( by Mehmet Öcal )



Mehmet Öcal

It is my observation that the environments that gave rise to the appearance and spread of our folk songs have been addressed and studied separately from the actual channels of their appearance. However, as in other folkloric data, our folk songs have found life in their own unique environments, in which they have tried to survive. Folk songs collected in any regional study or folk gatherings (weddings, teaching situations, celebrations, henna nights and mourning ceremonies etc.) must be examined within the chain of events that serve as occasions for their singing.

In studying our folk songs, while paying attention to their content, subjects, forms and genres, and examining them within different classifications, scholars, experts and collectors must not ignore the abovementioned associations as well as another important point: This point is the study of our folk songs or folk music with its words. This style is of course not wrong. But the fact that this manner of study is not wrong does not mean that it is correct. It is simply lacking.

In studying our folk songs, the method followed must also be followed. However, in examining these methods, care must be taken not to separate our folk songs from their genuine environments, to turn them into abstractions. If possible, these environments should be submitted to the service of the people and those who love folk music, and especially to specialists’ areas of study.

In view of this, our folk songs, though they may have been created by an individual, undergo changes over time, become public property and are adopted by a wide public. Thus as they achieve harmony with the taste and emotions of the society which created them, they are also kept alive within this same society. With its repertoire of thousands of folksongs, our people sing these songs when appropriate, thus assuring their survival and memory as they are passed from generation to generation.

We have several traditions which serve as occasions for the singing of folk songs. Although how and where these traditions originated is a matter for another discussion, these generally include the seeing off of soldiers, henna nights, winter celebrations, weddings, engagements, and other types of gatherings which will be described below.

Besides perpetuating our traditions, these celebrations and gatherings are one area in the centuries-old custom of the “group playing/singing tradition,” which serves as a source for our folk music and dances, as well as for their performance and dissemination. Although not as common as they once were, and in some areas no longer take place in the old manner or according to the old rules, there are still attempts to continue these gatherings. Although sharing the same fundamental goal, such gatherings exhibit differences according to location, ages of participants, seating arrangement and the main subjects of the conversations.

The seating arrangement may be in the order of old to young, masters to apprentices, others may be from learned to uneducated, and others yet from master musicians to amateurs. Some of these conversations/gatherings include the reading of and commentary on books, in others books are read an stories/fairy tales may be told, and in others, all of this may take place at the same time. But they have a common point: they are a venue for the resolution of problems and especially of conflicts within the community, and may sometimes serve as a “court” for their resolution.

Quite important in the life of the community, these gatherings originate in our traditional institutions, our derneks, which have served vital functions since ancient times. The regions where the “group playing/singing tradition” continues are rural areas which have not yet lost their traditional characteristics, are based on an agricultural economy and have not much opened up to the outside world. In some areas, such gatherings are known as “Yaren Toplantılar” (Gatherings of Friends), or “Oturak Alemleri” (Sitting Revelries).

Anatolia is divided into seven regions. Besides their linguistic differences these seven regions present differences in music, in terms of playing and singing techniques. In the study of Turkish folk music, these are known as “Regional playing/vocal performance styles.” Examples of playing styles are Konya style, Silifke style, Yozgat style, Kırşehir style and Kayseri style. They are also classified by region: Zeybek region (Aegean region) and Teke region (Isparta, Antalya, Burdur and Afyon provinces).

In order to understand the performance of the abovementioned styles; and the environments in which they are performed, we must examine the ways that these environments take shape; in short, the “group playing/singing traditions” in the areas our folk music is played and sung.


The “Group Musical Tradition”, the roots of which extend to the earliest periods in Anatolia, is practiced in different ways across the regions of Turkey. Though practiced in essentially the same manner, this tradition does display certain differences in form and concept. These gatherings go by different names as in the following list:

Çankırı, Isparta (Kula), Manisa, Kütahya (Simav): Yarenlik
Gaziantep, Elazığ: Meşk
Balıkesir (Dursunbey and in the city): Barana
Konya, Aksaray, Niğde, Nevşehir, Akşehir and Ankara: Oturak Âlemi
Burdur, Isparta: Oğlak Bahçesi
Amasya: Tel Tel Gecesi
Adıyaman: Dere Ağzı Toplantısı
Şanlıurfa: Sıra Gezmesi (Sıra Gecesi)
Ordu, Giresun: Kol Bastı Toplantısı
Artvin, Trabzon: Erfene (Arfana)

Known in Isparta as yarenlik or gezek, these are mostly encountered in and around the provinces of Yençeköy, Eğridir and Şarkıkaraağaç. In this region, the gatherings are mostly held in the autumn after the harvest has been taken in and the vineyards have been cut back. These are also called bağbozumu şenlikleri (vineyard-breaking festivities).


In Kula in Manisa province, both yarenliks and guild gatherings are held, and the local people consider them quite important. In Kula, yarens do not appear as a group singing songs at weddings. As in other regions, here too they appear as a group of people singing and playing within their own traditional structures, and most importantly, perpetuating their own traditions. The songs are generally accompanied by bağlama, darbuka and zilli maşa, a set of tongs on which several cymbals are mounted.


These are not much different than the yarens of Çankırı. However in the gatherings in Simav, alcohol is drunk while in Çankrı gatherings it is absent. Its form, customs and modes of entertainment, as well as its effects on social life, are as those in Çankırı.


The Paça tradition, known to the Yörüks as kekil Günü and in some provinces as Kına Gecesi, (henna night) is generally held on a Saturday. This custom is locally known as “Kekil.” The “kekil day” is completely the realm of woman.

