Muhlis Akarsu ‘Demokrasi nerde ise ordayız’



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akarsuMuhlis Akarsu was prolific in his composition and recordings (in the pre-CD days) and fortunately many have been subsequently released on CD. The more I listen too these recordings, both solo and as part of the Muhabbet series, the more his brilliance is evident. This deyiş is from his last recording prepared shortly before he was killed in Sivas on 2 July 1993. The album was released after the Sivas events with the title Sivas Ellerinda Ömrüm Çalınır which includes the recording of that re-written version of the Pir Sultan Abdal deyiş performed by Arif Sağ (see my previous post). Akarsu’s voice is extraordinarily rich – singing in the deep baritone he favoured from the time of the Muhabbet recordings in the early 1980s –  and the songs very strong, mostly his own compositions, including the deyiş that became, after his death, so poignant Yine gönlüm hoş değil (Again my heart is not happy). Akarsu also performs the Turna semahı and Pir Sultan’s Bir güzelin aşığım. Interestingly, Arif Sağ begins his 1993 recording called Direniş (‘Resistance’, recorded only a few days before the Sivas massacre and still only ever released on cassette) with this deyiş although he credits the source as Davut Sulari while the music is credited to Akarsu on his recording.

The deyiş translated here however is an unabiguous statement, straightforward, direct. The main complexity in the translation is what to do with the word Hak. It means God, especially in the context used in the song and evokes the Alevi concept of enel-hak (I am God) often considered as an expression of the humanistic qualities of Alevi belief. However, while this translation must prevail, it does lose the other meaning of hak as ‘right’, ‘justice’ or ‘true’. Akarsu does help out however by making a slight change to the repeated last line on verses one and three. Here he uses hak in the sense of human rights, insan hakkı. I have taken the text from the book Muhlis Akarsu, hayatı, yaşamı, sanatı, şiirleri by Süleyman Zaman published by Can Yayınları in 2006. Besides the change to the repeated last line, the only other difference between the printed and sung version is in the 3rd line of verse two where Akarsu sings bilinmez (is not known) rather than görünmez (is not seen).

Demokrasi nerde ise ordayız  (Presently democracy will be with us)

Translation: Paul Koerbin

Friends, what we believe is clear

Presently democracy will be with us

We are not duped by the words of bigots

Presently democracy will be with us

(Presently human rights will be with us)

Our dead don’t come back to life again

Ignorant fatwas are not given against humans

Not among us do class divisions appear

Presently democracy will be with us

Our ways are not reconciled with division

No meddling with the beliefs of humans

No conceit, no competition with anyone

Presently democracy will be with us

(Presently human rights will be with us)

We know mankind is God and God is mankind

Our rose opens within our hearts

I am Akarsu, all of us are sister and brother

Presently democracy will be with us


Dostlar bizim inancımız bellidir

Demokrasi nerde ise ordayız

Softaların sözlerine kanmayız

Demokrasi nerde ise ordayız

(İnsan hakkı nerde ise ordayız)

Bizim ölüler’mız geri dirilmez

İnsanlara boş fetvalar verilmez

Bizde sınıf bölücülük görülmez

Demokrasi nerde ise ordayız

Yollarımız ikilikle barışmaz

İnsanların inancına karışmaz

Benlik yoktur kimse ile yarışmaz

Demokrasi nerde ise ordayız

(İnsan hakkı nerde ise ordayız)

İnsan Hak’tır Hak insandır biliriz

Gönüllerde açar bizim gülümüz

Akarsu’yum bacı kardaş hepimiz

Demokrasi nerde ise ordayız

Aşık İbreti ‘Değiliz’



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img395Aşık İbreti is someone I would like to have met. His no nonsense plain speaking is so engaging – and, one thinks, quite courageous.  His language is simple and his is message clear. İbreti’s real name was Hıdır Gürel and he was born in 1920 in the Sarız region of Kayseri. In 1967 we was caught up in attacks against Alevis in Elbistan.  A working man, maker and seller of musical instruments and miner, he died in 1976. Musa Eroğlu, the great singer and bağlama player from Mut – often called the modern Karacaoğlan – is something of a champion of İbreti’s lyrics. He recorded the genuinely magnificent İlme değer verdim (Gördümde geldim) on his recording Yolver Dağlar and recently contributed İbreti’s Aşkın kabesi (İnsanlığa hizmet ibadetimdir) to the remarkable recording initiative by Kalan Music called Kızılbaş. Dertli Divani has also recorded the work of İbreti including Hakikat denildi erkânımıza on his 2000 masterwork Serçeşme. İbreti’s poems were published in 1996 in the book titled İlmer Değer Verdim by Adil Ali Atalay (Vaktidolu) whose publishing house, Can Yayınları, has contributed so much to the dissemination of Alevi culture.

The translation is fairly straightforward and I have tried to keep the language as ‘natural’ as possible. In the second verse he refers to Hızır (not to be confused with the despised Hızır Paşa, Pir Sultan’s nemesis) who obtained immortality by drinking the water of life – this is the concept I have tried to achieve in the translation. The other problematic word is gılman, which is sort of the male equivalent of ‘houries’. I have tried to render this with some taste – though I think there is a touch of the invective in the original. I repeat, İbreti is someone I would love to have met.

The picture is a photo of the notorious Madımak Otel (Hotel) in Sivas, which I took in 1996, three years after the fanatics set fire to the building because of the secular expressions of the artists and writers staying there who were attending the Pir Sultan Abdal Festival, killing 35 inside.

Postscript: I have made a couple of changes to the last two verses after reader Sürmeli pointed out a couple of errors. Many thanks.

