The Role of Women in the Male Dominated Âşık Music Tradition

In this series of articles, information is given about the role of women within the âşık tradition. While giving this information, questions such as “What does it mean to be an âşık “as a woman” in the male-dominated âşık art?” and “What is music for female âşıklar?” will be answered.

I explained the art of ‘âşık’ in the first article of this series and I mentioned that I will be focusing on female ‘âşıklar’ (plural form of ‘âşık’). Therefore, we will continue exploring both the art of being an âşık, and what it means to be a woman in this field through the lens of female âşıklar. However, there is a question I need to remind the readers of repeatedly during this article series:

What does it mean to be an âşık “as a woman” in this artistic field dominated by men?

It is important to firstly mention the oral culture environments of female âşıklar and their methods of performance in these environments as these topics relate to the question above. To do this, we will briefly talk about the historic progression of female âşıklar starting with the beginning of the 20th century.

The Anatolian art of âşık as a part of the folk culture has been represented by male âşıklar such as Köroğlu, famous for his epical folk poems called ‘koçaklama’; Dadaloğlu, the spokesperson of his community; Karacaoğlan, a role model for many bard singers with his exemplary talent for improvisation; Âşık Veysel, an instructor who taught at village institutes and guided many âşık bard singers; Âşık Şeref Taşlıova, Murat Çobanoğlu with their masterful performance of their instruments and powerful expression; as well as female âşık bard singers such as Fatma Kâmile, Cevheriye Bânu Hanım who developed their methods of production in sects; Şerife Soykan who never left her village and spoke about her own life in her work; Ayşe Berk, Dudu Karabıyık who were influenced by their family elders; Nevruza Oylum, Telli Suna who drank ‘bâde’ and internalized their art; Vasfiye T. Hanım who lived a semi-migratory life and got into the habit of reciting folk poetry in the areas she visited; Döne Sultan, Güllühan Hanım who performed call-and-response duets at âşık cafes to prove their talents; Derdimend Ana whose talent was discovered at Âşıklar Bayramı (Âşıklar Celebration); Yeter Yüzbaşıoğlu, Fatma Taşkaya who were influenced by their âşık spouses; Şahturna, Şahsenem, Sinem Bacı whose political poems reached their audiences; Arzu Bacı, Ezgili Kevser, Sürmelican who recoded cassette tapes and Sarıcakız, Nurşah Bacı, who attended music courses and brought life to the idea that improvement comes with change.

I will give examples of female representatives of this art who improved their production in sects; semi-migratory female bard singers who adapted to the habit of reciting folk poetry during their travels; those who proved their talents through call-and-response duets at âşık cafes and gatherings; who reached their audiences through their political works; poets who performed at weddings, communal gatherings, festivals and celebrations; and those who released cassettes and CDs in the upcoming parts of this series. I would like to direct your attention to the cultural backgrounds of these female âşıklar; but before I explain more about female âşıklar and the cultural environments they were brought up in, I would like to ask another question in order to portray the socio-cultural situations of these women:

What is music for female âşıklar?

The meaning of music isn’t merely the representation of sound for female âşıklar. For them, music is a way to express their longing, love, and reproach; it is a representation of their identity as an âşık as they try to be accepted as such in their communities and their communal facade. However, the music that they find themselves in and express their identities through is the hardest, given their intense struggle in learning it and the amount of time required in doing so as they fought against the current to teach themselves within their living conditions. The main reason for these struggles is the roles assigned to them due to their gender (stay at home mothers, wives) and the responsibilities these roles bring. Their stringed instruments (bağlama), the only visible extension of their musical identities, are tools that they needed to hide, as they were hard to acquire and could be taken away any second as a punishment for the smallest of problems. The fact that these women couldn’t take their instruments, which made their musical identities visible, to events they were supposed to participate in with the fear of being seen by relatives, that they cannot have access to this instrument at their will or that they cannot touch the household bağlama because it is prohibited by the family elders all illustrate the situation these female âşıklar lived in. These occurrences are the main reason I question the music of female âşıklar and the poems and folk songs of these bard singers that are included in my work are the most important data provided to understand the musician identities of these female âşıklar. 

