or maybe it is the inherited disapproval of the successful… We love the loser; we don’t love the winner that much… A sultan who has been praised and magnified by the whole world can only be the “lawmaker” for us…
This Suleiman the Magnificent exhibition was traveling the world, and when it was time for it to be displayed in the United Kingdom, the Turkish first lady of the time was invited to London for its opening.
This first lady did not speak a word of English but somehow she was scheduled to deliver a speech in English. Also, she was presented in the program as a “graduate of Nişantaşı College” when there was no such school. The closest was the Nişantaşı Girls High School, but she had not graduated from that school either. She must have been a dropout. Sometimes our skills of buttering up officials and their family members reach dangerous levels. We have to keep in mind that not every society can be fooled as easily as ours. The Oriental smartness doesn’t extend beyond the border city of Edirne.
Anyway, this lady who didn’t speak a word of English was given an English text with a Turkish pronunciation guide written alongside. She wanted to show off that she could speak English. One minute. She was supposed to read the text according to the guide without actually understanding it.
You know how good Turks are at English pronunciation. The number “three” always becomes the “tree” in the yard. Colonel has an “l,” not an “r” or “says” does not have a silent “y.” Also, the “w” and the “v” are the same for Turks. Both are pronounced with the same “lazy Turkish v,” as one teacher used to say.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana were also at the opening. When the first lady took the floor and started reading the text, she insistently pronounced “lawmaker” as “love-maker.”
The rest of her English was so bad, but at first it went unnoticed. Then some giggles were heard. Then there was laughter all around. The royal couple kept their stance although there was a smile on Princess Diana’s face. Actually, a silly bureaucrat whose English was only slightly better than hers had written the text.
She was trying to explain to the distinguished audience where the name “kanuni” came from, but Princess Diana was no longer able to control her chuckle when she said, “He was the greatest love-maker of his time.”
It was also said, that this first lady referred to “ships” instead of “sheep” on the Syrian border while she was trying to explain the importance of border trade for Turkey. (Syria? Border trade? 1988? The need to explain? Don’t we learn from history?) Anyway, it was again reported that Princess Diana also laughed when ships were going back and forth across the dry, landlocked border between Syria and Turkey.
Well, the love-making is not totally out of context, as the magnificent sultan was also making love as well as making laws.
Can Dündar wrote in his column Thursday that the portrayal of Sultan Suleiman in the popular soap opera “Muhteşem Yüzyıl” (The Magnificent Century) as a sultan who kissed, drank and slept with women had been considered an insult. “Didn’t the sultan kiss, drink and sleep?” asks Dündar.
Apparently, in the minds of certain bureaucrats, no. A conqueror, a fighter, a tough, strong man better suits the image of an ideal ruler. Sultan Suleiman’s uncontrollable love for his wife Hürrem Sultan – originally Roxalana, a slave from Ukraine – is somehow unacceptable; a ruler that is influenced by a woman to that extent is just not properly digested in certain Turkish male stomachs.
But, then, the reason this TV serial is so popular may be because people like to watch the weaknesses of a mighty sultan.
And maybe also every Turkish man has a secret Roxalana in his heart… And every Turkish woman has a secret wish to be a “Roxalana” to her master…