Aşık İbreti: Değiliz

Translation: Paul Koerbin

Don’t climb up the minaret and cry out to us

We know this stuff, we’re not deaf

Think about yourself, don’t worry about us

We have no mind to quarrel with you

We know God is present everywhere

We know the mature human is immortal

We know anything other than this is nothing

Your estimation is wrong, we are not blind

If  there is humanity then your resolve is true

Improve you own self if you have the strength

We have no necessity for your heaven

We are not slaves to your houries and pageboys

We feel no compulsion for Arabic prayers

Consider us Muslim or infidel as you wish

To belittle the human is your biggest blasphemy

We are not unbelievers, we believe in this

Ibreti, humankind grieves for this situation

These words will anger crude fanatics

The one who is unaware of his true self will take offence

We feel no compulsion to delude of amuse them


Original text from Aşık İbreti İlme Değer Verdim (Can Yayınları, 1996)

Minareye çıkıp bize bağırma

Haberimiz vardır, sağır değiliz

Sen kendini düşün bizi kayırma

Sizlere kavgaya uğur değiliz

Her yerde biz Hakk’ı hazır biliriz

Olgun insanları Hızır biliriz

Bundan başkasını sıfır biliriz

Tahmininiz yanlış, biz kör değiliz

Eğer insanlıksa doğru niyetin

Nefsini ıslah et varsa kudretin

Bize lazım değil senin cennetin

Huriye gılmana esir değiliz

Arapça duaya değiliz mecbur

İster müslüman bil, istersen gavur

İnsan hor görmek en büyük küfür

Buna inanmışız, münkir değiliz

İbreti, bu hâle insan acınır

Ham sofular bu sözlerden gücenir

Aslına ermeyen elbet gocunur

Onu avutmaya mecbur değiliz

Pir Sultan Abdal iconography – Tunceli Cem Evi (Dersim)


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The most famous statue erected in honour of Pir Sultan Abdal or course remains the eight metre tall statue on the hill above the village of Banaz, where it stands gazinPir Sultan Abdal statue at Tuncelig towards the distant but imposing peak of Yıldız Dağı (Star Mountain). Photographs of that statue, taken during the annual Pir Sultan Abdal festival appear in a number of places on this blog, for example here. The aşık statue on Çilehane hill above the town of Hacıbektaş while perhaps not specifically a representation of Pir Sultan, has the standing figure that may certainly be understood to embody something of his spirit. If Banaz (and it’s statue) stand at one end of the heartland associated with Pir Sultan, Tunceli (and it’s statue) perhaps provides the bookend for the eastern regions of this heartland. The Dersim is the great land of Alevi (specifically Kurdish Alevi kızılbaş) resistance and so it is fitting that a worthy icon to Pir Sultan stand here. The statue was erected a decade ago and stands in the grounds of the very fine Tunceli Cem Evi that sits on a cliff above the Pülümür Çayı (stream) one kilometre outside the town centre on the Erzincan road. Below is my translation of the dedication monument that sits alongside the statue.

This work, constructed by Sinan Samat, has been presented to the people of Tunceli.

To set up the statue of Pir Sutlan Abdal, the patron saint of ozans, for Tunceli means to remember Imam Hüseyin, Hacı Bektaş Veli and Düzgün Baba.

It also means, again, to commemorate the Pir ozan; and Yunus Emre, Şah Hatayi, Seyit Nesimi, Fuzuli, Virani, Yemini, Kul Himmet, Abdal Musa, Kaygusuz Abdal, Şeyh Bedrettin, Aşık Veysel, Nazım Hikmet, Ahmet Arif, Aşık Daimi, Feyzullah Çınar, Davut Sulari, Muhlis Akarsu, Hasret Gültekin, Nesimi Çimen, Mahzuni Şerif, the teacher Arif Sağ and the souls lost at Sivas and all the ozans and poets wishing to make the world in which we live beautiful.

The lands of Anatolia have given rise to thousands of ozans and poets over the centuries. Our ozans who hold a special place in our folk literature carry on to our own times, in an artistic sense, the beautiful and the bitter events of our culture and the history lived in our lands. They ensure we do not forget our past. Our Tunceli has given rise to ozans who have a special place in the art of the people. Realising this journey I felt it necessary to set up this monument in memory of our ozans.

As a result of the discussions I had with my friends, we agreed on the figure of Pir Sultan Abdal as the patron saint of ozans. Endless thanks first of all to Hasan Güyüldar, Haydar Aygören, Turgut Öker and Yusuf Demir; to my friends who contributed ideas for the realisation of this project; to my sculptor friends; to all who laboured; and to my wife Filiz.

Sinan Samat Tunceli 1-8-2003

The names of the ozans mentioned are interesting and instructive. There is of course the seven great Alevi ozans, Pir Sultan, Hatayi, Fuzuli, Yemini, Nesimi, Kul Himmet and Virani. Then there are those that extend the perception of Alevi culture such as the original great Turkish mystic poet Yunus Emre, the dervish Kaygusuz Abdal and the rebel Bedrettin (who commands a strong influence among Balkan Bektaşi-s). There are the great modern, humanist aşık-s Veysel and Daimi, the latter like Davut Sulari closely associated with the Erzincan region. There is Turkey’s greatest modern literary poet (and Communist) Nazim Hikmet and the Kurdish poet Ahmet Arif famous for his poem Hastretinden prangalar eskittim (set to music and recorded by the late great Ahmet Kaya). There is, slightly curiously (though welcome) inclusion of the influential bağlama player, singer and interpreter of Alevi song (and Turkish folk music more generally) Arif Sağ, noted with the honorific hoca ‘teacher’. So too Feyzullah Çınar and Mahsuni Şerif and Nesimi Çimen who all have born the epithet of a modern day Pir Sultan. And of course, those who perished in the Madımak hotel massacre in Sivas in July 1993: Hasret Gültekin, Muhlis Akarsu and Nesimi Çimen. It is a list of greats well suited to reminding us of the richness of the culture in all its beauty and its pain, as the sculptor intends.