I would like to share examples from the first half of the 20th century. This way, we can shed light on the recent past of the history of female âşıklar before we define the female bard singers of our time. We have access to examples of their poetry showing their mastery over the âşık literature even though examples of their music did not reach us. The reason I chose the following examples is that they all were brought up in different oral cultures. This means while one got her acceptance from a sect, the other was brought up in a dervish convent or even got the opportunity to participate in call-and-response at âşık cafes, whereas another wandered in semi-migratory fashion as her peer only left her village at the end of her life. 

Cevheriye Bânu Hanım [1863-1916], was a female representative of this art who developed her production methods in a sect. Bânu Hanım studied in the village school, but her education was not limited to this. Because, her house was visited by many guests from other villages or towns, providing environments of conversation and instrument playing as she served prominent visitors while she benefited from their conversation. She listened to the words of bağlama-playing poets with great attention and had the opportunity to receive her first poetry lessons in this environment. In other words, the guest room of their house was the school room Cevheriye Bânu studied in. Bânu Hanım’s father passed away when she was 20 years old and she didn’t get married, continuing to lead the guest room as if it was a knowledge and literature club just as she did when her father was alive. Bânu Hanım wrote many ballad-like ‘koşma’ poems in addition to poems she wrote to show her loyalty to her sect, but she burned these poems two years prior to her death for some reason. There are only a few surviving poems today (Talât, 1930: 115-120 & Sevengil, 1967:17-24). 

Şirin’in aşkına olmuşuz Ferhat
Ruhumuz haysa da cismimiz memat
Kanun-i ezelden böyledir âdat
Bülbülün hevesi gülün üstüne

(We are like Ferhat for the love of Şirin
Our form is a matter of life and death even when our soul is alive
This is the way it has been since past eternity
The nightingale’s desire is the rose)

Derdimend Ana [1895-1980], on the other hand, was the representative of an oral tradition that reflected upon her own life since she didn’t leave her village. She participated in the “Sivas Folk Poets Celebration” as the only female representative in 1964 and this was the first time she left Sivas-Kangal where she was born in (Aslanoğlu, 1965:65-66). Derdimend Ana made her living through farming and believed that she drank ‘bâde’ (a representative liquid that could be juice, syrup, water or wine that the bard receives in their dreams that signifies their rebirth as an âşık) in her dreams following the deep sadness caused by her husband’s passing. Derdimend Ana had great talent for improvisation, making her a prominent representative of her art for this reason (Kaya-Yılmaz, 2019:17-18).

İbrahim Aslanoğlu and Derdimend Ana-1964

Derdimendim asla hilâf sözüm yok
Çok şair var provada arzum yok
Ümmiyim efendim elde yazım yok
Adaletli gördüm Sultan Sivas’ı 

(I am Derdimend, I have no words of opposition
There are many poets in training I have no desire
I am illiterate I have no writings
I witnessed the fairness of Sultan Sivas)

Vasfiye T. Hanım [1914-(?)] was a semi-migratory female representative who proved her productivity by reciting folk poetry during her travels. Vasfiye Hanım was born in Sivas, Şarkışla and her mother was a folk poet. Vasfiye T. Was able to express her life with great talent due to the vivid oral traditions she was raised in. Vasfiye Hanım got married through an arranged marriage at the age of 24 and ended up living with her mother-in-law. As she struggled to raise her six children, she was unable to get along with her mother-in-law and talked about these problems in her poetry (Günbulut, 1984:16-18).

Karı beni cayır cayır yakıyor
Kör tavuk etmiş de tara sokuyor
Garezkârlık ahretini yıkıyor
Böylece malumun olsun hot karı 

(The woman is burning me alive
She drags me in tar like the blind chicken
She brings down the ever after with her nastiness
May you reap what you sow bad woman)

Türkmen Kızı-1971

Türkmen Kızı [1940-…] was born in İskenderun and she belonged to the Turkmen tribe that migrated to the South. The poet explained that poetry ran in her family and she started writing poems at an early age. Türkmen Kızı, who said “Poetry is a gift of God”, emphasized that her knowledge is rich unlike her education. She mentioned that poets whose books she has read and admired, played an important role in her talent in writing poems (Yüksel, 1971:12-13). 