On this day, several women and young girls from other groups come, sing folk songs and play def (tambourine) until evening. This special day is the bride’s last day before her wedding. There are several folk songs which the women sing especially for the Kekil day.

Kekil days are filled with songs, one after the other until evening, when the gathering breaks up and the women go back to their villages.


In thıs region, such gatherings are generally revelries with drink, and songs with musical accompaniment. As in those in other areas, there are rules. The place and attendants are determined beforehand; the party is held at the house of the person who first says “the gezek is mine.” Such parties are generally held on Saturday nights.

A gezek has a president and sometimes two assistants. Those who do not follow the rules are punished, generally with a fine. The money gathered in the form of fines is generally used to hold other parties.

The punishments can be exacted in other ways as well. For example, one who acts in a way unbecoming of his manhood is forced to put on a purple velvet dress and dance a köçek in the center of the room. Folk dancers are also danced at gezeks, accompanied by songs and saz. The singing and playing follows a particular order.


Tel tel (lit. stringy) is the name of a local sweet in the area which had a stringy texture. As this sweet is made for these special occasions, the gatherings are generally known by the same name. On these evenings, a ring is put inside the sweet, and good luck goes to the one who gets it.

As this kind of celebration is especially loved by women in the region, it is mostly they who perpetuated. They sing folk songs and dance; and also sing manis (quatrains):

Sarı kabak kökeni
Ele batar dikeni
Mevla’m çabuk kavuştur
Hasiretlik çekeni

Into the hand, the yellow
squas stem thrusts a thorn
My god, bring together
Those who are lovelorn


Especially in the Merzifon district of Amasya, these gatherings are held by men, according to a certain protocol. Young people may not participate; they are strictly the realm of old people. Preparations are made a week before the gathering is to be held. The celebration includes the favorite folk songs of the region, as well as dancing. The singing and dancing are done without any particular order.


In this area, the playing of music is considered the workd of Gypsies (Abdal). Fearful of being told they are doing “Gypsies’ work,” young people and musicians generally play in obscure places, on the banks of rivers, far away from the community. For this reason, such gatherings are known among young people as dere ağzı toplantıları (river bank gatherings).

Such gatherings generally include alcohol, and are held frequently and certain places chosen for such gatherings.


“Kale içi” (inside the fortress, referring to the old quarter of Ankara) gatherings are disciplined dance parties with alcohol, held together with women. Although this custom is no longer kept up publicly in any active way, Ankara locals occasionally arrange these cümbüş (revelries) in an attempt to keep the tradition alive. In these parties, young people always show respect for the elders, and the old play host to the young. In other words, the celebration proceeds in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

In such celebrations, instruments are played, women dance and alcohol is consumed. The gatherings are not held just anywhere; they require corners, dead end streets, or houses with walls thick enough that the sound will not escape. The efes and young men generally would hold revelries in the fortress, within the walls, in wooden houses on the lower dead-end streets.

The walls of these houses were 3-4 cm thick. The cümbüş were held in secret. The reason was that the street patrols might raid the parties, or that the pious and religious fanatics might not allow instruments to be played, under the pretext that they were ruinous to morals. Not everyone was accepted into the parties either - the young men who would attend had to be tight-lipped, because if the hodja caught wind of it, he would read them the riot act in the sermon the next day, though without naming names. The oldest efe sat in the head corner, and the rest took their places according to age and status.

Every age group had its own sitting place and formalities in the room. There were both floor pillows and wall benches. The older people sat on the wall benches either “indian style” or with knees drawn. To cross ones legs at these gatherings was considered extremely shameful. The middle aged sat on the floor pillows. The young people had to sit with their legs folded underneath them, and were not allowed to rise from their knees or sit indian style without specific permission.

The cümbüş started with the playing of saz. (30-40 years ago, Turkish youth in Ankara played nothing but bağlama. Only at the weddings of rich noblemen were Christian musicians brought to back up the music on oud or kanun). The saz music began with music for listening. In addition to divans and koşmas (poetic forms), pieces from Kerem were played. Later, rhythmic dance pieces began, which included pieces such as Sabahi, Misket, Yandım Şeker, Mor Koyun, Nağme Gelin, Hüdayda, Ankara Koşması, Şeker, Fındık and Zeybek tunes. Later yet the actual dancing began. A young man would start the dancing, with the women getting up to dance later.

Good players of saz and zil, and good dancers were always given preference in invitations. Oe of the most important elements of the gatherings was the finger cymbals, which were held on the thumb and middle fingers. These cymbals were cast from an alloy which was a combination of an Ottoman 20 piastre coin and brass. In choosing the woman who would play zils, her musicianship, her ability to play well was more important than her beauty.

As for the women, they wanted a good saz player. The gathering was dominated by an artistic atmosphere, and the participants exhibited their highest mastery of their instruments and of dance. A good saz player coupled with a good cymbal player made for a night that nobody wanted to leave. Towards the end of the party, a slow, intense bozlak piece would be sung, and then a kalkma havası (“getting up” piece), in misket tuning. The song sung was Ay doğar ayan ayan (The moon is rising, come to...). This piece signaled the end of the gathering, whereupon everyone goes home quietly so as not to let it be know that there was a cümbüş.


Bulgur çekme (bulgur grinding) day, which falls in the harvest season, is a special day that young men wait for excitedly; a day of love and adventure. The days following the harvest are occupied by the hard work of boiling and preparing bulgur, one of the most important winter staples.