The statue stands in the front garden of the Cem Evi surrounded by 12 seats and a hearth. The following photographs show the context.


In the photograph above note the top right hand corner of the photograph where you can see the watchtower of the ever watchful eye of the Turkish military in this area.

The following photograph is the view looking back towards the Tunceli township.

Pir Sultan Abdal statue at Tunceli looking towards town


Pir Sultan Abdal ‘Gel güzelim kaçma bizden’


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Doğu Ekspres near Divriği mid-1990sHere is a relatively simple but very beautiful lyric that makes an appearance in the earliest Pir Sultan anthologies of Ergun (1929) and Gölpınarlı and Boratav (1943). This is possibly an old lyric and related to the verses of Yunus Emre (see Izzet Zeki Eyuboğlu)- not unknown in the Pir Sultan canon. Later collections show little variation, not surprisingly with a short and perfect gem like this, though Fuad (1977 and 1999) has some slight variations, one of which I follow.

The two Fuad variations are in the first and last lines of the lyric. In the last line Fuad has kor olmuş (a glowing coal) rather than üfrülmüş, meaning to be blown upon, as for example a hot cinder. Fuad’s version seems to be a clarifying or simplifying variant and for reasons of assonance I have gone with üfrülmüş incorporating both variations into my rendering of the line. In the first line the earlier anthologist have benden rather bizden. Given the ‘shifty’ – to use Losensky’s term –  nature of the lyric identity common in these lyrics this is not substantive change. I have used Fuad’s plural version as it aligns with the assonance of the lyric generally. Indeed this is one of the beauties of this lyric for, in the Turkish, the assonance and rhyme express the trance like mystical quality of the lyric. For this reason I have tried, rather more than I usually do, to retain something of this in the English. This does not always, or even often, work since rhyme, alliteration, assonance is much easier and more natural in Turkish with its vowel harmonisation.  Talat Halman is the best at such renderings. I don’t try and replicate the Turkish, but where I have been able to bring in rhyme, near-rhyme and alliteration without diverging from the content of the lyric, I have done so.

Other translation issues to note include the rendering of ehli hal. In the context of the mystical path, ‘hal‘ has the meaning of a transcendent state, a mystical ecstacy even. Hence my version. Erkan means the main points, principles or fundamentals of religion. I did not want to refer to ‘fundamentalism’, perhaps for obvious reasons, so ‘liturgy’ seemed to fit the bill well with its additional help in the rhyme.  Dilden dile means the same as dile düşmek: that is, to become the subject of common talk. I’m not sure I’ve rendered this entirely successfully, though I do get something of the sense and the alliteration was too felicitous to let go. Finally, elden ele causes some problems. It can literally mean ‘hand in hand’ though in this context ‘el‘ would seem to refer to land rather than hand. Fuad certainly indicates this meaning. I did contemplate a line reading ‘we will travel the land hand in hand’ having a bet each way, but perhaps wisely though better of it. My rendering as ‘we will travel the lands far and wide’ is perhaps not too removed from the literal and helps a little with the near-rhyme.

To return to the ‘shifty’ nature of the lyric persona common in Alevi lyric song, this is a great example of this device. The first two verses stress the first person plural (biz, –iz, –elim) then there is the sudden shift in the first line, the mahlas line, of the last verse to the first person singular (I am … ‘-im)) and then the second person (you, –sın) before finally returning to the first person plural. The functions of such shiftiness engaging the lyric voice of the poet with the performer and the audience, I have discussed in my PhD thesis.

Translation: Paul Koerbin

Come, do not desert us, my beauty

We are the nightingale, no stranger we

We are brothers in dervish ecstasy

We are the way within the liturgy

Let us converse on the states of joy

Let us talk ‘til tongues are tired

We will travel lands far and wide

We are the rose freshly opened

I am Pir Sultan, for what do you cry?

You shed tears of blood from your eye

What you expect from us, is it fire?

We are ashes of embers blown and burned

Gel güzelim kaçma bizden

Yad değiliz bülbülüz biz

Biz hâl ehli kardaşlarız

Erkân içinde yoluz biz

Söyleşelim hâlden hâle

Dilleşelim dilden dile

Biz gezeriz elden ele

Taze açılmış gülüz biz

Pir Sultan’ım ne ağlarsın

Gözünden kan yaş çağlarsın

Sen bizden ateş m’umarsın

Yanmış üfrülmüş külüz biz

Aşık Mücrimi ‘Şu diyâr-ı gurbet elde’ (Şen değil gönlüm şen değil)


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The performer and musicologist Ulaş Özdemir in his published collection of Mücrimi’s lyrics considers him alongside Aşık Melûli and Aşık İbreti as the great representative aşık-s of their time. This is Mücrimi’s most famous song, associated particularly with Aşık Nesimi Çimen and undoubtedly helped to the status of a classıc by superb recordings of the song by Arif Sağ on his 1983 recording İnsan Olmaya Geldim and later by Müslim Gürses on his 2001 recording Müslüm’ce Türküler. Sağ’s version is restrained, tempered with space that lets the song unfold profoundly – as is typical of that remarkable album. Gürses’s singing has a more searing quality and is beautifully delivered, like Sağ, just to bağlama accompaniment.