Hey ağaca hor bakanlar
Beşik ağaçtan değil mi
Ceddimizin kullandığı
Kaşık ağaçtan değil mi

Türkmen Kızı etme uzun
Büyüklerin vermez izin
Elindeki kırık sazın
Kolu da ağaçtan değil mi

(Hey, those who look at trees with disdain
Isn’t the cradle made of wood
Didn’t our ancestors use
Spoons made of wood

Türkmen Kızı keep it short
Your elders won’t let you
Your broken saz in your hands
Isn’t its neck made out of wood)

Döne Sultan Can [1924-(?)] was one of the female âşıklar who had the opportunity to participate in call-and-response duets at âşık cafes and gatherings. She was born in Eskişehir, Seyitgazi/Büyükdere Village and worked at the fields. She is a master of improvisatory poetry and it is said that she always played her instrument to accompany her poems. Döne Sultan’s poetry is dominated by sect knowledge, and she has cleaned Seyyid Gazi’s Shrine in the beginning of September every year, expressing her loyalty in every opportunity. Döne Hanım, who was well-known in her village for her art, got recognized due to another âşık. The village folk told Âşık Dursun Cevlânî’, who was visiting the village, about Döne Sultan and Cevlâni couldn’t resist but visit Döne Hanım’s house. The call-and-response and trading of these two bards were later transcribed as a book (Cevlânî, 1958:6-8 & Özmen, 2002:345-346).

Âşık Cevlânî:

Dinle Âşık söz ver benim sözüme
Aşkın âlemine erebildin mi
Neler geldi geçti devr-ü âlemde
Uzağı yakında görebildin mi

(Listen Âşık and respond to my word
Were you able to reach the world of love
So many things came and passed in this world
Were you able to see the distance as near)

Döne Sultan:

Bu aşka giriftar olduğum zaman
Bu sırr-ı esrara erdim efendim
Cem oldu başıma pirler erenler
Ru-be-ru yüzünü gördüm efendim

(When I elaborated on this love
I grasped the secret, sir
Sages and saints came over me
I saw you face to face, sir)

Döne Sultan and Dursun Cevlânî-1958

Even though I will focus on the data about music in this article series, there are many other female âşıklar whose poetry will be shared, but the works of these bards and their names require an extensive research that would take days or weeks. I would like to quote Cook here to illustrate a point: … The lack of women in music history as it is generally relayed is immediately noticeable. The reason for this is not the lack of activity in music by women but the way history is told (Cook, 1999:150). 

Returning to the topic of environments of performance of these female âşıklar, I would like to add that these performance styles called karşı-beri, deyişme, atışma (back-and-forth, phrasing, battle of words, etc.) were important modes of performing in these environments. However, these social environments where this trade of words took place were mainly dominated by communication, entertainment and conversation between men. Women were prevented from entering this environment due to their social standing. The roles seen suitable for women were “mother, wife, housewife” as defined as gender in social sciences, and they prevented women from socialising within the sphere of art. Female âşıklar struggled to find their place in these patriarchal environments and were stripped from opportunities to perform these arts (Çınar, 2008:49). 

I would like to give one last example to another artist who got the opportunity to record her name in history, because this is a great example to the female courage in the art circles. We will travel back to Mustafa Efendi’s cafe in Erzincan in 1950:

