Is Çukur actually Turkey?
If you’re not particularly interested in Turkish TV series, it’s possible you haven’t seen Çukur (The Pit), but you’ve probably heard of it. Among the most popular series these days, Çukur resembles Turkey in many ways. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that Çukur shows the situation of life on the street in Turkey.
Çukur isn’t a completely novel story, however, in that it contains obvious inspiration from The Godfather, Narcos, 01 Bir Zamanlar Adana’da (01 Once Upon a Time in Adana), and Kurtlar Vadisi (Valley of the Wolves).
The article after this point contains spoilers—you’ve been warned! As a short summary for those who aren’t familiar with the programme, it takes place on a street where an old gangster named İdris Koçovalı has bought up nearly every house in the neighbourhood. Over time, everyone started calling the Koçovalı neighbourhood “the Pit” because it’s so difficult to enter and escape from. It is said that this neighbourhood, located in the middle of Istanbul, is worth a billion Turkish lira ($200 million). Everyone on the street calls İdris “Father.” Although İdris appears to work in the neighbourhood bazaar, he and his sons in fact do all the other business in the neighbourhood like pimping, pickpocketing, and supplying bars with bouncer. However, selling and using drugs are strictly forbidden.
One of Çukur’s slogans is “The family will protect you when needed. You will also protect the family.” In the first episode, a drug manufacturer and dealer named Vartolu Saadettin comes to Çukur to propose setting up a drug lab. When İdris rejects the offer, the family’s eldest son Kahraman is murdered and the story begins to unfold from there. Yamaç is the youngest of the Koçovalı children, but he left home years before; he meets up with his mother in Paris on his wedding day, and she persuades him to return and become the head of the family.
After a series of plot twists, it turns out that Vartolu is actually İdris’ son from a long-ago relationship. Despite shooting up the street with machine guns and killing his half-brother, Vartolu starts to become one of the good guys. At the beginning of the second season, it looks as though everything will turn out fine, but an assault against the neighbourhood and the Koçovalı family is being prepared.
In the second season, it is learned that the people readying the attack are a team formed from a gang of street kids who have come to be known over the years as the Karakuzular (Black Sheep). However, it is not known who is planning the assaults or who is behind them.
The entire family scatters, and even though some of them get killed, they regroup to take their neighbourhood back. Of course, because Çukur’s and the Koçovalı family’s mysterious enemy will not rest, nothing goes well at all.
Every episode of Çukur is almost 90 minutes long, and a lot of people have followed the series with great interest. Scriptwriter Gökhan Horzum says that there are infamous neighbourhoods like this all over the world, though they are called something other than Çukur. More and more people are getting the Çukur tattoo that everyone in the show has.
But actually, Çukur is about today’s Turkey in a lot of ways. Although hundreds of people are murdered in broad daylight, the police never turn up. For a long time, paramilitary gangs have been running rampant on Çukur’s streets, but the police don’t even come when people are taken from their homes. There are a few scenes with police in the first episode, but that’s not a lot. In the second season, an officer named Emrah is sent to watch over the neighbourhood, but he starts taking orders from the bad guys a short time later.
Today in Turkey, there are a lot of incidents where police nowhere to be found. For example, on one of Istanbul’s busiest streets, İlhan Ünğan was recently assassinated. Ünğan was sought for arranging the murder of Iranian drug baron Naci Şerifli Zindashti’s daughter. However, the police are always there if someone close to the government is exposed for wrongdoing or when a journalist is under arrest.
Police didn’t use to appear so infrequently in Turkish series. In fact, in 01 Once Upon a Time in Adana, a series that is also broadcast online and that is similar in many ways to Çukur, police carry out their operations and throw a lot of people in jail. One season even took place almost entirely in a prison. But however much Çukur resembles 01 Once Upon a Time in Adana or any other old mafia show, it doesn’t give any place to the police. For people in today’s Turkey, this doesn’t seem strange at all.
Another example is women in Turkey who’ve been assaulted; they ask for the police for help, but no one helps them so they increasingly are taking their claims to social media. These women report assault crimes to the police, but they’re never sure the police will do anything about it.
As in Turkey, the women in Çukur generally remain in the background. İdris’ wife Sultan has so completely embraced the words “We take our pain and keep it inside” for so many years that she doesn’t say a word no matter what happens to her. Her husband doesn’t abuse her, but she doesn’t tell anyone about anything else that’s happened to her. It’s a different sort of example of women in Turkey who have faced all manner of violence but keep it inside.
Today, there are around 700 babies living together with their mothers in prison. Despite dozens of nationwide campaigns about this, nothing has really been done. A micro-version of this happens in Çukur, when a pregnant woman character is kidnapped and held for months, during which time she has the baby. Unlike in real life, there is someone who rescues the woman and her baby in the show.
In the show’s final episodes, there’s something they say that explains Turkey’s situation quite well. A woman character is forcibly taken from her home and made to talk to someone. Afterwards, when she says, “In the old days, there were some unwritten rules, and women and children were untouchable,” the answer she gets is, “That was in the old days.” In other words, in a country where people are free to hurt everyone, even TV programmes follow this rule.
As this season of Çukur comes to an end, more chaos is expected. It’s not clear who will go and who will stay. However, the Koçovalıs will continue to defend their neighbourhood and dole out to their enemies their understanding of morality they have shaped in their own way. A few seasons later, the series will end. As for Çukur’s greatness in Turkey, no one even knows what will happen in summer.