By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Turkish soap operas lure increasing numbers of Macedonian tourists to Istanbul, where they hope to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars.
In 2011 Istanbul remained one of the top holiday destinations for Macedonians, many of whom are eager to see the city where their favourite Turkish soap operas come to life.
Tourist agencies that offer tours to the sets of these heart-rending TV novellas that have taken Balkan audiences by storm say business is booming.
“People are simply curious and they want to see,” says Sonja Samardziska from the Skopje-based Skaut tourist agency, adding: “We already have two full buses booked and we are expecting more”.
The agency offers a tour of the live sets from the soap opera ‘Yaprak Dokumu,’ or Falling Leaves, a love and crime melodrama centered on the life of one Istanbul family.
Like elsewhere in the Balkans, this show, currently airing in Macedonia, has broken viewing records.
The Balkan craze for Turkish soap operas arguably started last year when the Turkish television series called ‘Binbir Gece,’ or A Thousand and One Nights, became a prime time hit overnight in all of the former Yugoslav republics plus Albania, Romania and even Greece.
In Macedonia the show, which was broadcast on the now-defunct A1 TV, was a huge success.
“But this year it’s all about Yaprak Dokumu,” says one employee of the Skopje-based Nehar Tourism agency. “Most of the people want to see the family house where this TV novella is being filmed.”
Prices for Macedonians who wish to spend New Year’s Eve closer to their favourite TV characters vary from 100 to 160 euros, depending on the accommodation.
In a recent article, Turkish news portal Hurriyet Daily News said that Turkish soap operas have raised the country’s influence abroad, especially in the Balkans and the Middle East, supporting the so-called “soft power” of Turkish diplomacy.
According to Hurriyet, more than 100 Turkish TV series have been watched in over twenty countries this year, earning more than $60 million.
Skopje based Sociology professor Ilija Aceski says that the key to the success of these series in the Balkans lies in their familiarity.
“The societies here have many similarities with Turkish society. The clash between traditional family values and the more liberal understandings of sexuality and marriage, the crime stories, they are all issues that people can relate to,” he says.
Time magazine recently described the export of Turkish soap operas as the “secret of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan”.