Stars of Turkish TV show brave death threats to perform in Israel

Thousands of fans overjoyed as lead actor of popular telenovela ‘Istanbullu Gelin’ sings on Tel Aviv stage, disappointed at brief appearance by key actress

Thousands of Israelis gathered on Saturday night in Tel Aviv to hear songs they mostly didn’t know, by a Turkish singer who hasn’t performed his music for years, but who braved death threats to perform in the Jewish state.

The mostly female crowd at the Menora Mivtachim Arena was entranced by Ozcan Deniz, the star of the television show “Istanbullu Gelin” (“The Bride of Istanbul”), a Turkish telenovela that has gained popularity in Israel over the last two years.

Deniz, 46, is known to the audience as Faruk, a wealthy bus company owner from the Turkish city of Bursa, who in the TV show falls in love with Sureyya, a violinist, with the couple facing objections to their relationship from Faruk’s mother.

But Deniz is also a former singer, leading Israeli producers to capitalize on the opportunity to invite him to perform in Israel in front of what may be the largest crowd he has ever faced. During the concert, the actor told fans had left the world of music for the past eight years to focus on acting and directing.

Ozcan Deniz (R) and Alsi Enver, stars of TV series Istanbullu Gelin. (Courtesy)

The dedicated Israeli audience was overjoyed, screaming “Faruk!” and filming the show — which featured a 16-member band — on their smartphones, despite the vast majority not knowing most of the Turkish-language songs which are somewhat obscure even in Turkey.

The crowd was let down, however, when the actress who depicts Sureyya in the show, Asli Enver, came on stage during the concert, waved to the crowd, and quickly left the stage. Enver’s character on the show is a singer and she sings quite a bit throughout the show, leading many members of the crowd to express disappointment.

But the real disappointment was voiced back home, with Turkish and Arab media and social media slamming the stars for agreeing to play in the Jewish state.

Israel and Turkey have historically been allied, with many Israelis going to Turkey for vacation, but relations soured after Islamist and pro-Palestinian leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan rose to power and after IDF troops raided the Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza in 2010, were attacked by activists on board, and killed 10 in the ensuing clashes.

Despite an official rapprochement, Erdogan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu frequently trade barbs and denounce each other as “tyrants” and “killers.”

“What politicians could not do, we could,” Deniz told the Israeli crowd in Turkish, with an interpreter translating his comments into Hebrew. “Thanks to art, we will stay together forever,” he added, to massive applause.

Another concert is scheduled for Sunday evening.

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