Two years ago, Konul Nagiyeva played an important role in the Turkish historical adventure drama Dirilis: Ertugrul. The show was in its fourth season at the time and a huge hit in Turkey.

It was exciting for Konul to get to play Alangoya, the fierce Mongolian warrior scheming against the righteous Ertugrul. She did not know that two years later, long after Alangoya had been punished for her evil scheming and Dirilis: Ertugrul had wrapped up altogether, the character she played would once again get noticed, this time in Pakistan.

“My agent called me and asked me if I knew that people were searching my name in Pakistan,” Konul recounts.

“I was surprised. Why would they be searching my name there? Then, I was told that it was because they were all fascinated with the Dirilis: Ertugrul series.”

Pakistanis began following her on Instagram and commenting on her social media feed. And a Pakistani journalist – myself – connected with her via an online call for an exclusive interview. I find out that Konul is originally from Azerbaijan but has been working in Turkey for six years now. She likes to act but she is also a writer, composer, singer and director and self-isolated at home, she has lately been utilising the additional time to write.

She has also been taking note of how suddenly she has an audience in Pakistan. While she was certainly not part of Dirilis; Ertugrul’s main cast, the malevolent Alangoya was integral to the story in season four, combating the enemy and generally making life miserable for the good guys. It is testament to the show’s popularity that Pakistanis have not just been trying to connect with the main actors via social media, but also with others that left an impact, such as Konul.

“I have never been very active on social media and even then, so many Pakistanis have been taking out the time to write their comments to me, on Instagram,” Konul reveals. “I can only imagine the way the other actors, who played the main leads in Ertugrul and are active on Instagram, must be experiencing their newfound Pakistani popularity.”

This popularity has, of course, already lead to the main cast connecting sporadically with Pakistani fans and also entering into a few collaborative deals. The show’s female lead, Esra Bilgic who plays Halime Sultan, has been part of a number of local ad campaigns, Engin Altan Duzyatan who enacts Ertugrul recently participated virtually in an event hosted by the Make A Wish Foundation and Cavit Cetin Guner, who plays Turgut Alp, was recently in Islamabad for the launch of the housing project, Blue World City.

Does Konul, also, hope to visit Pakistan someday?

“I would love to,” she says. “Earlier, my knowledge of Pakistan was restricted to what I knew from Wikipedia; that Pakistan and Azerbaijan supported each other, the capital was Islamabad and the languages spoken were Urdu and English. Now, however, I want to know so much more about this country.”

She continues, “I also want to thank the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for the support that he has been extending to my country Azerbaijan. I am generally someone who doesn’t pay attention to politics but the ongoing war in the Nagorno-Karabakh region is very painful and I am hoping that we get justice soon. I am not someone who likes war but there are times when there is so much injustice that there can’t be any peace.”

Drawing comparisons between herself and Alangoya, she elaborates, “I was about seven or eight when the first war started over Nagorno-Karabakh. Myy father and grandfather were both military men and I remember constantly waiting for my father and wondering if he would return back home or not, whether he was alive or dead? Ever since then, I have hated waiting.”

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“At that young age, I hated how the Armenians were massacring my people. But we can either to choose live in a state of war or to make peace and I have always preferred to be peaceful. Alangoya, on the other hand, chose war. I don’t know what her childhood was like. This transition from the way I am to the arcs that define my character was very interesting for me.”

But did she enjoy playing an outright villainous character like Alangoya? “Yes, I loved how bad she was!” Konul laughs. “There were so many shades to her and she truly believed in her mission.”

Recalling her favorite characters from the drama, Konul continues, “It would have to be Noyan because of how bad he was!” she grins, naming another one of Ertugrul’s adversaries.

“Among the good characters, of course Engin was amazing as Ertugrul. Also, Esra as Halime is exceptional. She is a very beautiful girl and when she was Halime, I could almost feel as if I could see the truth in her eyes.”

How did she end up acting in Ertugrul? “I auditioned and my manager called me that I had been selected for the role but I just had two days to prepare for it,” says Konul.

“I was taken aback but I knew that I could do it because over the years, I have built my acting repertoire by getting training in different skills, like fighting and horse-riding. It was a big honor to be selected for such a major project. Dirilis Ertugrul was hugely successful in Turkey and had gotten high ratings ever since the very first season.”

“Once I was on set, I had nothing to worry about. The team was extremely professional and all I had to do was act.”

Describing the colossal Ertugrul shooting area, she continues, “It was a huge set, with a lot of attention being given to details. We would shoot out in forests or an entire area would be created for a scene.”

“One of my favorite scenes is when Noyan comes back and the shamanic are dancing. I remember that on that particular day, I had been shooting a long scene in the forest and then, at night-fall, we started working on this dancing scene. All through the night till 5 a.m. we were dancing and trying to get the scene right. But no one complained because we all believed in the project and knew that we were creating something very artistic. When the final scene did come on screen, it was magical with all these Mongolian warriors praying to their gods and spirits.”

Did she ever expect Dirilis Ertugrul to become such a hit outside of Turkey? “Actually, no, but I can understand why so many people love it,” smiles Konul. “In Muslim countries, people can connect with it on a religious and cultural level. Ertugrul is a hero unique to the Islamic religion and I think that people feel a love for him.”

“If I could meet the real Ertrugrul, I would have so much to ask him. It’s because I feel a certain sense of ownership towards him,” she smiles.

The same sense of ownership is felt, around the world, towards the show Dirilis: Ertugrul.

“It would be wonderful to visit a country where I have been given love and a show that I have worked in is being appreciated so much,” smiles Konul.

And you never know, when she does come to our region, we may just end up seeing Konul in a three-piece lawn catalog, a beauty soap campaign or even a cooking oil advertisement. In a country fixated with all things Ertugrul, it wouldn’t be surprising.

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