The close cultural relationship between Turkey and Somalia morphed into popular culture as Turkish dramas are all the rage and ‘Istanbul’ becomes one of the most popular female names in the African country

Somalia and Turkey share a long history that goes back to the Ottoman era, with the Turks playing a huge role in Somalia’s independence struggle against the British colonial empire.

Somalia had forces called Dervishes led by Sayyid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan, one of the country’s independence heroes. Fighting against British rule in Somaliland, he was a Somali religious and military leader of the Dervish movement from 1856-1920 backed by the Ottomans.


According to the Somali presidency, historic mosques can be found in the country that dates back hundreds of years and were built by the Ottomans.

Historic buildings and mosques can be found in the port city of Berbera in Somaliland and are examples of the Turkish influence that is seen throughout Somalia.

Turkey not only had a cultural influence in Somalia, good relations between the two countries that developed over a decade enabled the Turkish and Somali people to integrate easily.

A substantial Somali diaspora lives in Turkey and there is a significant Turkish diaspora in Somalia, including businesspeople, doctors, engineers, and humanitarian workers.

“If you go to Turkey and find an opportunity to visit Istanbul or Ankara, you will see that the Somali diaspora has seamlessly integrated into the society, doing business, attending universities, and all that is because we have Turkish airlines flying over Mogadishu every day. This is good for the cultural integration agreement that was signed between Somalia and Turkey several years ago,” Somali Presidential spokesperson Abdirashid Mohamed Hashi told Anadolu Agency (AA).

Somali film revival

Turkish state broadcaster TRT will help Somalia’s culture to thrive and train Somali filmmakers to produce quality dramas, which were once popular but disappeared after the civil war in 1990 following the military regime’s collapse.

'Istanbul' Becomes Most Popular Name In Somalia
Somali women who help Turkish health teams working in Mogadishu, Somalia, July 5, 2012. (Shutterstock Photo)

“We have met with the TRT channel’s directors, and they will help us get our culture, music, and film industry back on track. Turkish dramas will be translated in Somali to ensure the cultural exchange between the two countries thrives,” Hashi said.

Somalia and Turkey developed their close friendship in 2011 after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a visit to the country as the first non-African leader to do so in over 20 years.

Demand for learning the Turkish language among young people, especially women and girls, has more than doubled this year because of the Turkish film industry.

Zaynab Abdi Adan loves Turkish dramas. She said she has been watching them for almost three years and has also learned how to communicate in Turkish.

“I just love the way they act so seriously when they’re depicting love affairs. I just love it, and I am now addicted to a new historical drama series called ‘Alparslan: Büyük Selçuklu,’ and the best actor for me is ‘Fırat Topkorur‘ (the one who plays) Alpagut,” she said.

If you want to know how much influence Turkey has in Somalia, just check the female names in the country, said Ahmed Osman, an elderly man in Mogadishu.

One of the most popular female names in the country is “Istanbul,” he said.

“We are related in terms of religion, and I am happy to see a major Muslim country have this kind of influence on us because, before our generation, we had Western influences such as Italian culture, but not anymore,” he explained.

Feysal Ali said he translates Turkish films from Arabic into Somali and has watched five different dramas, including the historically depicted “Diriliş: Ertuğrul.”

“I have watched all five seasons of the ‘Ertuğrul‘ drama in just three months. I have also watched a military-themed TV series called ‘Söz‘ and I am currently watching ‘Barbaroslar,'” he said.

Special celebration

This year, Somalia celebrated the 10th anniversary of its special relationship with Turkey.

Foreign diplomats, senior Somali officials, and the Turkish ambassador to Somalia were among the dignitaries who attended a ceremony in Mogadishu. Turkish whirling dervishes performed at the Halane compound that houses the United Nations’ headquarters in the capital Mogadishu.

“Somali singers and Turkish musicians were invited to showcase how the cultural exchange between Somalia and Turkey was working and all dignitaries and participants were amazed by the performances,” said Hashi.

The Turkish film industry has been a game-changer in the country, with other foreign films losing their dominance. Somalis previously loved to watch Bollywood (Indian) films, but now this has been overtaken by Turkish movies, Hashi added.

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