by Cinar Kiper
ISTANBUL, April 9 (Xinhua) -- Turkey's television drama industry has played a pivotal role in enhancing the country's popularity in the Arab world.
"Five years ago the image of Turkey was that of the oppressive Ottoman Empire," Joseph Husseini of Bright I in Lebanon, a media training facility, told Xinhua, adding "the first year Gumus was broadcast, Turkey became the top travel destination."
"Gumus" (silver) was the vanguard of the Turkish drama. Renamed "Noor" (Arabic for "light") and characters renamed with Arabic names, the entire show became a phenomenon in the Arab world.
The show was such a success that 85 million Arabs tuned in to watch the series finale broadcast in 2008.
Just a decade ago international sale of Turkish television dramas amounted to less than 1 million U.S. dollars, and in just a few years it managed to reach 50 million dollars in 2010, due primarily to the huge success of those shows in the Middle East.
Turkish productions now make up 60 percent of all programs of Middle Eastern broadcasters, and the demand keeps on growing.
Since the success of Gumus, the Arab world has been demanding more and more Turkish dramas, and Turkey has been sending them over. This coincides with the increasing popularity Turkey enjoyed in the region in recent years.
A study released in February by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or Tesev, titled "Perception of Turkey in the Middle East," found that of over 2,000 people interviewed in seven Arabic countries, 80 percent had a favorable or very favorable opinion of Turkey, up from 75 percent in 2009.
Seventy eight percent of the interviewees said they have watched Turkish television shows, and in open-ended questions they were able to name 15 Turkish actors on average.
The study also said considering those show's viewership and their recognizability, the situation has much more lasting impact.
Izzet Pinto of Global Agency, a Turkish company which sells the rights of those shows to dozens of regions, told Xinhua that the impact of the shows has been seen in tourism.
In recent years, Turkey has become the top travel destination in the region for Arabs, and the second most preferred country world-wide after France.
Furthermore, the Arabs feel a certain connection to characters in Turkish dramas.
Bassam Hajjawi, CEO of Jordan's International Distribution Agency, said "they (characters) were so close to us, similar family ties... but of course, they are more liberal than Arabic dramas."
Turkish shows often depict drinking and premarital sex, frowned upon by certain factions in the Arabic world.
There is a segment of the Arab society that is very conservative and find Turkish dramas morally corrupt, said Joseph Husseini, adding those who appreciate the Turkish dramas are those who want to modernize.
"These dramas show a world similar to our society, where there are such things as respect for the family. But in the end, the young want to modernize and the old are more traditional," he said.
"Turkey is our gate to Europe," said Husseini.