The path of Âşık Pervânî from Yusufeli leads him to Erzincan. A grey-haired gentleman walks up to him as he sits at the cafe and mentions that he has a niece, an âşık who drank ‘bâde’, and that she plays and recites her work. He mentions that his niece would like to prove herself to him and makes a proposal. “I have no business with a girl” says Pervânî but he is then persuaded by the owner of the cafe. A girl dressed in black shows up half an hour later, carrying her stringed instrument. Güllühan Hanım [1925/1930 (!?)-(?)], also known as the “young female poet from Erzincan” sits across Pervânî in all seriousness with her black coat, traditional headdress, and her mother-of-pearl instrument. The crowd gathered in the cafe commends her for her courage, saying that they haven’t come across “anybody like her”. It is said that cafe-owner Mustafa Efendi served Güllühan coffee, more desirable than tea, and Pervânî tea. Pervânî, who is offended by this situation takes up his instrument and puts his feelings into words, only to be replied by Güllühan (Gökalp, 1955:1209-1210): 

Dinle bu sözümü Âşık Pervânî
Cim harfi başında bay demişler
Bana kahve lazım sen içün çayı
Sen gibi miskine çay demiştiler

Listen to my words Âşık Pervânî
The letter ‘cim’ (fifth letter of the Arabic alphabet) looks like a man
I need coffee you drink tea
They call a sluggard like you tea (also means a slow creek in Turkish)

Naturally, their trading isn’t limited to these lines and their call-and-response goes on for a long while:


Benim ile hicret etme meydana
Keserim çevreni yolsuz kalırsın
Fazlalaşır artar burada telaşın
Keserim nefesin dilsiz kalırsın

(Don’t emigrate with me to the centre
I will cut you off, you will lose your path
Your panic will overwhelm you here
I will cut your breath; you will lose your tongue.)


Güzel benim ile etsen bu hali
Açılmaz çiçeğin gülsüz kalırsın
Kırarım kanadın budarım kolun
Hayatta kanatsız kolsuz kalırsın

If you follow such a path, beautiful
Your flower won’t blossom, you won’t have a rose
I will break your wing, prune your branches
You will be wingless and branchless in life)

It seems like the majority of female âşıklar didn’t go through the education route which involves listening, repeating and creating unique sayings from cliches. This means they weren’t raised through the mentor-protege method. However, it is evident that these women developed their own ways to educate themselves by following âşık celebrations in order to benefit from the oral cultural traditions, by getting involved with village societies to enter these circles, by getting help from their âşık acquaintances, by following publications(folklore magazines, books, newspapers, etc.) –especially recent female âşıklar– and via mass media (radio, television, music CD and cassettes, the internet etc.). Their performance circles varied depending on their cultural environment. We will continue mentioning the performance circles as they relate to the life conditions of these female âşıklar, but this time we will be accompanied by music.


Aslanoğlu, İbrahim. (1985).  Söz Mülkünün Sultanları, İstanbul: Erman Publishing House.

Cevlânî, Dursun. (1958). Bülbüller, Ankara: Ayyıldız Publishing.

Cook, Nicholas. (1999). Müziğin ABC’si, İstanbul: Kabalcı Publishing House.

Çınar, Sevilay. (2008). Yirminci Yüzyılın İkinci Yarısında Türkiye’de Kadın Âşıklar, Unpublished Doctorate Thesis, İstanbul Technical University.

Gökalp, Mehmet. (1955). Âşıklar Âleminde: Âşık Pervânî ile Güllühan’ın Karşılaşması I-II-III, Turkish Folklore Researches.

Günbulut, Şükrü. (1984). Şarkışlalı Bir Kadın Âşığın Şiirlerine Yansıyan Aile Sorunları–2, Türk Folkloru, 56, 16–18. 

Kaya, Doğan&Yılmaz, Serhat S. (2019). Âşık Derdimend Ana, Sivas: Kangal Municipality Culture Publications.

Onay, A. Talât. (1996). Türk Halk Şiirlerinin Şekil ve Nev’i, Ankara: Akçağ Publishing. 

Özmen, İsmail. (2002). Alevi-Bektaşi Şiirleri Antolojisi, C. IV, Ankara: Ministry of Culture Publications.

Sevengil, R. Ahmet. (1967). Çağımızın Halk Şairleri, İstanbul: Atlas Publishing House. 

Yüksel, Sıdıka. (1971). Türkmen Kızının Sazından, İstanbul: Anadolu Neşriyat Yurdu Poetry Series.

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