Turkish Film Breaks Records by Showing U.S. Troops as Criminals

U.S. troops massacre guests at an Arab wedding and Army doctors steal organs from Iraqi prisoners in a movie that is breaking box-office records in Turkey.

“Valley of the Wolves: Iraq,” in which a Turkish agent avenges the arrest of his country’s commandos by U.S. soldiers, is tapping growing anti-American sentiment as the war in Iraq drags on. Since it premiered Jan. 31, the movie starring U.S. actors Billy Zane and Gary Busey has been seen by 3.9 million people, making it the most-watched Turkish film ever, says the film’s distributor, Istanbul-based Kenda Film.

“Turks are going to this movie because it hits close to home about their worries over the U.S. occupation in Iraq, said Soner Cagaptay, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “There’s sympathy in Turkey for the plight of fellow Muslims.

The head of Germany’s Christian Social Union, the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, this week said the film showed Turkey wasn’t suitable to join the European Union. The U.S. military last month warned troops in Europe to avoid theaters where the movie was playing, according to the newspaper Stars & Stripes.

Turkey, which borders Iraq, Iran and Syria, is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East. President George W. Bush points to Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as a model for democracy in Islamic societies.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey can help mediate tensions between Islam and the West. The government has refused to back U.S. efforts to block trade with Syria and refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council over its nuclear program. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on Feb. 16 met with leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which the U.S. classifies as a terrorist organization.

Turkish Opinion

Less than a quarter of Turks have a favorable opinion of the U.S., the lowest approval rating in Europe and down from 52 percent in 2000, according to a June survey by the Pew Research Center. Popular culture reflects that mood. Two books in the “Metal Storm” series, about a fictional war between the U.S. and Turkey, are on the country’s bestseller list.

“Wolves” doesn’t aim to stoke anti-Americanism or anti- Semitism and no demonstrations or violent acts have been linked to the movie, screenwriter Bahadir Ozdener said in an interview.

`Someone who sees this film won’t take up arms and go attack something, he said. “Rather than reflect what Turkey thinks of America, it shows what America is doing.

Anger at U.S. policies turned violent Jan. 30, when four people were injured in a bomb blast at a U.S. cultural center near the Incirlik air base, where American planes are based.

Exploitation

Egemen Bagis, Erdogan’s foreign-policy adviser, said public- opinion in Turkey reflects global concerns about the war in Iraq.

“There are those, like the producers of this movie, who try to exploit these sentiments and turn them into cash for their own benefit, unfortunately, Bagis said. “But Turkish-American relations are so strategic and so deep-rooted that no movie can harm the alliance.

U.S.-Turkish relations reached their nadir in 2003. In March of that year, parliament refused to let U.S. forces invade Iraq from Turkish soil. Then, on July 4, U.S. troops raided a Turkish barracks in the Iraqi city of Suleymaniye and arrested a group of Turkish special forces, forcing them to wear handcuffs and hoods over their heads.

The incident sparked a furor among Turks who saw it as an insult to national pride. It also inspired the opening scenes of “Wolves,” a spin-off from a popular TV series.

The movie’s protagonist, Polat Alemdar, goes to Iraq to hunt down the ex-CIA agent who ordered the arrests. What follows is a blood-soaked rampage reminiscent of Hollywood blockbusters such as Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo.”

`Absurd Storyline’

Sam William Marshall, the former CIA agent played by Zane, has set up a paramilitary fiefdom in northern Iraq where his henchmen bomb mosques, kill Arabs and Turkmen, and help Kurdish warlords establish hegemony over other ethnic groups.

In one sequence, a U.S. soldier fires a machine gun into a truck carrying Iraqi prisoners, slaughtering dozens for his own amusement. This angers a Jewish-American doctor played by Busey, who frets the attack will prevent him from smuggling the victims’ organs to New York, London and Tel Aviv.

“It’s an absurd storyline with all of the action-movie cliches, and it plays on nationalist sentiments,” said Nil Demirkazik, head of Cocuk-Der, a Turkish children’s rights group.

Zane said he accepted the role in “Wolves” to express his opposition to the war.

`I’m a patriot; that’s why I played it, he said in an interview at the movie’s premiere in Istanbul. “Sure, it’s melodrama, but it’s based on fact.

German Critique

“Wolves” has been among the top 10 movies in Germany since its Feb. 3 release there, according to Box Office Mojo International. Germany is home to 2 million ethnic Turks.

Edmund Stoiber, head of Germany’s Christian Social Union, on March 1 said the film shames Western values.

`If that’s the reality in Turkey today, then Turkey doesn’t fit into the EU already because of this, Stoiber, 64, said at an Ash Wednesday rally in the town of Passau. “Europe and Turkey are separated by more than a few kilometers at the Bosphorus.

The Council of Jews in Germany has called for the film to be banned because it “incited hatred of Jewish peoples and attacked Western civilization,” the group said in an emailed statement.

The U.S. army warned troops that protests could erupt at theaters showing “Wolves,” Stars & Stripes, a newspaper for the military, reported Feb. 7, citing a memo to bases in Europe. No formal orders were issued, said a spokesman for the U.S. military’s European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.

The U.S. Embassy in Turkey informed the State Department the movie contained “extreme anti-Americanism and depicted “all the American characters as villains, Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper said Feb. 6, citing an embassy report. The embassy’s press office declined to comment on the report.
Gurkan Kocoglu, 26, who saw the film with three male friends, said the film shows the real situation in Iraq. “It sends a message to the Bush regime from a friendly country that this region is sick of American imperialism,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul at ayackley@bloomberg.net.