Mücrimi whose real name was Mehmet Özbozok was born in 1882 in Karaterzi village in the Doğanşehir locale of the Malatya region. Özdemir tells us that according to the explanation of Mücrimi’s children he was given the mahlas ‘Mücrimi’ by a descendent of İmam Mûsâ’l-Kâzım. As a child he burned his hand resulting in his fingers being bandaged in the shape of a ball and he was given the nickname ‘çolak‘ meaning crippled or one-armed. And this nickname was apparently the inspiration for the mahlas Mücrimi which has connotations of being guilty or a criminal. Mahlas taking is a fascinating subject and here we can see elements of bestowing authority of lineage, reference to the specifics of one’s life or appearance and ironic humour.

Aşık Nesimi Çimen spent some time with Mücrimi but, again according to what Özdemir reports, the song came to Çimen through his father-in-law Cafer Ağa of Sarız (Elbistan) who Mücrimi had great regard for. It was through Nesimi Çimen’s singing the song in various gatherings that it entered the repertoire of other artists; and later became part of the official TRT repertoire. In my PhD thesis I discussed another song Arif Sağ collected from the singing of Nesimi Çimen (and included on İnsan Olmaya Geldim) called ‘Yarim İçin Söylüyorum’, a song in türkü form although it has the suggestion of a mahlas in the line ‘Cafer der sevdalı kuldu’. At the time of writing my thesis I stated that I could not identify the poet ‘Cafer’, but now I would conclude that it appears highly probable that this Cafer is none other than Cafer Ağa.

The commonly performed versions omit the third verse (the ‘oh Lord’ verse) and alter the penultimate line of the last verse. That line certainly presents the biggest translation challenge. In the recorded versions this line is changed to ‘zalımlardan [or cahillerden] yedi taşı‘ and I have been guided by this variant in my translation. Even still it requires some interpretation since it would seem to be a reference to the Muslim  ‘stoning of devil’ ritual personalised and inverted in a typically deft Alevi way. I translate ‘intizar’ as an ‘expectation’ or ‘waiting’ although it may also mean a ‘curse’ though I don’t think so in this context – though it is a shade of meaning unfortunately lost in translation.

Aşık Mücrimi: Şu diyâr-ı gurbet elde

Translation: Paul Koerbin

In exile in this strange land

No joy, my heart knows no joy

No one knows of my condition

No joy, my heart knows no joy

I caused my heart injury and pain

My heart descended into despair

Whether fortune or fate, it is black

No joy, my heart knows no joy

I have wept, make me laugh, oh Lord

I am broken down, raise me up, oh Lord

My condition is clear to you, oh Lord

No joy, my heart knows no joy

I went around dizzy and distracted

I can read and I can write

Day and night I am in anticipation

No joy, my heart knows no joy

Mücrimi says, my eye, my tear

My mind is not free from grief

Stones rain upon me from tyrants

No joy, my heart knows no joy


Text from Ulaş Özdemir Şu diyârı- gurbet elde: Âşık Mücrimî’nin yaşamı ve şiirleri (Pan, 2007)

Şu diyâr-ı gurbet elde

Şen değil gönlüm şen değil

Kimse bilmez ahvâlimden

Şen değil gönlüm şen değil

Ben sinemi yaktım nâra

Gönül düşmüştür efkâra

Teccellî mi baht mı kara

Şen değil gönlüm şen değil

Ağlamışım güldür yâ Rabb

Düşkününüm kaldır yâ Rabb

Hâlim sana ayan yâ Rabb

Şen değil gönlüm şen değil

Ser-gerdân olmuş gezerim

Hem okuyup hem yazarım

Gece gündüz intizârım

Şen değil gönlüm şen değil

Mücrimî der dîdem yaşım

Gamdan ayrılmıyor başım

Adûlardan değer taşım

Şen değil gönlüm şen değil

Pir Sultan Abdal ‘Hû diyelim Gerçeklerin demine’


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The text used for the translation here comes from Gölpınarlı and Boratav’s 1943 work on Pir Sultan Abdal with the original sources given as the early 20th century publication of Derviş Ruhullah and cönk in Gölpınarlı’s possession. Interestingly it does not appear in Ergun’s 1929 collection of Pir Sultan Abdal lyrics. A version, with remarkably little textual variation was recorded by Ulaş Özdemir for his 1998 album of Maraş Sinemilli deyişler called Ummanda. The version of this song was collected from Sadık Hüseyin Dede. The principal variation being in the opening lines, “Arzusun çektiğim gül yüzlü dostum / Erenlerin demi hurdan sayılır”, and in the form of the mahlas being Abdal Pir Sultan’ım, a form that seems rather typical of Pir Sultan deyiş collected from this region.

It is one of the category of Pir Sultan lyrics extolling sincere commitment to the dervish way. While conscious of the subtlety that will be lost, I have translated as ‘dervish’ – a term in English that has a wide embrace – a number of different terms that appear in the lyric, including gerçekler (the true ones), er (man, as in one who is brave or capable), aşık (devotee) and eren (one who has arrived at divine truth). Perhaps the most difficult line in the translation, not helped by its crowning a particularly paratactic verse,  is “Biri kırktır kırkı birden sayılır” and I am not entirely comfortable with my rendering in terms of accuracy or eloquence – a work in progress. I make less apology for the rendering of the final line and the introduction of the word ‘prick’ with some of (if not all!) its English connotations (certainly in Australian idiom as someone who is a bit of a ‘waste of space’). The play on words is justified by the connection to the preceding diken (thorn) and the multiple connotations of har/hâr meaning thorn, something that pricks, to go wild, a donkey or foolish person, vile or contemptible. I have seen a version of the lyric with hal instead of har, though that versions seems to diminish the robustness of the lyric’s climax. This is a fine and robust lyric and this rendering seems apposite to my ear.

