In the November 2006 edition of WIRED Magazine [1], Mahir Cagri – who made an online international splash with his “I Kiss You” website in the 1990′s – was interviewed for an article entitled “Mahir to Borat: I Sue You!”.

In that interview, Mahir stated he plans on suing Sacha Baron Cohen for essentially stealing his persona to create the fictional Kazakhstan reporter “Borat”…

“All people know Sacha Baron Cohen imitate only me,” Cagri recently fumed via email. “He is stealing my character and giving bad message to USA people.”

Cagri, who’s been struggling to start a career in show business ever since his boom-era glory days, says he intends to sue Baron Cohen. “He never contacted me or got my permission,” he writes. “If possible you can help me too for stop this or find good lawyer?”

And this startling resemblance has also been pointed out at many other places online too, including BoingBoing.net [2] and a Turkish news site [3].

So the question is: Which came first…. Borat or Mahir Cagri’s website?

The History of Mahir “I Kiss You!” Cagri

Mahir Cagri is a resident of Turkey who created an amateur site in the late 1990′s on the now defunct XOOM website [4] which offered free hosting services.  On it, Mahir exclaimed in broken English his love for travel, women, playing the accordion, and sun bathing in his speedo swim suit.

The website’s charm and unintentional(?) humor caused it to quickly spread around the world; eventually being featured on the XOOM homepage itself. His website’s popularity continued and even increased when it was mirrored on a fellow Turk’s site, [5] who explains on his homepage:

One day I received a link to a funny site. The site was lost in cyberspace.. I liked it, and created a mirror on my web site to share with my close friends.. Then I sent the e-mail with the link to 10 people. Guess what happened: I got more than 500000 unique hits in two weeks. My ISP threatened to shut down my site. Mahir Mafia warned me and gave me an ultimatum to delete all the content. I received thousands of fan mails. Boston Globe interviewed me..etc.. This is Internet… you never know what
will happen next…

Now the question is… when did this all happen?

One of the earliest mentions of this Mahir internet phenomenon is a November 4, 1999 article on Salon.com  [6].

Early last week, a URL started making the rounds of mailing lists everywhere. It was the home page of a Turkish man identified only as “Mahir”.

Other Mahir related activity during that month can be seen with the creation of the Mahir Web-Ring (Nov.12/99) [7] and the Yahoo Mahir Fan Club (Nov.4/99). [8]

It’s difficult to figure out exactly when Mahir created his page at the defunct XOOM host, and his new personal website “I Kiss You” was created about a year later on November 23, 2000. [9] There’s also no easy way to discover when Mahir’s original page was mirrored on a subdomain by the other Turk, but he’d purchased the domain itself (istanbul.tc) in June of 1998. [10]

So… since the Salon.com article stated on November 4, 1999 that Mihar’s internet boom happened “early last week”, the earliest date we can definitely point to is late October of 1999.  I doubt the mirror page hosted at istabul.tc was created solely to reprint Mahir’s original site, but if it was then I would guess Mahir’s original site might have been making the rounds (gone viral via email) sometime in early 1998.

Therefore, the Mahir “character” was certainly well known in October 1999 and might have existed – and been noticed by the registrant of istanbul.tc – sometime the previous year…

The History of Borat

It’s been reported that Sacha Baron Cohen claims Borat was based on a Russian Doctor he’d met and found him hysterically funny.  Some sources have stated the doctor’s name is Mak Bavcic.

The earliest date attributed to a Borat-like character played by Cohen is 1994, with a Scotsman News article [11] saying:

BORAT from Kazakhstan first took shape as Kristo from Albania, it is said.

In 1994, Channel 4 launched a hunt for new presenters as a replacement for its series The Word. Sacha Baron Cohen submitted a tape of himself as Kristo.

That information is also mentioned and expanded upon in a Softpedia.com [12] post:

In 1994, the comedian sent to Channel 4 a tape picturing him in the character as Borat, a fictional television reporter from Kazakhstan, which caught the attention of one of the producers. Cohen came to prominence when his character Ali G started appearing on The Eleven O’Clock Show on Channel 4.

In 2000, in Da Ali G Show, Kristo re-emerged as Borat, the naive, racist, reporter from Kazakhstan.

The Wikipedia page for Borat Sagdiyev [13] further indicates there may have been a Borat character even before Kristo appeared:

Borat evolved from previous characters that Sacha Baron Cohen had developed: An unnamed Moldovan TV reporter (for LWT/Granada TV and the BBC’s Comedy Nation) and an Albanian TV reporter called Kristo (for the Paramount Comedy Channel).

We managed to find a ‘retrospective’ video on YouTube showing Cohen as the very Borat-like character Kristo, clearly dated as having been broadcast in 1998.(?)

UPDATE: original video was removed. Here is same character in another skit circa 1999.

So there you have it…

The earliest date we can determine for Mahir Cagri’s popular website: 1998.
The earliest known mention of Sacha Cohen’s Borat/Kristo character: 1994.
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Sources:

[1] November 2006 WIRED Magazine article: “Mahir to Borat: I Sue You!”

[2] October 2006 BoingBoing.net post: Borat = Mahir 2.0, but ees niiiice

[3] October (?) 2006 Turkish news article: Dünyaca ünlü Borat’?n esin kayna?? ?nternet Mahir mi?

[4] The original (now offline) Mahir website reportedly was at:: http://members.xoom.com/_XOOM/primall/mahir/index.html

[5] The mirror for Mahir’s original website: http://www.istanbul.tc/mahir/mahir

[6] November 1999 Salon.com article: I Kiss You!!!!!

[7] Mahir Web Ring established November 12, 1999: http://b.webring.com/rs?ring=mahir

[8] Yahoo Mahir Fan Club established November 4, 1999: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mahirsfanclub/

[9] Domain Name:IKISSYOU.ORG | Created On:23-Nov-2000 | Registrant Name:CAGRI, MAHIR

[10] Domain Name istanbul.tc | Registered 1998-06-05 | Source: http://www.adamsnames.tc/whois/?domain=istanbul.tc

[11] October 6, 2006 Scotsman news article: Rise of the comic Kazakh who used to be Albanian

[12] November 2006 Softpedia article: Borat’s Success and the Falsehood’s Domination

[13] Early Career: Borat Sagdiyev Wikipedia page

Other Resources:

Videos
Best of Borat on Ch 4 (Youtube)
http://youtube.com/watch?v=vFP-MktgOKU
Mahir on Dot TV (Google Video)
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8611337815291061628&q=mahir