A Great Day to Revive the “Aşık” Tradition in Anatolia
The concept of nicknames globally came into our lives with the internet era, however; this has been a tradition in ‘Aşıklık’ culture (bard/wandering minstrel culture) in Anatolia for hundreds of years. Not only nicknames but battle of words and individual or group lampoonery in hip-hop have been other traditions in the ‘Aşıklık’ culture for centuries. The reason I am explaining before starting the article is to prevent you from getting disinterested from get go. I will be writing about the details and what an intricate art this is through the bards pictured above.
The first rule of being an ‘Aşık’ (bard) is to be in Love! (Translator’s note: the word “Aşık” means “in love” in Turkish)
With a lover, or a flower, humankind, nature and the creator.
All your words and descriptions should be made with Love.
The second rule is to play the Lute (or a stringed instrument). Anatolian music is a maqam music that utilizes microtones that are not present in the Western music system. And this maqam structure is varied according to different areas. One must possess a great knowledge of the playing styles and maqams of the area they are representing. Lastly, and this is the vital point, one has to possess a substantial knowledge of literature.
The mastery of the poetry rules of Anatolian Folk Literature is a nuance that will prove your worth in this business. You have to have mastered language to a degree that you will be able to spontaneously produce a stanza abiding by these rules on the spot when asked to talk about a certain subject. Being an ‘Aşık’ is not a profession that can be produced at home sitting at a desk. Your talent for improvisation must be developed.
These bards, even though the situation is different today, were similar to news reporters for rural areas until 40 years ago. They used to report what was happening in the world to people who lived in remote villages where radios, TVs or newspapers were not available. They would travel on foot or on horseback and tell the news with their lutes and poems. Imagine Bob Dylan narrating the news with his guitar on BBC! They knew about important historical events, wars, epopees by heart in addition to daily news and would tell these with their poetry. These ‘Aşık’ bards are wandering history books.
The most fun tradition among numerous ones in the poetry of these bards is battle of words/lampoonery. Similar to how it is used in hip-hop music, battle of words is a literary (as it relates to literature) pitched battle during which two bards challenge each other with their lutes. The weapons used during these battles were only words and lutes. In addition, a topic of interest is required. Someone in the congregation, and this person is called ‘Ayak’ (the foot), decides on the rhyme scheme to be used during the battle of words. The battle should revolve around this topic. This requires a rather rich vocabulary.
The two ‘aşık’ in the photo can be named the best ones in Turkey in this aspect. The third one from the left Aşık Şeref (Şeref Taşlıova) and Aşık Çobanoğlu (Murat Çobanoğlu) next to him, the fourth bard from the left. As their names suggest, Şeref Taşlıova adopted his first name as his nickname whereas Murat Çobanoğlu used his last name. In the ‘Aşıklık’ tradition, the word ‘mahlas’ means nickname. The use of ‘mahlas’ can be grouped into two: One is when the bard uses his first or last name. The second is when the bard is named by his master in a fitting way to his talents. This second method can also happen in another way and this is the most sacred way. The bard has a dream that features a saint, and this saint gives the bard ‘Bade’ (wine) to drink. This wine varies according to every culture and religion, it could literally be alcoholic wine, or water, even sugar or syrup in some cases. The saint would then address the bard with his nickname. The drinker would wake up to become a ‘Badeli Aşık’ (wined up bard) and would go on to use his nickname in his works from then on.
Aşık İhsani was one of these bards who received his nickname through a saint in his dream, the fourth one from the left in the front row, standing up while wearing glasses and a hat. This bard, whose real name was Mevlüt Şafak, lost his eyes and three fingers on his right hand due to an accident that happened while he was a child as he played with some explosives left over from previous wars in his hometown. İhsani, who has suffered greatly, dreams of a saint when he is 25 years old. This saint gives him a big bowl of candies and says, “I am giving these to you to give away to the people”. This is a ‘Bade’ receiving ritual. The candies represent different talents received from his master, and his master advises him to use these talents for his people.
Another ‘Aşık’ who is well-known for his description of love is Ahmet Kartalkanat, known as Kul Ahmet. He is on the left side of Aşık Veysel in the photo.
“Early morning wind let me be known to the coy lover / I have lost my health / Lift me up from my hand” are the lyrics of a popular folk song in Turkey which is composed by him. It is told that he comes from the lineage of Benli Döne, who was the wife of Köroğlu, a legendary hero in Anatolian folk literature. ‘Kul’ nickname that Kul Ahmet has adopted means ‘Servant’. As the examples above also suggest, these bards see themselves as servants to the people.
