(Istanbul) One is a modest veiled housekeeper who lives in a remote suburb of Istanbul, and the other is a bourgeois, westernized psychiatrist, who spends her holidays abroad and abhors conservatives.
This improbable duo is at the heart of a series which has met with immense success in Turkey, the complexity and social fault lines of which it portrays without any disguise, in a context of the country’s polarization under the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Series Ethos (Bir Baskadir, in Turkish), broadcast on the Netflix platform, aroused great interest abroad, illustrating the growing attractiveness of Turkish productions that are exported to the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.
The eight-part work by director and writer Berkun Oya sets itself apart by venturing where no series has dared to do before it, offering the general public a representation of the country’s social and family divides.
“The series has managed to strike a balance between popular production and deep work,” said Dogan Gurpinar, historian at Istanbul Technical University.
The series, posted on November 12, owes a lot to the talent of actress Oyku Karayel, who plays Meryem, a young cleaning lady trapped between an overwhelming brother and the precepts of the “hodja”, a sort of spiritual advisor, of the neighborhood. .
Until the day she meets Peri, a psychiatrist played by Defne Kayalar who is her mirror image: from a wealthy family, she is ultralaic, over-educated and worried about the conservative turn taken by Turkey.
As soon as it appeared, Ethos sparked an intense debate in Turkey. The series does indeed strike a chord: year after year, polls show that the country is increasingly polarized socially and politically.
In a study by the American think tank German Marshall Fund published in December, 75% of respondents in Turkey said they were opposed to their child marrying someone supporting the political party from which they feel “most distant”.
As if to set an example, the actress who plays Meryem, and who does not wear the Islamic headscarf in life, said that she felt close to her character.
Meryem “feels stuck, but is it her fault? No, it’s life that’s at stake, the social environment that restricts her and from which she finds an escape in her own way, with naivety, ”actress Oyku Karayel told Turkish media in November.
Turkey, which has 83 million inhabitants, was built at the end of the First World War with the desire to shape a nation-state with a unique identity, far from the cosmopolitan Ottoman Empire from which it came.
But in reality, in this country which stretches over Europe and Asia live Turkish nationalists and the Kurdish minority, westernized urbanites of the west coast and more conservative Anatolians, Islamists and “secularists”.
In Ethos, the gap between Meryem and the psychiatrist Peri can be understood in their way of expressing themselves which reveals not only their education and their social class, but also deeper things, such as their relationship to Islam.
Thus, Meryem often says “Allah willing”, and addresses Peri using the word “abla”, which literally means “big sister” and here establishes a hierarchy between them.
Fascinated and annoyed by her patient, Peri confides to her own therapist that she feels “more at (her) home in Peru”, where she went on vacation, than in Turkey, her country.
As if to underline the transmission of prejudices from generation to generation within families, she explains that her mother considers veiled women as a sort of “monster”.
If the series was widely hailed, some denounce a “cliché” in the worn-out opposition between the secular bourgeoisie and the pious woman without education.
Some veiled female graduates “have legitimately asked themselves, ‘Why aren’t we represented?’ Zeynep Serefoglu Danis, member of the conservative Association of Turkish Women and Democracy, an organization co-headed by a daughter of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told AFP.
The series should have “gone beyond the obvious” in its portrayal of the divisions between traditional and modern women, she believes, while acknowledging that a work of fiction cannot “offer a panoramic view” of the country. .