Missed Kulüp When It Came Out? You Can Now Binge the Whole Delicious Series.

Asude Kalebek as Rasel in the Netflix series Kulüp (via middleeasteye.net).

Season 2 of Kulüp (“The Club”), the Turkish drama from Netflix about a nightclub run by a complex cast of characters in 1950s Istanbul, wrapped recently. The show chronicles their interpersonal struggles, the histories that led to those struggles, and their uphill battle to make the club a success. It’s not yet clear whether we’ll see another season of the show, but for now, it’s given a global audience both fun and thought provoking content.

Acts of violence against minority groups in Turkey, including but not limited to Kurdish, Greek, Assyrian, Armenian, and Jewish communities, haven’t been portrayed enough in popular culture, which is what makes Kulüp’s depiction of the 1955 Istanbul pogroms against these groups startling and unusual.

Over long WhatsApp threads, I dissected the show with fellow Muslim and Sephardic friends of Turkish background. We were all surprised and thrilled by the way the show critiqued Turkish nationalism. The Wealth Tax, for example, which features prominently in the tragic backstory of Kulüp’s protagonist, Matilda, was a one-off tax that only affected non-Muslim minorities in Turkey in the early 1940s. In name, it raised funds in case Turkey became involved in World War II; in reality, it was a way to punish non-Muslims and destroy their financial capital —especially Armenians. It was refreshing to see a show take on these lesser-known parts of Turkey’s history.

The political tensions in 1950s Turkey affect the show’s characters in different ways. Niko, the club owner, goes by the Turkish name Orhan Şahin to hide his Greek identity so that he is more socially mobile. His mother, who has Alzheimer's disease and is prone to frequent Greek-language outbursts, threatens to blow his cover.

Similarly, Matilda and Raşel, the mother and daughter around whom the show centers, hide their Jewish identity to protect themselves.Throughout the show, they struggle to find their place, and find safety, in the violence broiling around them. Ultimately, Matilda and Raşel find refuge not with people who shared their Jewish identity, but with people whose shared values lead them to help provide shelter to minorities during the pogrom. Today, we also need to find communities built not only on shared identities, but on shared values and hopes for our future. We must actively refuse to engage in nationalism and its associated violence.

The show has other important lessons to offer. “Fake news” is often discussed as if it were a new trend, but Kulüp reminds us it’s been around for a long time. In Turkey, propaganda was used to excuse the 1955 pogrom. Watching the show, I felt less alone. The Jewish women in Kulüp faced an issue we continue to deal with today: violent nationalism and sectarianism promoted by power-hungry people of every faith, but particularly those who are a part of their country’s majority.

Beyond the show’s timely messages, what I appreciated most about Kulüp was its honest depictions of messy, real women, women we don’t hear nearly enough about: convicts, blue- and pink-collar workers, sex workers, teen and unmarried moms, and women in interfaith relationships, as well as women who are the products of those relationships (like me).

Still, Kulüp could dig deeper. It contends with the violent past of the Turkish state, yet it doesn't address the ongoing violence and oppression occurring seventy years later—even as the older, unnamed daughter of Raşel narrates from what is presumably the present day. One Armenian character makes a brief appearance for a few episodes; he is soon fired by Niko/Orhan amid rising ethnic tensions, and we never hear from him again.

The show misses the opportunity to explore how ongoing “Turkification” campaigns demand citizens of non-Turkic Muslim origin “become” Turkish. The country continues to engage in ethnic cleansing of minorities. While it’s admirable the way the show takes on Turkey’s past, amidst ever escalating nationalism and violence in Turkey and many other parts of the world, it doesn’t feel like enough.

Overall, Kulüp offers a delicious taste of what TV of all genres should be serving up when it comes to Jewish women— especially Sephardic women. But it still has a ways to go depicting oppressed minorities in Turkey who continue to face brutal oppression.

This piece was written as part the Jewish Media Fellowship through New Voices Magazine.

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How to cite this page

Zylali, Mirushe. "Missed Kulüp When It Came Out? You Can Now Binge the Whole Delicious Series. ." 20 January 2022. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 22, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/did-you-miss-kulup-when-it-came-out-you-can-now-binge-whole-delicious-series>.