Finally a word on a couple of references that might be slightly confusing. Firstly, in the final verse (another with evident parataxis) Baghdad is referred to as the motherland (vatan) which may seem at odds with Pir Sultan’s Anatolian presence. In fact this is clearly a metaphorical reference, or perhaps more correctly metonymical. Baghdad, here referred to as a motherland, would seem to be a metonym for Pir Sultan’s identification the mystical tradition founded in Baghdad and particularly associated with Hallaj al-Mansur, who in the tradition is believe to have been martyred for his expression that he was the ‘truth’ (enel hak). Secondly, the reference to ‘Muhammed Ali’, which I follow without the insertion of a conjunction in my English rendering. To paraphrase John Kingsley Birge – whose remarkable 1937 work, while specifically based on western Anatolian and Albanian Bektashi tradition, rather than Alevi tradition, remains an essential text and of great value on such matters – this does not refer to a single personage of that name but as if two names of the once concept, which is the concept of Muhammad and Ali as complementary personifications representing the divine radiance (nur). Indeed the expression of trinity is also common in Alevi tradition, as in: Allah Muhammed Ali.

Pir Sultan Abdal: Hû diyelim Gerçeklerin demine

Translation: Paul Koerbin

Let us say ‘hu’ to the breath of the true dervishes

The breath of the true dervishes is deemed from the light

One who is brought in train to the Twelve Imams

Is counted among the beloved for Muhammad Ali

Who comes with sincere belief  does not turn from this way

A friend does not know duplicity in his friend

Who does not see the dervish is truth does not see truth

His eyes watch but he is counted among the blind

The pleasure of the world was but three days, so they say

Following pleasure there  is suffering, supposed

Of the speech and the sigh of the true dervishes

One of them is Forty – counted one among the Forty

If the true dervish stops at the halting place

If, burning like a candle, his sap dissolves

If he perceives, what remains is the true self

He is a dervish counted among the true dervishes

I am Pir Sultan Abdal – Bagdad motherland

Who passes to unity from duplicity

The one joining the way of the dervishes sniping

Is the thorn in the way and counted among the pricks


Turkish text from Gölpınarlı and Boratav Pir Sultan Abdal (1943)

Hû diyelim Gerçeklerin demine

Gerçeklerin demi nurdan sayılır

On İk’İmam katarına düzelen

Muhammed Ali’ye yârdan sayılır

İhlâs ile gelen bu yoldan dönmez

Dost olan dostunda ikilik bilmez

Eri hak görmiyen Hakkı da görmez

Gözü bakar amma körden sayılır

Üç gün imiş şu dünyanın safası

Safasından artuk imiş cefası

Gerçek Erenlerin nutk u nefesi

Biri kırktır birden sayılır

Gerçek âşık menzilinde durursa

Çırağ gibi yanıp yağı erirse

Eksikliğin kend’özünde görürse

O da erdir gerçek erden sayılır

Pir Sultan Abdal’ım Bâğdattır vatan

İkilikten geçip birliğe yeten

Erenler yoluna kıyl ü kal katan

Yolun dikendir hârdan sayılır

18th Pir Sultan Abdal Etkinlikleri (Festival) 2007


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Some photos from the last Pir Sultan Abdal Şenlikleri (Festival) that I attended in June 2007. The location is the village of Banaz, north of Sivas.

General view of the performance amphitheatre on Ziyaret Tepe above the village.

View of Yıldız Dağı from the amphitheatre, with banners.

Banazlı aşık İsmail Şimsek opening the performances with Banazlı turning the semah.

Mercan Erzincan performing with group.

Pınar Sağ with backing group.

Aşık Garip Kamil and semah turning.

Dertli Divani

Tolga Sağ and Erdal Erzincan late on Sunday afternoon.

Lokma kurban preparation on Topuzlu Baba

Muhlis Akarsu ‘Gurbeti ben mi yarattım’


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Galata bridge at sunset 1999When Arif Sağ re-emerged as a recording artist in the early 1980s having given away his arabesk career in the mid-1970s and worked as a teacher at the İstanbul Devlet Türk Müziği Konservatuarı, he released a cassette album called Gurbeti ben mi yarattım. The title song was from the Kangal aşık Muhlis Akarsu. Sağ’s recording is intimate and almost reticent – very striking in a restrained way. Oddly the cover of the cassette that I obtained in Urfa in 1987 has a photograph of Sağ (see photo) that harks back to his arabesk days, dressed in yellow zip up blazer, slicked down hair and pencil moustache – totally belying the intimate sound of voice and bağlama on the recording. Sağ recorded the deyiş again for the second of the Muhabbet series of recordings two or three years later. Muhabbet 2 is arguably the finest of the series in terms of its thematic strength which centres around the concept of gurbet – absence from one’s native place or home. Gurbeti ben mi yarattım is the final song on that recording although only three of the four verses are sung (the second is ommited) with Sağ, Musa Eroğlu and Muhlis Akarsu taking turns on the verses – a quite unusual approach for the Muhabbet series. Akarsu of course recorded the song but sadly, although a number of his recordings have been issued on CD, that one has not. However a recording of Akarsu performing it live is available on the internet.

Gurbet is obviously the theme of the deyiş and this is deepened to almost ‘starkly bleak’ – thanks Tom Rapp! – realms with the addition of the theme of yokluk – which refers to absence, even to the degree of non-existance (it also has a meaning of poverty). I don’t think I’ve captured the full sense of yokluk so that will require working on. Another word to mention is sıla in the mahlas line which I have rendered as ‘returning’ but it really means return to family, friends and one’s native place – the opposite really of gurbet. A good tranlation here for imkân also rather eludes me. Having tried ‘possibilities’ it sounded too lumpen and ‘practicalities’ would be even worse. For the moment ‘chances’ it is. The deyiş is in the short koşma form (semai) with only 8 syllables per line which gives it a simple directness; but it is constructed with typical economy and finesse.

