On Wednesday night, TRT will air a documentary about the last surviving members of the Ottoman dynasty. It centres around Bilûn Alpan, the sole survivor of the royal family that was exiled from Turkey in 1924 when she was aged just six.
Now aged 99, the granddaughter of Sultan Abdülmecid I recounts the difficulties she and her family faced when they first moved to Europe and later Beirut, where she still lives.
Called Bilûn: Sürgünün Son Tanığı (Bilûn: The Last Witness of Exile), the one hour programme in Turkish also includes interviews with the nonagenarian’s younger brother Yavuz, who was born in exile in Palestine, and his children. The documentary will chart their lives, revealing insights and stories about the Ottomans that have never before been made public.
Speaking about the making of the documentary, director Kerime Şenyücel said she and her team had contacted over one hundred members of the Ottoman dynasty, travelling around the world for their research. They had a challenge, however, in convincing Bilûn Hanım Sultan to take part in the film:
“She did not want to be interviewed at first. She is still resentful, but she loves her homeland. She still speaks in Turkish. She told us countries like Britain and France offered them money to speak ill about Turkey but they refused them all,” explained Şenyücel.
Orhan Osmanoğlu, the grandson of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II, served as an advisor on the documentary. He described it as “a milestone in history.”
“Although we had hard times as the Ottoman dynasty back then, the current government restored our position. I have been living in Turkey since 1974. We went through so much. It was impossible for an Ottoman family member to go on live TV or become a consultant to a documentary. However, Turkey is now standing behind its Ottoman heritage. There has been so much change in the past decade,” added Osmanoğlu.
After their initial years in exile, female members of the Ottoman dynasty were allowed to return to Turkey in 1952. Male members were permitted entry much later, in 1974. Bilûn Hanım Sultan returned to Turkey briefly in 1989, but was unable to settle and returned to Beirut.
“When I moved to Turkey, my house in Beirut was looted in the civil war. I was exiled once from Turkey and once from Palestine. I do not want to leave my house. I am too old to go through another exile,” Alpan said.
You can see the documentary on TRT’s documentary channel Belgesel on Wednesday 15 March at 6pm, repeated again at 10.10pm. The documentary will be screened again on TRT Belgesel at 6.30pm on Sunday 19 March, and also during the early hours of Monday 20 March, at 1.45am. All times are for the UK. Viewers without Turkish satellite can catch the programme live via the TRT website.