The second person from the left in the seated row is Rüstem Alyansoğlu, known as Aşık Alyansoğlu. His adventure as a bard starts with the girl he falls in love with getting married to someone else. He tries to soothe the pain of not being together with the girl he loves through playing his lute. Alyansoğlu is known for an interesting dream he had. He bargains with the Grim Reaper, who has come to take his life in his dream, and asks him to give him ten more years. Grim Reaper accepts this offer and Alyansoğlu passes away ten years after having this dream.
It is believed by the people that these bards are enlightened and wise people.
There are some bards who have changed their nicknames in time. Sadi Değer stands second to left in the front row in the photo. He initially used his first name as his nickname. He then changed it to ‘Hasreti’ (the longing one) due to him being separated from his wife. Using nicknames does not have rules in this tradition. Aşık Hasreti is also among the bards who received ‘Bade’. According to his words, there are three kinds of ‘Bade’; those that come from lovers, soldiership or secrets. The bard drank the ‘Bade’ wine of love when he was 17 years old and then drank the wine of secrets when he was forty.
Aşık Reyhani is a different example to how these ‘mahlas’ nicknames can be used. He is the second from the left in the seated row in the photo. This important bard’s real name is Yaşar Yılmaz. This ‘Aşık’ who uses Reyhani as his nickname later on legally changed his surname to Reyhani to match his nickname.
Bard Nuri Cihan Karataş received his nickname during the Konya ‘Aşıklar’ Bards Celebration. The above photo is from this occasion. Nuri Cihan Karataş, who attended this celebration, manages to get the attention of the jury of the competition. The masters in this jury liken him to kindling in the way that he is shining with promise. He becomes Aşık Nuri Çırağı. He is the third from the left in the front row among those standing.
Mustafa Duzağadüşmez, fifth bard from the left standing in the front row, is another bard who received ‘Bade’. We have mentioned the meaning of ‘bade’ changes according to places and beliefs. Mustafa is offered syrup in his dream and wakes up feeling out of it. Those who see him think he is ill and take him to religious healers, according that area’s beliefs. Mustafa becomes an ‘Aşık’ when he gets better. He uses Kul Mustafa as his nickname, however, changes it to Buruklu Kul Mustafa when he learns that another bard is using the same ‘mahlas’. He does not play the lute, because playing the lute is a sin according to the beliefs of the geography he lives in. That is why he never learns how to play the lute. He continues the ‘Aşıklık’ tradition by writing poems and using his voice. People of all sorts of beliefs have been living together in Anatolia and the effects of these beliefs in daily life change from area to area.
Sefil Selimi is the sixth bard from the left in the front row of standing bards. His real name is Ahmet Günbulut and has received his ‘mahlas’ from another bard with whom he was doing an apprenticeship with. Selimi has about 100 written works, performed in his own unique style. He has three published poetry books called Yar Badesi, Yalın Kat and Kul Yanmasın. He passed away in a tragic way.
“The trees planted become a forest, Every one builds a house to find their remedy, Birds suffer and become homeless, May no branch burn, Sefil Selimî burns instead.”
Every stanza in the poem called ‘Kul yanmasın’ (May the servant not burn) ends with ““Sefil Selimi burns instead” and the bard passes away in a house fire in 2003.
I believe the girl leaning her arm on her father’s knee in the row of seated bards got your attention. Her name is Emine. She accompanied her father Aşık Ferrahi during the celebration. Her father, whose real name is adı Mehmet Ali, got his ‘mahlas’ from a saint who appeared to him in a dream. He is among the bards with ‘Bade’. The saint in his dream offers him a bowl of ‘bade’ and calls him with his nickname. Left an orphan at an early age, Aşık Ferrahi struggles to educate himself in tough condition. He learns how to play the lute very well and learns his trade from the poetry books and epopees he has read. Ferrahi suffers from throat tuberculosis in his later ages, which leaves him fully mute. He never stops playing his lute and makes his daughter Emine his voice and attends all activities with her. The father plays and the daughter sings. The father-daughter team receives many prizes and plaques from competitions and events they attend. Unfortunately, their team doesn’t last long as Aşık Ferrahi passes away two years following this photo.
Not everyone in this photo is an ‘Aşık’ and some of the bards’ information were unavailable.
It is necessary to commemorate Feyzi Halıcı, who is the architect of this photo and the person who organized the Konya ‘Aşıklar’ Celebration, and his incredible service to the culture of ‘aşıklık’ by writing books, documenting and making it possible to pass on this tradition to the generations to come.
With my respect to all the ‘Aşık’ bards who offered their services to the ‘Aşıklık’ culture as it existed in the past and as it somewhat exists today.
Zealously… (This is a bektashi signature which literally translates as ‘With Love’)