Muhlis Akarsu: Gurbeti ben mi yarattım

Translation: Paul Koerbin

Destitution has compelled me

Was it I who created the exile?

It came and took my youth

Was it I who created the exile?

I received neither letter nor news

Parted from my country and home

I felt the loss of all that was mine

Was it I who created the exile?

Evening comes and the shadow settles

Winds blow against my hope

Absence constrains my chances

Was it I who created the exile?

Akarsu, don’t think about returning

Don’t believe this isolation has passed

How I fell upon helplessness

Was it I who created the exile?


Turkish text from Muhlis Akarsu: yaşamı, sanatı, şiirleri ve dünya görüşü by Süleyman Zaman, 2006.

Yokluk beni mecbur etti

Gurbeti ben mi yarattım

Gençliğimi aldı gitti

Gurbeti ben mi yarattım

Ne mektup ne haber aldım

Yurdumdan yuvamdan oldum

Her şeyime hasret kaldım

Gurbeti ben mi yarattım

Akşam olur gölge basar

Umuduma yeller eser

Yokluk imkânımı keser

Gurbeti ben mi yarattım

Akarsu sılayı anma

Bu ayrılık geçti sanma

Çaresizdim geldim amma

Gurbeti ben mi yarattım

Latife (Melûli) ‘Mey içtim sarhoşum bugün’


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Otel Fahri İstanbul 1995Aşık Melûli is surely one of the master Alevi poets of the twentieth century. Indeed his life spans nine decades of the century. Born in 1892 his real name was Karaca and was educated both by an Arab hoca and for a decade in an Armenian school in Afşin. As well as his mother tongue Turkish he spoke Arabic, Armenian, Farsi and Ottoman Turkish. He died in 1989 aged 97. Like another remarkable Alevi, Edip Harabi, Melûli composed some deyiş using a female mahlas persona as well as his more usual mahlas (Melûli). This is an example of Melûli’s female persona using the mahlas Latife. The examples of Melûli and Harabi using multiple and different gendered mahlas persona suggests a more subtle and sophisticated function for the mahlas naming convention than mere authorial attribution.

The poem is fairly straightforward in regards to translation, although difficult choices are necessarily made that colour the interpretation of the translation. One of the challenges is whether or not to translate ‘Pir’. I have a strong inclination to leave such terms untranslated since they carry so much culturally specific meaning. It has the sense of teacher, master, saint, guide and the head of a dervish order. In this version I have however committed a translation, opting for ‘Dervish’ which I expect to carry various connotations for the reader in English. The use of the word ‘Pir’ is just one expressive element that points to a mystical reading; yet one of the great characteristics of the song, particularly emphasised by the choice of mahlas, is the possible wordly interpretation. It is certainly this position that can be seen in Aynur Haşhaş’s recording while performed to the classic Alevi melody she replaces ‘Pir’ with the more ambiguous terms ‘canım’ and ‘yar’.

There is no doubt this lyric is provocative and forthright. Melûli does not avoid the language of religion saying his Kabaa (Mecca) is the tavern (meyhane). He dismisses the intolerant as ‘barking guard dogs’ (kelb rakibin ürümesi). I have tried to render the implied intimidation of the latter line with the idea of ‘patrolling hounds’.

A word should be said about the form of the mahlas ‘Latife’m’ which perhaps should read ‘my Latife’. However, convention suggest that the mahlas is not understood as a possessive construct but an expression of person (be it first, second or third). So forms such as this are understood to be a contraction of the first person verb to be, that is ‘Latife’yim’.

I should also note that we are fortunate to have an excellent introduction in English to Melûli by Hans-Lukas Kieser in his book chapter titled: Alevilik as song and dialogue: the village sage Melûli Baba (1892-1989). Kieser reveals Melûli as a remarkable figure of provincial ‘enlightenment’ in the late Ottoman period. The principal source for Melûli’s life and work and from where my text comes from remains the book Melûli divanı ve Aleviliğin tasavvufun Bektaşiliğin tarihçesi by Latife Özpolat and Hamdullah Erbil.

Postscript: a note and reminiscence on the picture. I generally try to use pictures from my travels in Turkey that have some tangential (and not always obvious) connection to the text. That may be true of this picture too, but it is also a small nostalgic reflection on fondly remembered friendly cheap workers’ hotels that could be found in Sirkeci in the 1980s and early 1990s. Now sadly replaced by poorly gilded (and much more expensive) tourist hotels. This was a room in one of my favourites, the original (and long departed) Otel Fahri on İbni Kemal Cad. when it was a quiet street (photo taken in early 1995). On one occasion, perhaps the time this photo was taken, there was a night time tavern restaurant around the corner squeezed in on Ebussuut Cad. near the corner of Ankara Cad. where gypsy musicians from Şişli would pass through – with much jolity, bonhomie and much drinking of rakı. When I visited the following year the tavern was gone, without trace (like something out of Robert Irwin’s Arabian Nightmare – but that is another story)  and Necmettin Erbakan was Prime Minister. I am not necessarily drawing a connection, but the belly dancer on the İbo Şov – Tatlıses is the great ‘Vicar of Bray’ of Turkish culture – also disappeared at this time, as I recall. The eagle-eyed will notice some travelling essentials in the picture – bottle of water (none other than ‘Sultan Su’), chocolate, cassette walkman – remember those! – leather jacket, tissues and book which, if  I must own up, was an old edition of John Buchan’s Greenmantle that, as is my practice, I donated to a hotel draw somewhere down the track in eastern Turkey).

