Disney confirmed to The Washington Post on Wednesday that the series will instead be released as two films, the first to be shown on Fox in Turkey on October 29 and the second to premiere in Turkish theaters on December 22. Both films return to Fox next summer. Disney bought 21st Century Fox in 2019 in a landmark $71 billion acquisition.
The company did not comment on why its plans had changed or on the political controversy now swirling around the project, saying only that it was part of its “revised content distribution strategy.”
Yenicag, a Turkish daily, first reported on Friday that the series had been pulled from Disney Plus under pressure from Armenian American advocacy groups who feared it would obscure Ataturk’s role in the Armenian Genocide.
“It is a shame that an American-based film and television platform succumbed to the pressure of the Armenian lobby and canceled the ‘Ataturk’ series without airing it.” tweeted Omer Celik, deputy chairman of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. “This attitude of the platform in question is disrespectful to the values of the Republic of Turkey and our nation.”
Ataturk assumed power after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, presided over the formation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, and served as the country’s first president until his death in 1938.
He introduced political, economic and social reforms while promoting a secular Turkish national identity. He is so widely celebrated in Turkey today that it is a criminal offense to insult his name.
“Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of our Republic of Turkey, is our most important social value,” Ebubekir Sahin, Chairman of Turkey’s Supreme Council of Radio and Television, tweeted Tuesday. “The allegations of Armenian lobbying intervention reflected in the press will be thoroughly investigated.”
Historians estimate that 1.5 million Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks were killed in a campaign of forced marches and mass killings between 1915 and 1923, born of Ottoman concerns that Christian communities would align with Russia during the First World War. Armenians claim that the final stages of the genocide were overseen by Ataturk when he took office.
The Armenian ‘genocide’: This is what happened in 1915
Turkey has acknowledged that many Armenians were killed in fighting with Ottoman forces, but disputes the higher losses and denies that the events amounted to genocide.
In 2021, President Biden officially recognized the Armenian Genocide, making him the first US president to do so since Ronald Reagan.
“Ataturk carried out the final stages of the crime; he denied it and then consolidated the fruits of that atrocity and set the stage for virtually a century of Turkey obstructing justice for that crime,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which lobbied for the cancellation . of the series. “Turkey has made a special effort to present Ataturk as a sort of George Washington, when there is simply much more to the record than that.”
Disney Plus launched in Turkey in June 2022 as part of a global expansion that included new markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The launch included Disney Plus’ first Turkish-language original show, “Escape.”