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One of the most renowned Pir Sultan songs and one of the most political being something of an anthem for the political left from the 1970s.  Performances more commonly only include the first, second and last verses, leaving out the more overtly aggressive third and fourth verses. While all of the Pir Sultan lyrics can only be considered to be attributed to him this lyric is perhaps one of the more doubtful and some assert the lyric originates with Aşık Sıtkı. Muhsin Gül in his book on Sıtkı includes two lyrics that seem to be models for this song, one of which is very similar although it does not include the outright injuction to murder the Sultan (Padışah) and is in fact a more sophisticated lyric. But whether Sıtkı’s is a reworking of the Pir Sultan original or the other way around can hardly be established definitely. Hayrettin İvgin in his 1976 book on Aşık Sıtkı Pervane states that is is a Pir Sultan lyric, though this seems based on the inclusion of the lyric in Gölpınarlı and Boratav’s 1943 book on Pir Sultan and İvgin’s book predates the more substantial work by Gül. The source of the text given by Gölpınarlı and Boratav is again Aşık Ali İzzet Özkan who obtained it from a mecmua (manuscript collection) belonging to one Muharrem from the village of İğdiş in the Şarkışla region of Sivas.

In regards to translation issues, choice of language will determine the degree of political and religious interpretation. For example, how to translate ‘canlar’? Literally this means ‘souls’ but can be understood as ‘friends’ or ‘brothers’ or ‘companions’. Given the political nature of the lyric and its adoption as such in popular culture, I have preferred ‘comrades’.  ‘Münkir‘ also presents some problems. This means ‘deniers’ and may be understood in a religious context. Finding the term ‘deniers’ a bit cumbersome I have tried ‘false hearted’. References to the Umayyad caliphs Yezid and Mervan (Marwan) are fairly straightforward – although it is uncertain whether the reference to Mervan is to the short rule of Marwan I or the last Ummayad caliph Marwan II, though more probably is a reference to the despised Ummayad caliphs generally –  as these caliphs in their actions of opposition to Shi’a and in the murder of Hüseyin represent the essence of treachery and for the Alevi these names are metonyms for treachery and falsehood and are used as invectives.  To convey this adequately in the English remains a challenge, perhaps.

This song presents a good example of the complexities of expressions of identity in Turkey through the shared and yet specific heritage of Turkish Alevi culture. For example this song, besides its historical political associations, was one used to dramatic effect in at the Cologne Bin Yılın Türküsü event at the beginning of 21st century – an event asserting Alevi identity in a transnational context – see video here; while it is also performed on Turkish Radio and Television in the context of the standard national folk orchestra and choir in a concert expressing a particular musical mode  – see this video. Interestingly, the conductor in both instances is Zafer Gündoğdu and the musical arranger for the latter the Alevi virtuoso Erdal Erzincan. Both versions include only the first, second and final verse.

Pir Sultan Abdal: Gelin canlar bir olalım

Translation: Paul Koerbin

Come comrades and let us be as one

Let us strike swords against the false hearted

Let us avenge the blood of Hüseyin

I put my trust in God

Let us bind ourselves together

Let us murmur like the waters

Let us take up the march

I put my trust in God

Let us unfurl the banner of red

Let the time of  deceitful Yezids pass

In our hand is the dagger of passion

I put my trust in God

Let us strike at the race of Mervan

Let us ask for the blood of Hüseyin

Let us kill the Padishah

I put my trust in God

I am Pir Sultan, I’m at boiling point

The false hearted shall be driven mad

What is destined shall come to pass

I put my trust in God

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Original Turkish text from Gölpınarlı and Boratav (1943)

Gelin canlar bir olalım

Münkire kılıç çalalım

Hüseynin kanın alalım

Tevekkeltü taâlâllah

Özü öze bağlıyalım

Sular gibi çağlıyalım

Bir yürüyüş eyliyelim

Tevekkeltü taâlâllah

Açalım kızıl sancağı

Geçsin Yezidlerin cağı

Elimizde aşk bıçağı

Tevekkeltü taâlâllah

Mervan soyunu vuralım

Hüseynin kanın soralım

Pâdışahın öldürelim

Tevekkeltü taâlâllah

Pir Sultan’ım geldi cûşa

Münkirlerin alkı şaşa

Takdir olan gelir başa

Tevekkeltü taâlâllah