Latife (Melûli): Mey içtim sarhoşum bugün

Translation: Paul Koerbin

Today I drank wine and was drunk

I swear, I cannot hold my tongue

Today I was so pleased with my Dervish

I swear, I forgot all about death

The world appears completely empty

My Dervish brings me pleasure

He is exuberant whenever he loves

I swear, I love my Dervish

The morsel the Dervish proffers is permitted for me

The tavern is my pilgrim’s kabaa

The barking of the patrolling hounds

I swear, does not block my way

Let the Dervish come and be cross with me

Let my arm embrace his neck

Let the arms that are drawn away be broken

I swear, I cannot withdraw my arm

If I enter his embrace uncovered

If he sleeps and I love silently

If he awakes and he speaks rudely

I swear, I cannot withdraw my hand

I am Latife I am so shameless

I love greatly and I am so brazen

I know nothing of shame and honour

I swear, I will pluck my rose


Original Turkish text from Melûli divanı ve Aleviliğin tasavvufun Bektaşiliğin tarihçesi by Latife Özpolat and Hamdullah Erbil (2006)

Mey içtim sarhoşum bugün

Tutamam dilim vallahi

Pir’imle çok hoşuma bugün

Unuttum ölüm vallahi

Dünya tümden boş geliyor

Pir’im bana hoş geliyor

Her sevdikçe cüş geliyor

Severim Pir’im vallahi

Helal bana Pir lokması

Hacc-ı kâbem meyhanesi

Kelb rakibin ürümesi

Kesemez yolum vallahi

Varsın banan Pir darılsın

Kolum boynuna sarılsın

Çözülen kollar kırılsın

Çözemem kolum vallahi

Girsem koynuna gömleksiz

Uyusa ben sevsen sessiz

Uyansa dese edepsiz

Çekemem elim vallahi

Latife’m çok hayâsızım

Çok severim çok yüzsüzüm

Ar namus yok habersizim

Çalarım gülüm vallahi

Pir Sultan Abdal ‘Hak’tan inayet olursa’


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This deyiş makes its first appearance in publication in Gölpınarlı and Boratav’s 1943 collection. It is one of the many deyiş collected by Aşık Ali İzzet Özkan, in this case from Hüseyin Efendi from Kale village in Divriği. This is one of the clearest most insistent of the kızılbaş ‘optative’ lyrics recounting the desires and hopes that the triumph of the Şah (Shah) and the coming of the Mehdi will bring. As is common in these lyrics, mention of the Shah evokes both the great Shah Ali (Şah-ı Merdan, although not with that epithet in this case) and the Safavid monarch, unnamed although the reference to Husrev with its connotation of the ‘great monarch’ Cyrus makes this clear. It is indeed a battle cry, mentioning holy war (gaza) and the sword of Ali, Zülfikar. The lyric has an  almost ecstatic quality in its repetition the dervish’s cry for victory. The mahlas is slightly odd being in the genitive case although the following line dramatically shifts the lyric to a personal declaration. I have left ‘Rum’ untranslated in this version although it could be translated simply as ‘Anatolia’.  Good stuff. This early draft translation leaves some terms untranslated that I will probably consider translations for later: bey (chief, noble), paşa (someone of high rank) and dede (devish leader, from the ehlibeyt line).

Pir Sultan Abdal: Hak’tan inayet olursa

Translation: Paul Koerbin

If by the grace of God

May the Shah come to Rum one day

In holy battle may he strike Zulfikar

Against the unbelievers one day

May all tribes come together

May they be slaves for the Shah

The destitute in the land of Rum

May they rejoice and smile one day

May they raise and bear the banner

May the Shah sit in Istanbul

May he return the captives from the Franks

May he release them to Horasan one day

May he gather together bey and pasha

May he sieze the four exremities

May the monarch march and enjoy

May Ali establish court one day

That the Shah’s rose was born

That abundant mercy rained down

That happy days were born

May such a world rejoice one day

My dede Mahdi must come

Ali must establish the court

He must break down injustice

May he wreak vengeance one day

Pir Sultan’s work is but a sigh

I am in expectation of the beautiful Shah

The administration that is sovereign

May he be its master one day


Original Turkish text from Gölpınarlı and Boratav (1943)

Hak’tan inayet olursa

Şah Urum’a gele bir gün

Gazâda bu Zülfikarı

Kâfirlere çala bir gün

Hep devşire gele iller

Şah’a ola köle kullar

Urumda ağlıyan sefiller

Şâd ola da güle bir gün

Çeke sancağı götüre

Şah İstanbul’a otura

Firenkten yesir getire

Horasana sala bir gün

Devşire beyi paşayı

Zapteyleye dört köşeyi

Husrev ede temaşayı

Âli divan kura bir gün

Gülü Şah’ın doğdu deyü

Bol ırahmet yağdu deyü

Kutlu günler doğdu deyü

Şu âlem şâd ola bir gün

Mehdi Dedem gelse gerek

Âli divan kursa gerek

Haksızları kırsa gerek

İntikamın ala bir gün

Pir Sultan’ın işi ahtır

İntizarım güzel Şah’tır

Mülk iyesi padişahtır

Mülke sahib ola bir gün

Pir Sultan Abdal ‘Sultan Suyu gibi çağlayıp akma’


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This text first appears in Cahit Öztelli’s collection, Pir Sultan Abdal Bütün Şiirleri published in 1971.  Öztelli gives the source as being collected by Pertav Naili Boratav in the Çukurova region – a region wonderfully and magically evoked in the novels of Yaşar Kemal, but not particularly associated with Pir Sultan. This also makes the location of the Sultan Stream seem uncertain. The most identifiable Sultan Suyu is in the Malatya region, but a small stream of this name could be a local feature of any place. The mention of a wintery mountain peak does rather suggest central Anatolian location, though the location of the stream is hardly of great importance. Sadık Gürbüz included the song on his 1977 recording of Pir Sultan Abdal deyişler with the same melody as sung by Ruhi Su among the private recordings from the period 1970-72 later released on CD in 1990 as Sultan Suyu Pir Sultan Abdal’dan Deyişler (number 20 in the complete recordings of Ruhi Su). Gürbüz and Su both omit the third, and distinctly Alevi, verse in their recordings.