The bulgur pots are set at night, and the various songs and manis sung are believed to strengthen the fires under the cauldrons. During this time, the young men of the village vie with one another to attract the young and beautiful girls of the village.

At last the boiled bulgur is spread out on kilims, felt cloth or other similar fabric in order to dry. When it is dry, the job of pounding it begins. The young girls of the village and neighboring villages gather, wooden pestles in hand, and begin pounding the bulgur. The “tak, tuk” sound from the mortars set the rhythm for the celebrations, in which the young men take part enthusiastically.

Running to the mortars at the calls of the young girls, the boys begin the process of beating the bulgur. There the flirtatious and suggestive words flow, as well as singing and dancing.

Top top edip zülfünü tarama
Beni koyup bir yar daha arama
Dilerim Allah’tan kör olsun gözün
Merhem diye tuz doldurdun yarama

Tie your hair up, don’t comb it
Take me, don’t look for another love
I beseech God for you to go blind
Don’t rub salt in to my wound and call it a balm

These songs are sung with original lyrics and composed on the spot. The youths work up a hard sweat beating the bulgur. After the beating comes the job of removing the chaff. This job is also the scene of various fun and revelry.

When evening comes, everyone gathers together and sets up the mills, and the preparations are complete. The young men run to the house where the bulgur is being ground, and listen to the songs and manis the girls sing as they turn the mills. The celebration starts with reciprocal songs. At this point, the girls suggest that the boys sit at the mill, and the flirtation and revelry continues. These celebrations sometimes continue until dawn.

Later, pilaf is made from the ground bulgur, and eaten. At this point, the owner of the home, in order to goad those ground the bulgur, sings words such as:

Haydin kızlar
Deyin kızlar
Pilav pişti
Yeyin kızlar

Go on, girls
Say it, girls
The pilaf is cooked
Eat it girls

At this point, the bulgur making process is officially over.


The harvest and the gathering of grapes are done in communal work parties known as imece, meci or değişik. It is a time of solidarity, and at the end of the harvest is followed by celebrations and feasts, at which young men and women have mani competitions.


Asmalarda üzüm var
Benim sende gözüm var
Gel birazcık yanıma
Sana bir çift sözüm var.

There are grapes on the vines
And my eye is on you
Come next to me for a bit
I have a couple words for you


Asmada üzüm olsun
Senin bende gözün olsun
Çağırdım da gelmedin
Bu da değişik olsun.

Let there be grapes on the vines
And let your eye be on me
I called you and you didn’t come
Let this time be different .


Winter is the time for a celebration known as the Arifane. How the celebration will be held and who will participate is specifically determined. Those who will participate are called the sohbet ahbapları (conversation buddies - referring to the meeting/conversation nature of such gatherings) the one who will head it, the barana başı, and the place where the gathering will be held, the barana or barhane. Two people are elected to head the barana, who will serve in this duty all winter. One elder takes on the duty of president.

The one who carries out the orders of the barana başı is called the sohbet çavuşu (conversation sergeant). He sees to the day-to-day work of the sohbet ahbapları. The sohbet ahbapları attach a flower petal or plant together with a golden leaf on their heads and breasts. They go to the place where the gathering will be held, and when about 50 meters remain, the sohbet ahbapları begin singing special songs to the accompaniment of a group of sazes. They approach the house, stopping every two steps and singing one verse. Upon entering the gathering house, they sing this song:

Sabahtan kavuştum ben bir güzele
Güzel senin uykuların utçumu
Senin gönlün yadellere düştümü
Gülün bir tanesi sen kerem eyle
(Ben yandım)

In the morning, I met with a beautiful girl
Beautiful girl, did you lose your sleep?
Has your heart fallen to someone else?
Grace me with one of your roses
(I’m burning)

At the head of the stairs, songs concluding with quatrains are sung:

Küçüğüm a nereden gelirsin
Gasavet gönlümü alırsın (Ben yandım)
Er geç sen benim olursun
Gasavet gönlümü alırsın (Ben yandım)

My little one, where are you coming from
Sadness, you’ll take my heart (I’m burning)
Sooner or later, you’ll be mine
Sadness, you’ll take my heart (I’m burning)

At baranas, the most beautiful and lively songs of the region are sung, and the best dances are performed. After the singing and dancing, food is served, followed by coffee. Later, special tunes such as sohbet övme (conversatıon/praise) tunes are played and sung.

Uzun çarşı baştan başa
Keklik seker taştan taşa
Geçmiş olsun (……..) paşa
Sevdiğim bir o, saydığım bir o

Olacak sohbet senindir
Senindir, gerçek senindir

Uzun çarşı baştan başa
Keklik seker taştan taşa
Kadem olsun (name) paşa
Sevdiğim bir o, saydığım bir o

Olacak sohbet senindir
Senindir, gerçek senindir

From one end of the long markiet
The partridge hops from rock to rock
May it be past, ........... paşa
He’s the one I love, the one I respect

The next conversation is yours
Yours, truly yours

From one end of the long markiet
The partridge hops from rock to rock
May ......... paşa have good fortune
He’s the one I love, the one I respect

The next conversation is yours
Yours, truly yours

In the sohbet övme, the person who will host the next gathering is announced. The ceremony associated with this is performed to the last detail. The “conversation” (sohbet) section also has a “court” section, in which the guilty are judged and according to their crimes, punishments are meted out. The Dursunbey sohbets also include a work session. The guests are greeted by the küçük ahbaplar (small friends) and seen off by the büyük ahbaplar (great friends). Although such gatherings most often do not include alcohol, we know that in recent times it has begun to appear. One of the most important features of the barana is secrecy. However with the permission of the barana başı, a guest may be brought along. Guests may not stay for more than one hour.

