An action-filled historical feature film with epic battle scenes, a fearsome enemy and a strong emotional undercurrent, The Last Seljuk Hero vividly portrays the fall of the Seljuk Empire to the Mongols and the resistance of Emir Karatay and the residents of Konya to their rule.
In 1243 a decisive battle was fought at Köse Dağ between the Mongols and the Seljuks, which sounded the death knell of the Seljuk Empire. Its remaining rulers became vassals of the Mongols and were divided into small emirates called the Anatolian Beyliks. One of these, the Ottomans, would eventually rise to power over all the others. Set at roughly the same time as the popular historical drama series Ertugrul, The Last Seljuk Hero powerfully dramatises this key moment, as a sophisticated empire fell to the ferocious Mongols and the groundwork was laid for another Turkic empire to rise.
The film begins in Konya in 1237, as refugees from Khorasan arrive, with the threat of the fearsome Mongol warlord Baiju Noyan looming over the city. The son of a commander under Genghis Khan, Baiju went on to claim victory over the Seljuks at the battle of at Köse Dağ, with epic battle scenes of this portrayed in the film. Baiju would then go on to participate in the siege and capture of Baghdad under Hulagu in 1258.
Against the background of war and devastation wreaked by the Mongols, the Emir Celaleddin Karatay is intent on building a madrasa. When the school he is building is destroyed by the governor installed to rule Konya by the Mongols, Karatay states
“Did you really think Sultan Alaeddin’s dream was just about putting stones together? You may have burnt the madrasa down, but there will always be students to stand against tyranny. It doesn’t matter whether we teach them under a dome or under a tree.”
The Last Seljuk Hero focuses around a historical Sufi guild in Konya, called the Ahi, and their resistance to the forces of the Mongols. They would later become the Ahi Beylik, which unlike other Beyliks of the time was not ruled by a dynasty, but was instead a religious and commercial fraternity. At the beginning of The Last Seljuk Hero a disciple is initiated into the brotherhood by Ahi Evran, the Sufi saint, poet and leader of the Ahi brotherhood.
“From now on you are a member of the Ahi brotherhood. You will show respect and compassion to every living being… every animal, flower, bug or tree. You’ll not depart from the principles of our founder Ahmet Yesevi.” Interestingly both Rumi and Yunus Emre make brief appearances in the film and would have been in Konya at around the same time as the events depicted, providing some dramatic historical background to their lives.
The Last Seljuk Hero is a heady mix of warriors, scholars and dervishes, with fictionalised elements in the film adding human interest to sparse dates and facts available about the historical period. The personal dilemmas in the film introduce heart-wrenching drama to the portrayal of the characters, bringing their stories to life. With revenge, a long lost son, tragic love, betrayal and personal sacrifices, there is plenty to stir up the emotions.
On top of the moving personal stories is the struggle to accept that the Mongols have truly been victorious. In a poignant scene, Karatay is with the Mongol governor and his chief advisor, Cardinal Bennet, the special guest of Bauju Noyen. In defiance of the new political order that has been put in place, Karatay says “If Noyan thinks that he can take Konya just because we lost 1000 men in Köse Dağ, he is wrong.” To this the Cardinal replies “You have to stop with this eternal country nonsense, Karatay. Wake up. The Mongols own you now.”
During the filming of The Last Seljuk Hero, college students from Karatay University played the scholars in the madrasa scenes. Named after Emir Karatay, the hero of the film, the University was founded in 2009 as a continuation of Karatay Madrasa, founded by Emir Karatay in 1251 and closed in 1914. Students from this madrasa played a role in the founding of the Ottomon Empire, and the end of the film shows an ordinance from Karatay being delivered to Ertugrul of the Kayi tribe, the father of Osman I.