One of Turkish television’s most popular series, The Last Emperor, tells of the final years of Sultan Abdulhamid II—before he was overthrown in 1909 by advocates of constitutional monarchy. While Abdulhamid is still remembered by many in Turkey as the ruler who revoked the Ottoman empire’s short-lived first constitution, instigated bloody pogroms against Armenians and other minorities, and cultivated a pan-Islamist ideology, the show makes him its hero. Aykan Erdemir and Oren Kessler describe its depiction of his opponents:
Of all the series’ villains, none are more sinister than the Jews. Two minutes into its very first scene, Abdulhamid is riding in a procession in Istanbul when a mustachioed onlooker flips a coin into the hand of one of the royal guards. The soldier opens his hand to find the coin is etched with a Star of David surrounding a squat cross in the style favored by Crusaders and Freemasons. The signal thus received, dozens of his fellow guards turn around and open fire on the royal carriage. The screen fades to black—and to the crescent moon that accompanies the mournful opening theme.
Later in the episode we learn that underneath the coin-flipper’s Ottoman fez is the black skullcap of a Catholic priest, for he is a Vatican emissary working for none other than Theodor Herzl, the Jewish Austrian journalist who founded modern Zionism. Herzl, his beguiling assistant Sarah, and their various co-conspirators are forever haunting Istanbul, meeting with wayward members of the sultan’s family who are themselves intoxicated by deviant, imported ideas such as popular sovereignty. Herzl is the series’ arch-villain, so perfidious as to hold his penniless father imprisoned without his mother’s knowledge — all because the old man opposes Zionism. . . .
As with much of The Last Emperor, most of [what involves Jews is inaccurate]. . . . . [But] this revisionism would be less egregious if the show portrayed itself—accurately—as historical fiction. Instead, a split-second screen at the start of each episode declares that the program is “inspired by real historical events.” . . . President Erdogan [praised the show himself], telling state TV, “The same schemes are carried out today in the exact same manner. . . . What the West does to us is the same; just the era and actors are different.”