As to the location of the barana, this is kept in strict secrecy, and the conversations are dominated by a strict discipline. The ages of the participants is also important; they are divided into three groups, middle aged, aged and youth.

The sohbet ahbapları are required to love and respect each other. The barana has the quality of an educational institution. Gambling or allowing gambling, lying, drunkenness and other such behaviors are considered crimes. The guilty are judged; the judgments are later announced and the punishments carried out.

The sohbet çavuşu gathers the necessary information within one week and provides it to the barana başı. At this point witnesses are heard as well. All of the procedures up to this point are carried out in great secrecy. The sohbet evening begins after the last prayers of the day, and continues until morning. The barana begins officially when the barana başı says “sit comfortably,” and folk songs are sung.

Eminemin çam dibinde sesi var
Varın bakın bohçasında nesi var
Bir yazmayla top püsküllü fesi var

Aman eminem kalk gidelim dağlara
Mekan tutalım mor sümbüllü bağlara

My Emine’s voice at the base of the pine tree
Go, look and see what’s in her bundle
There is a kerchief and a fez with a tassle

Aman, my Emine, get up, let’s go to the mountains
Let’s find a place in the orchards with the purple hyacinths

Besides folk songs, karşılama type dances are also performed. One of these songs’ words are:

Koca kuşun yüksektedir oyunu
Değme bir şahine vermez payını
A kız senin nerelerin var vay vay vay

Nerelerin ah nerelerin
Harap olmuş gül gibi memelerin

Allı şalvar aman
Tabakta bal var aman
Vermezse dön gene yalvar aman

The great bird dances in the heavens
Don’t hurt a falcoe, he’ll give you nothing
A girl, what places you have, vay vay vay

What places, ah, what places
Your rose like breasts have withered

Scarlet şalvar, aman
There’s honey in the plate, aman
If she doesn’t give any, turn and plead again, aman

There are great similarities between the conversations at the baranas and the customs of the city brotherhoods and guilds. The songs sung at baranas, as well as the dances performed, are quick and lively.


This kind of “feast” gathering (ziyafet: feast) serves as a sort of community educational mechanism, where customs continue and the virtues of love and respect between the old and young are perpetuated; in short, where traditions are kept alive.

These gatherings include traditional regional food, the performance of local music and dances, as well as several traditional games of the type that reinforce frendship.

The first songs sung at the gatherings are generally of the slow type, these include zeybeks and songs of exile. Rhythmic songs are mostly sung towards the end of the gathering. But if someone gets up to dance, a zeybek is played, followed by dances such as 9/8 “teke zeybeği” or “teke havası.” Later still, 2/4 dances known as “düz hava” (regular dance) are played; these bring about the end of the feast night.


In Bursa of old, drinking and getting women to dance were not difficult. However, finding places to hold such revelries was quite another matter, because there were many people in the neighbors who would try and prevent such carousing, and raids were not unheard of. For this reason, no place was generally considered appropriate for this kind of gathering.

Such gatherings were especially held in Bursa’s Zindankapı quarter. The preparations began during the daytime; the person who was to host the gathering brought drinks, meze and the woman who would serve to the house in preparation for the event. After the last prayer, the participants would begin to arrive. At the parties, people sang songs and danbced.

The songs were sung in order of their makam. There were both listning and dance songs performed at the parties. Instruments used included saz, cümbüş, oud, violin and def.


The “Oğlak Bahçesi” (Goat Garden) gatherings of Bursa provınce generally began after the evening prayers and continued until dawn. Such parties were usually held in an oda (village chamber, gathering room). Different odas had separate customs. The president of the oda was known as the bayraktar (banner bearer). Each oda had separate types of gatherings for summer and winter. According to tradition, the music and dances were performed in sections. The instruments used were cura, def, dümbelek and zilli maşa.


In this region, sohbet gatherings were generally held in special places in the gardens and orchards of the province, district or surrounding villages and towns. Gerede province was considered to be one of the most important of these. Although it is not known precisely when the gatherings began in Gerede, they have a long history.

It is said that the gatherings and Gerede were held with the following goals:

1. A way to pass the long winter nights

2. According to the community standards of the times, leaving the home was not often possible. For this reason, the permission to out unaccompanied by a parent was given to young men entering manhood and the working life; the gatherings were held with the goal of giving these young men new opportunities and the knowledge they would need, to teach them the rules of the community, and bring them up as honorable, mature men. In this sense, the sohbet meetings were like youth associations. A young man who was trained at such gatherings was seen as superior by his friends, but one who was expelled from such meetings was looked down upon. Whatever the reason for expulsion, it would be a bad influence on that youth’s social and economic activities, and his life in general.

3. For those who were members of a trade guild, to form social as well as economic ties.


Each year, young people who wanted to hold a sohbet would choose an elder with clout in the community as their head. This man was called the başeski (head elder). The başeski would then appoint someone of standing as his çavuş (sergeant). The çavuş carried out the orders of the başeski. On the appropriate day, the başeski would call the youths together, they would converse about the subjects and make the following decisions:

a-which cafes in the markets the sohbetçi (sohbet members) would frequent and where they were,
b-in which week the sohbet would begin
c-how long it would continue
d-in whose house it would be held
e-how the expenses would be covered

After these decisions were made, the sohbetçis had now practically become brothers, and together with the başeski, they performed the jobs to be done. The sohbets were generally held on Saturday, the market day, and throughout the night. A sohbetçi could not go to any cafe other than his own; the cafe became a sort of club for them, and the başeski was the club’s president. At the cafe, everything was clean and orderly. No noise was acceptable; all conversations, comings and goings were observed by the başeski, and nothing escaped his watchful eye.