Pir Sultan Abdal: Sultan suyu gibi çağlayıp akma

Translation: Paul Koerbin

Don’t gush on burbling like the Sultan Stream

It will become calm, don’t worry foolish heart

Man’s mind is in mist as a wintery mountain peak

It will be reached, don’t worry foolish heart

A greeting from us to the one going to the friend

Damn the liar and damn the ignorant

How many enemies there are to ambush us

They will tire, don’t worry foolish heart

Worthy Ali is before us as leader

Do you think the work of God could collapse?

One’s short span in the world has ups and downs

Vigour will return, don’t worry foolish heart

I am Pir Sultan Abdal for the secret way

What has befallen us, let it remain here

That towards which we strive is hope

It will be reached, don’t worry foolish heart



Original text from Cahit Öztelli, Pir Sultan Abdal Bütün Şiirleri (1971)

Sultan Suyu gibi çağlayıp akma

Durulur, gam yeme divane gönül

Er başında duman, dağ başında kış

Erilir, gam yeme divane gönül

Bizden selâm söylen dosta gidene

Yuf yalancıya da, lânet nâdene

Bunca düşman ardımızdan yeltene

Yorulur, gam yeme divane gönül

Şah-ı Merdan önümüzde kılavuz

Yıkılır mı Hakk’ın yaptığı havuz

Üç günlük dünyada her yahşı, yavuz

Dirilir, gam yeme divane gönül

Pir Sultan Abdal’ım sırdan sırada

Bu iş böyle oldu, kalsın burada

Cümlemizim yeltendiği murada

Erilir, gam yeme divane gönül


Aşık Veysel ‘Beni hor görme kardaşım’


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Aşık Veysel Şatıroğlu (1894-1973) was born in Sivrialan near Şarkışla in the Sivas region, was and is the most renowned and generally loved of all 20th century Turkish aşık-s. His identity is strongly associated with Republican Turkey and indeed there is a statue of him in pride of place near the entrance of Gülhane park in Istanbul. His songs have a strong philosophical and humanistic character and he tended to avoid a strong (and hence political) expression of his Alevi identity, although of course it is evident in his songs. The finest recordings available are the field recordings made by Alain Gheerbrant in 1957 in which Veysel played more naturally to his Alevi identity. Gheerbrant, out of consideration for Veysel did not publish the recordings until after the aşık’s death. They are available on the Radio France  Ocora double ablbum published in 1985 (558634/35) from which the photograph here is taken.


Muhlis Akarsu recorded Beni hor görme on his recording titled “… gönül” although, interestingly, with Veysel’s mahlas replaced by the word “insan” (human) and the order of verses changed with the mahlas verse sung as the second of three verses. Arif Sağ also recorded a similar version on his 1981 recording Gürbeti ben mi yarattım with the mahlas verse back in place but, like Akarsu, with “insan” replacing Veysel’s mahlas. Sağ over a decade later produced what remains Nuray Hafiftaş’s finest recording, Şimdi oldu, which also includes the song, but with the Veysel’s mahlas restored.


Translation challenges include getting a workable reading of the form of the refrain line with it’s half question and answer. It implies a conditional sentence although it does not use that construction. One writer, the wonderfully named Azeri scholar Sednik Paşeyevi Pirsultanlı, does in fact read the line in this way, e.g. “sen yolcuysan ben baç mıyım?”. I have tried a slightly different more direct approach. The second line in the penultimate verse also provides a challenge to convey in a line a satisfactory sense of the original. It refers to the concept of the true spirit or soul of person not being able to ascend to a higher level until the carnal and worldly desires and self (nefs) are done away with.


Aşık Veysel:  Beni hor görme

Translation: Paul Koerbin


Don’t look down on me, my brother

You are gold – so am I then bronze?

We are of the same existence

You are silver – so am I then thin metal?


Whatever exists is in you and in me

The same existence in every body

That tomorrow is headed for the grave

You are full – so am I then empty?


Some are mullahs, some dervish

God, it seems, gave to us whatever

Some might talk of the bee and the flower

You are honey – so am I than a heap of grain?


All of our bodies come from the earth

Kill off the carnal self before the dying

So the creator seems to have commanded

You are the pen – so am I then the nib?


Veysel is disposed to be a lover

We are brothers made out of the earth

We are the same as fellow travellers

You are the traveller – so am I then the toll?


Original text from recording by Aşık Veysel on the CD Aşık Veysel Klasikleri


Ben hor görme kardeşim

Sen altınsın ben tunç muyum

Aynı vardan var olmuşuz

Sen gümüşsün ben saç mıyım

Ne var ise sende bende

Aynı varlık her bendende

Yarın mezara girende

Sen toksun da ben aç mıyım

Kimi molla kimi derviş

Allah bize neler vermiş

Kimi arı çiçek dermiş

Sen balsın da ben cec miyim

Topraktandır cümle beden

Nefsini öldür ölmeden

Böyle emretmiş yaradan

Sen kalemsin ben uç muyum

Tabiata Veysel âşık

Topraktan olduk kardaşık

Aynı yolcuyuz yoldaşık

Sen yolcusun ben bac mıyım



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