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17 April 2024

Tajik Migrants Find Unlikely Success Acting in Turkish Films, Soap Operas

Despite facing unemployment in Tajikistan and abroad, three Tajik migrants have found success as stuntmen and extras in Türkiye.

A man on horseback

Illustrative photo of man riding a horse. Image: ahmetnkececi/Shutterstock

(RFE/RL) Chronic unemployment and poverty in Tajikistan has forced more than 1 million Tajiks to look for jobs abroad, with the huge majority doing manual labor in Russia.

But three Tajik migrants -- Izzatullo Mirzoev, Manuchehr Saadiev, and Avenir Ghulomnosirov -- have found unlikely success as film extras and stuntmen in Türkiye’s booming soap opera industry.

The former construction workers with no acting experience have appeared in nonspeaking roles in several popular telenovelas alongside famous Turkish actors such as Burak Ozcivit and Serkan Cayoglu.

Saadiev, 31, spent eight years working on construction sites in Russia, a profession he thought would be lifelong. But he was deported from Russia in December for allegedly violating migration rules.

Desperate to find another job and with about $30 in his pocket, Saadiev boarded a plane to Turkey, one of a handful of countries that offered Tajik citizens visa-free stays for three months.

Manuchehr Saadiev boarded a plane to Turkey with $30 in his pocket.

“I started asking other passengers on the plane how to find a place to rent and about job opportunities, just any job to survive. A man sitting next to me mentioned a film company looking for stuntmen,” Saadiev said. “I got his phone number and called him every day asking him to help me get that job.”

Saadiev was soon hired as a stuntman for a Turkish historical television series, his first film industry job. More offers followed, enabling Saadiev to make enough money to support his modest life in Istanbul and to even send money home to Tajikistan.

Turkish soap operas have a huge following in Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries.

“I remember watching a Turkish soap opera at my aunt’s home and saying to her: ‘Imagine me acting in this film.’ But it was a joke. I never in my life dreamed of actin. I never thought I would become a stuntman one day,” Saadiev said.

But Saadiev is also aware of the inherent risks he faces in his new occupation.

“Stuntmen play the most dangerous parts in films. For example, a bomb will be hurled toward us [as part of movie] and there is always a risk of a shrapnel hitting you. There is a risk that you fall badly from a horse or get hit in the eyes or on the head while sword fighting,” he told RFE/RL.

Who Pays Whom?

After arriving in Türkiye in 2019, Izzatullo Mirzoev initially worked at a textile factory, but kept looking for a new job because of the low pay. A fellow migrant worker from Azerbaijan suggested he become a bit-part actor.

Mirzoev, 34, had a longtime hobby of taking part in strongman competitions before arriving in Türkiye and believes his muscular build and strength training helped him land his first job as a film extra.

Izzatullo Mirzoev (right) says he earns up to $4,000 a month.

“I was so surprised that on my first day I asked the producers if I was expected to pay them for allowing me to be on a famous film set,” Mirzoev said. “I said: ‘Who pays whom?’ They told me that I will get paid.”

Mirzoev says he earns up to $4,000 a month and that his new career is more about making money than becoming famous.

“Sometimes I have a choice of getting slightly more prominent roles with one-word lines, but I don’t want them because such parts are required for only one day of shooting,” Mirzoev said. “I prefer less significant, nonspeaking roles that last much longer [and result in more money].”

Dream Big

The youngest of the three Tajik extras, 26-year-old Ghulomnosirov has been in five Turkish films since arriving in Istanbul six months ago.

Ghulomnosirov, who worked in Russia until November, describes himself as a die-hard fan of Turkish TV series, including the current Establishment: Osman, which began airing in 2019.

Avenir Ghulomnosirov worked in Russia until November.

Last year he applied for a job as an extra in Establishment: Osman and landed a short, nonspeaking part in his favorite series. It was followed by roles in Saladin: The Conqueror Of Jerusalem and Mehmed The Conqueror.

“I can’t get [roles with] lines because I don’t speak Turkish,” Ghulomnosirov said. “Immediately after my first job I began learning Turkish to enhance my chances.”

Ghulomnosirov plans a future in the film industry either in Türkiye or Tajikistan.

But Türkiye has reintroduced a visa regime for Tajik nationals that comes into force on April 20. Ghulomnosirov has applied for a work visa so he can continue to pursue his dreams in Türkiye.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on interviews conducted by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Shahlo Gulkhoja