Here and there, instrumental groups would play, and sing mani/koşma. The men would listen to selected verses from the minstrels, and teach the young men to play and sing. Just as a sohbetçi could not come to a sohbet drunk, neither could he come to the cafe drunk, or bring friends. Those who came as guests were required to abide by the rules of the sohbet ceremony. The sohbet had its unique way of starting. The sohbetçis could not go to a sohbet in the same way they might go to the cafe. A week prior, the location and time of the sohbet would be determined, and all the sohbetçis gathered at the appointed hour. They entered the house in the following order:

1. Başeski
2. Instrumentalists (saz, dümbelek, zilli maşa)
3. Senior watchmen
4. Young sohbetçis

With no break in this order, they approached the house and the musicians played the sohbet peşrevi. The order within and outside of the house was about the same. Seating was in a half circle, with the başeski in the exact center of the half circle, and to his right sat the sohbetçis according to seniority. The first order of the evening was for the başeski to select two people as assistants. Coffee was served, and it was time for the sohbet to begin. First, the new başeski was chosen. After a short wait for this election while the sohbetçis’ votes were taken, the entertainment began.

The entertainment began with dancing. The first dance, known as dönmek oyunu (turning dance), was a lively dance accompanied by singing. The dancers would prepare themselves. They would get in line, the musicians at the head, followed by the singers, and singing the refrain of the song, turn three times. At the moment they turned, the host would put a stool in the center, on which a candle was burning. The dancers would form a circle around the stool and sing the following song:

Sohbetçi çarşıdan aştı aman aman
Ali’nin tebdili şaştı aman aman
Seyid’de bıraktı kaçtı aman aman
Yemeyiz böyle sohbeti
Çekmeyiz böyle sohbeti
Ali’nin yanar lambası aman aman
Alnında kara damgası aman aman
Hacı Yakup sohbet babası aman aman
Yemeyiz böyle sohbeti
Çekmeyiz böyle sohbeti

Ali’nin peşkiri kara
Karadağlı istiyor para
Gayri sen nöbetçi ara
Yemeyiz böyle sohbeti
Çekmeyiz böyle sohbeti

The sohbetçi went past the market
Ali’s tebdil was confused
The saeed also left and ran off
We don’t accept such a sohbet
We don’t tolerate such a sohbet

Ali’s lamp burns
A black stamp on his forehead
Hacı Yakup is the head of the sohbet
We don’t accept such a sohbet
We don’t tolerate such a sohbet

Ali’s towel is black
The man from Karadağ wants money
So go look for the guard
We don’t accept such a sohbet
We don’t tolerate such a sohbet

Following this, the actual sohbet begins. This section continues for a time with dance and songs, and then winds down toward the end, finishing with the singing of this song:

Dağdan kestim bir değenek ay oğul,
Şalvarı benek benek ay oğul,
Şalvar mintan bir örnek ay oğul
Aman aman bilirmisin
Gel desem gelirmisin

Gerede’nin evleri ay oğul
Eğri büğrü yolları ay aman
Kardan beyaz kolları ay oğul
Aman aman bilirmisin
Gel desem gelirmisin

I cut a crutch from the mountain, ay, boy
Her şalvar spotted, ay boy
Her şalvar is a loose one, ay boy
Aman aman, do you know
If I say “come,” will you come?

The houses of Gerede, ay boy
Its winding streets, ay aman
Her arms whiter than snow, ay boy
Aman aman, do you know
If I say “come,” will you come?

In addition to Gerede, such gatherings are held in another of Bolu’s district, Mudurnu, where they are called Ateş Gezmeleri (fire parties). At first held especially by young men, they later became common among older men as well.


Like sohbet gatherings, this type of gathering served to educate the young men and give them experience. The traditional name for such gatherings is birikme (lit. “gathering”). Research revealed that the name “ateş gezmesi” comes from a special fire lit in the house where these winter gatherings were held. The ateş gezmesi was divided into three sections:

1. Those who had never participated in an ateş, as well as those had attended for one or two years and gained experience, are taken in.
2. In the second section, middle-aged men are accepted.
3. The last section is conducted by mature men who pray five times a day.

The expenses are shared equally by all the participants, including the host. This is known as erfane. The last gathering, held at the end of winter, is called the pabuç giyme (wearing of slippers). The participants treat each other warmly and address each other as yaren (friend). This sort of address carries a warmer and more heartfelt meaning than family ties. The person leading the gathering is known as the mıcık.

These gatherings are the first place that trains young men in their passage from their family into society at large. How to eat in polite society, how to sit, to talk, manners, games, saz playing, singing... the ateş gecesi provides the first education in all these areas.

As in other parts of our country, in Bolu as well, these meetings are gradually disappearing, and are only held within close circles of family and friends.

(Revelries, parties, celebrations in Çankırı accompanied by folk songs and music)

The chief places for celebrations and revelries in Çankırı are common outing destinations such as Karaköprü Bahçeleri, Feslikan, Kale and Taşmescit, as well as celebration and party sites overlooking the city such as Kurşana (Kuşane), Kurban Tepesi and Kayabaşı, known to the young men as Koşma and Bozlak. In the old days, young men under the age of thirty who didn’t know how to take care of themselves could not come to these places.

In this area, it was not only the men who held such parties; quite the contrary, the pınar gezmesi (outings to the spring) held by the women by themselves, where they went to the Karaköprü Gardens, were quite famous. These outings were made mostly towards the end of summer. Three days before the excursion, the women would apply henna, and prepare eight or ten dresses. Two days before, they would send meat, rice, sugar, flour and other ingredients to the garden where they would go. On Saturday, before sunrise, the women would go singing to the gardens, the rich families by horse cart, the others on foot. The garden owners would meet the guests and take them to the garden. After sitting and talking for a while, they would eat, and then everyone would put on their dancing clothes, get into circles and dance the helisa, a style of halay dance.

İstanbul da bir kuyu var
İçinde tatlı suyu var
Her güzelin bir huyu var
Helisa……. Helisa

In Istanbul, there is a well
In the well is sweet water
Every beauty has her ways
Helisa Helisa
(This is repeated several times)

Those who wished would hire a dancing girl to dance at such celebrations. As the dancing girl was performing, the dancers would form a circle and the dancers would dance and play def in the center of the circle. The singing and dancing go on until the afternoon meal, and then after a short break, continue until evening; then everyone returns home. Besides this type of party and sohbet, there are also the “Çankırı Yaren Sohbets,” a remnant of the times of the city brotherhoods.

Before explaining the Çankırı yaren sohbets, let is first examine the historical development of the sohbet, the institutions on which it depends and its various related forms.

Historical development of the yaren: The history of the yaren sohbets extends back to the 18th century Anatolian Ahilik (brotherhood) institution. This organization served as a union of tradesmen and artisans from the 18th to the 20th centuries.

The Ahilik was the institution that trained employees for the guilds / artisan foundations in the towns and villages, and provided them with experience. There are various views as to the origin of this organization. Western orientalists believe it stems from the Fütuvvet which developed among the Arabs, and others that it developed independently among the Turks of Anatolia.

During the 13th century, in order to train the young ahis, the ahilik operated by day as a trade institution, and at night held sohbet gatherings. In other words, the young men would learn the skills of their trade during the day, and at night would learn spiritual values, morals citizenship, and how to control their actions. The ahilik was the single institution to which the young men would be accountable throughout their lives.

During times when there was a strongly felt need for unity and brotherhood, institutions founded by people of high standing in order to put people back on the right track and lend support to national feelings later continued among the people in various forms during times of peace. In such times, it tended towards functions such as maintaining peace and order, and developing sound personalities. Thus as an extension of the “yaren,” it put the idea of brotherhood into practice. Fütüvvet and Ahilik are not religious orders but rather disciplines, intertwined with religious/moral and socioeconomic principles.

Although it may often be said that the yaren appeared in conjunction with Ahilik in Anatolia, the more common view is that this institution is an extension of the culture which arrived in Anatolia along with the migrations from Central Asia. In yaren sohbets, the terms “baş ağa” (head lord) and “küçük baş ağa” (small head lord) are frequently mentioned. These names are a part of the yaren sohbets; let us take a look at their meanings.

The Oğuz Turks were made up of 24 clans. The khan of khans was a member of one clan, the chieftain of chieftains, a member of another. The other 22 clans each had their own chieftains. Every celebration was held at the tent of a different chieftain.

The gathering at the khan of khans’ tent was more splendid then the others. As related by Dede Korkut, there were mountains of meat and lakes of kumiss, minstrels would come and play kopuz, and the clans and lineages would celebrate. The khans of those days served as the baş ağa of today. As long as he did not depart from justice and righteousness, the başağa ruled over everything at the yaren meeting. The second in command at the meeting was the “küçük başağa”

The Çankırı sohbet is a unique institution, completely different from the cem of the Alevi-Bektashis, the oturak of Konya, the cümbüş of Ankara, or other folk celebrations and gatherings of Anatolia. It is an expression of the tendency of the Turkish soul towards the fine arts and beauty.

Arranging the yaren sohbet: At the beginning of each autumn, a group of seven or eight elders forms in the neighborhoods and villages of Çankırı. This group is formed of people of the same standing. The yarens are held in the village chambers; and in the city, in “yaren houses.” At the gathering one person in the aforementioned group says “Let us light a hearth this year,” “This year let us have a yaren,” or “This year let us hold a sohbet.” When this is accepted, the members of that year’s yaren are chosen.

The great and small başağas are elected at these gatherings. Before this election, the election day is decided upon, and the assent of the candidates is confirmed. How many will participate changes according to the size of the village or neighborhood. Generally the ideal number is around 30, but in the villages it may be 30-40. At the first meeting, called the erfane, a preliminary discussion is held concerning the activities which will be carried out the foods to be served throughout the year. The job of hiring musicians and the çavuş is also decided. These people are generally paid for their work, and are not considered members. Those who are not members are not allowed to participate in these evening gatherings, nor are guests accepted.

Rules and traditions of the sohbet room, and the structure of the sohbet: The rules and traditions which apply in the sohbet room form the basis of the sohbet itself. Although these rules have changed completely over the years, certain parts of them are practiced intact. The discipline, entertainment and tolerance which characterize the sohbets have been adopted by the members and survived to the present day. There are no complaints on this point. In this way, the sohbets have become an inseperable part of the people.

The first to enter the sohbet room are the mucians; they enter without any special entrance ceremony. The musicians sit in the çavuş’s şahnişin (the seat of the king) section. If there is no such section in the room, as corner near the door is set aside for the musicians. When the musicians are seated, they play the “entrance peşrev,” following which the çavuş notifies the küçük başağa. The başağa enters, right foot first. This has Islamic connotations; any time the Prophet Mohammed entered a house or room, he entered with his right foot.

After the küçük başağa enters the room, he sits in a place set aside for him on the left, relative to the entrance. Then the çavuş asks permission from the küçük başağa for the yarens to enter the room, and when this is received, he goes out to invite them in. They enter one by one, or in pairs, though they may sometimes enter in groups of four. When they have all entered, a long greeting ceremony follows. After the greeting ceremony, all the yarens sit in silence and the peşerev continues. Before the instrumental section, the folk song Akşam Oldu (Evening has come) are sung, followed by other songs such as Üzüğümün Allı Pullu Taşı Var, Evlerinin Önü Çepçevre Avlu, Aşkın Çakmağını Sineme Çaldın and Sabahın Seher Vaktinde. This is followed by coffee. After the coffee, the music continues. A few of the yarens who have good voices turn towards the başağa, kneel, and sing a special song for the occasion.

All of these songs are sung together, followed by local folk songs. The singing lasts for an hour. In the sohbet room, there is absolutely no drinking of rakı, dancing girls or other intemperance; everyone sits politely and participates in the sohbet. Powerful friendships are formed in these sohbets, and an astounding degree of respect and sincerity appears among the yarens. Sohbets also include the Arap Verme Merasimi (“Giving of the Arab ceremony”). This ceremony is an agreement in its own right. Before the sohbet evening breaks up, the Arap Verme Merisimi is conducted before the person who will host next week’s sohbet. This person is known as the güveyi (bridegroom). The one who is next in order is called the sağdıç (best man). the güveyi sits below the küçük başağa and the sağdıç sits beside him. The good singers in the yaren, along with the musicians, stand and come before the baş ağa, and sing:

Fakiri geldi divane
Elinde gül dane dane
Yaren başı izin kime
İç ağam afiyet olsun
Sohbetin mübarek olsun
Başında yağlı bir astar
Gel ağam cemalin göster
Yarenler sohbetin ister
İç ağam afiyet olsun
Sohbetin mübarek olsun

Fakırı came to the assembly
In his hand, roses
To whom goes the title of yaren başı
Drink my lord, to your health
May your sohbet be blessed

On his head a silk headscarf
Come my lord, show your beauty
The yarens want your conversation
Drink my lord, to your health
May your sohbet be blessed

Following this song, they come before the küçük başağa and in a special makam, sing:

Evlerinin önü şimşir
Günler doğar ışıl ışıl
Pilavı yağlıca pişir
İç ağam afiyet olsun
Sohbetin mübarek olsun
Evlerinin önü dere
Gelir göğüs gere gere
Pilavın içine deve
İç ağam afiyet olsun
Sohbetin mübarek olsun
Bahçelerde erik olmasın
Soyunda Yörük olmasın
Eviniz çürük olmasın
İç ağam afiyet olsun
Sohbetin mübarek olsun

In front of your houses is boxwood
The days break brilliantly
Cook the pilav with lots of oil
Drink my lord, to your health
May your sohbet be blessed

In front of your houses is a creek
He comes, his chest puffed up
A camel into the pilav (?)
Drink my lord, to your health
May your sohbet be blessed

Let there be no plums in the garden
And no Yörüks in your lineage
Let your house not be spoiled
Drink my lord, to your health
May your sohbet be blessed


After the meal, coffee and dances to aid digestion comes the Arap verme ceremony. Before the gathering disperses, the yaren who will host the next week’s gathering are given the “Arab.” The “Arab” is the name given to the zilli maşa (small cymbals on tongs) and the tef (tambourine-like frame drum) in the yaren sohbets. These go to and stay with whoever is hosting the meeting. The çavuş puts a candle in front of the büyük başağa and the musicians play the “Arap Verme Havası.” At this point, the yarens drink two cups of coffee.

Then four or five yarens with good voices get up and go before the büyük başağa. The yaren who will give up the “Arab” kneels. In front of him is a tray with the zilli maşa and tef on it. At this point the “Giving of the Arab” song is sung. As the yarens sing this song, the tray is given to the new hosts. Another song is sung which contains wish for blessings upon the sohbet.

Dances at the yaren sohbet: The dancing is an important part of the sohbets; they help the winter nights go by pleasantly. From this standpoint, one of the things that makes the yaren meetings attractive is the dancing. For this reason, the yaren sohbets are characterized as an institution of entertainment and dancing. Repeated and danced for years, the yaren dances have preserved their traditional characteristics, and occur as dances specifically associated with these meetings.

A great variety of dances are performed at the yaren. These can be divided into two groups, folk dances and entertainment dances. One group, known as yelpük, are dances performed with close attention to the rhythm of the instrumental accompaniment. The other dances feature skill, deftness and cleverness. Dances such as Tura, Yüzük and Şıldırşıp are very often danced at the sohbets. During these dances, the başağa generally sits cross legged. In other words, the requirement to site for hours in the same position no longer applies. The main dances performed at sohbets include the Yüzük, Tura, Yattı Kalktı, Samut and Helisa dances.


The sohbet is a moral and social gathering held without women or alcohol and within a strict discipline, which emphasizes manners and appropriate behavior. We know that Ahilik was a religious order based on Fütuvvet. It was a condition of every Ahi “his table, hand and door were open” (he was generous and welcoming), and the “eye, tongue and loins were closed” (he abstained from lust, gossip and sexual immorality). Inspired by these principles, participants in the sohbet worked to inspire good, brotherly thoughts in people, be generous and welcoming and live with good morals. Those who continued attending the sohbets were called yaran (friends). For a yaran, it was shameful to be drink, gamble, or chase after women.

Sohbets were institutions of good behavior, and fathers held them in high esteem for the training of their sons in good breeding and behavior. At the sohbets, unruly youths learned manners and propriety. This proverb is still repeated in Çankırı:

“The son learns the ways of the sohbet from his father,
The girl learns from her mother to set the table.”

The sohbet of Çankırı has a unique and original nature, separate from the Alevi-Bektashi Cem, the oturak of Konya, the cümbüş of Ankara or the other entertainment gatherings of Anatolia. It creates a variant of the typical Anaolian entertainment gatherings and adds unique variety to the gamut of these gatherings.

First and foremost, the Çankırı sohbets are held in a special room, which is planned according to traditional home architectural plans. The ceiling is decorated; the room is richly adorned. The particapants come to the sohbet clean and wearing their best clothes; every part of the room is beautiful and clean. To the left and right of the burning hearth, a few sevai-kutnu pillows are placed, here the başağas sit. The first to enter the room are the musicians. After they eat, the yarans begin to come, and they play the Çulhacıoğlu Peşrevi. The playing goes on for a considerable time. At the end of the seating ceremony, the saz begin playing in a particular makam. The folk songs sung at sohbet evenings include Ah Yine Akşam Oldu, Yüzüğümün Allı Pullu Taşı Var, Evlerimin önü Çepçevre Avlu, Aşkın Çakmağını Sineme Çaldım, Sabahın Seher Vaktinde Görebilsem Yarimi, Girdim Yarin Bahçesine and Kalk Gidelim Karataşa Yokuşa and others.

When the invited guests begin to arrive, the music changes according to the status of the guests. For example, it starts with a fasıl in Sabah or Hüseyni, and after a gazel sung by one who knows the tradition well, they sing in Divan, Koşma, Müstezat, Semai, Kerem and Kesik Kerem. The most interesing part of the sohbet is the “Giving of the Arab” procedure. In the sohbet, the “Arab” is the name given to the zilli maşa and the def. These remain throughout the week with whoever hosts the gathering. The çavuş stands in front with a candle on a tall candlestick. They come before the büyük başağa. The musical group, composed of a 12-string saz, a clarinet, a violin, a def, zilli maşa and wooden spoons, begins playing and singing a song that starts with the words:

Fakiri geldi meydana
Elinde gül dane dane
Yaran başı izin kime

Fakiri came to the center
Roses in his hand
Who does the yaran başı give his permission to?

The yarans come before the küçük başağa and sit in the order in which they will host the sohbet. Coffee comes; the candlestick is set in the middle. Then everyone sings together to the one who will take the “Arab:”

Hacı hacı, canım hacı
Başıdadır altın tacı
Sohbet tatlı sonu acı
Ağam afiyet olsun
Sohbetin mübarek olsun…

Hajji, hajji, my dear hajji
On your head, a golden crown
The conversation is sweet, its end is bitter
My lord to your health
May your sohbet be blessed

The coffee is held out to the new host, who is told, “drink, my lord,” but it is not given immediately. At last it is given. Songs are sung which contain the admonishments that the sohbet is heavy and difficult. Here it is advised that they pay attention to preparing excellent food. This is followed by another song admonishing them to take good care of the Arap. Coffees are drunk, and the new host is advised with sayings such as

Git çarşıya yağın acısın alma
Akşama kadayıf geceye helva….

Go to the market, don’t by bitter oil
For kadayıf in the evening, and halvah at night,

Lastly, the old and new hosts are made to dance, following which all the guests, including the musicians, get up and leave. Later, if there is someone who has committed an offense, courts are held for the guilty. After the courts, everyone drinks a cup of coffee. If they want, they may dance “helisa.” They get up and form a circle, and holding little fingers, they sing toghether:

İstanbul’da bir kuyu var
Şekerden tatlı suyu var
Her güzelin bir huyu var
Helisa helal olsun
Yansa yıkılsa
Koynuma girse
Şeftali verse Helisa.

In Istanbul there is a well
Its water is sweeter than sugar
Every beauty has her moods
Helisa, bravo
Let her heart burn
Let her come into my arms
Let me touch her breasts

Other verses follow, and when the words “eğilin kavaklar” (bend down, poplars) come, everyone bows down; and upon the words “doğrulun sunalar” (stand up straight), they all stand up again. At the words “süzülün çengiler” (flirt, dancing girls), they put their hands in the air and turn, and the sohbet comes to a close. Until the recent past in Çankırı, music and dancing were not only performed at sohbets and weddings. During the summer people would make excursions to such places as the Karaköprü gardens, Feslikan, Kale, Taşmescit Kurşana, Kurban hill, Kayabaşı and Savakbaşı, sing old songs and dance the local dances.

Here it was not only the young men who would go to these places and sing koşma and bozlak; women also went to the gardens. Dressed in their finest clothes and jewelry, young women and brides would join hands, form a circle and dance “Helisa.” Some would also hire a woman to dance.


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