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A stamp of Qavals
An ashik performance in Tabriz
Armenian ashugh school in Yerevan
A Turkish banknote (2009) with Yunus Emre's image
The king ashik Ismail I (1487–1524)
Soviet stamp from 1962 devoted to Sayat-Nova's 250 anniversary.
An Armenian postal stamp featuring ashik Jivani
Famous Azerbaijani ashik Ashig Alasgar
A contemporary Asik, Çəngiz Mehdipor.
An ashik performance during Nowruz in Baku
Stamp featuring Azerbaijan epic poem "Koroglu", from the series Epic poems of USSR nations, 1989

An ashik (Azerbaijani: aşıq, Turkish: aşık, Persian: عاشیق‎, Armenian: Աշուղ, ashugh, Georgian: აშუღი, English: ashughi, Greek: ασίκης) is a mystic troubadour or travelling bard, in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, and Iran, who sings and plays the saz, a form of lute. Ashiks' songs are semi-improvised around common bases. The word ashik derives from the Arabic word asheq (عاشق), and means the "one who is in love." The Turkish term that ashik superseded was ozan.1 In the early armies of the Turks, as far back as that of Attila, the ruler was invariably accompanied by an ozan. The heroic poems, which they recited to the accompaniment of the kopuz, flattered the sensibilities of an entire people.2

In September 2009, Azerbaijan’s ashik art was included into UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.3


The ashik tradition in Turkic cultures of Anatolia, Azerbaijan and Iran has its origin in the Shamanistic beliefs of ancient Turkic peoples.45 The ancient ashiks were called by various names such as bakhshi (Baxşı), dede (dədə), and uzan or ozan. Among their various roles, they played a major part in perpetuation of oral tradition, promotion of communal value system and traditional culture of their people. These wandering bards or troubadours are part of current rural and folk culture of Azerbaijan, and Iranian Azerbaijan, Turkey, the Turkmen Sahra (Iran) and Turkmenistan, where they are called bakshy. Thus, ashik, in traditional sense, may be defied as travelling bards who sang and played saz, an eight or ten string plucking instrument in the form of a long necked lute.

Judging based on the Turkic epic Dede Korkut,6 the roots of ashiks can be traced back to at least the 7th century, during the heroic age of the Oghuz Turks. This nomadic tribe journeyed westwards through Central Asia from the 9th century onward and settled in present Turkey, Azerbaijan Republic and North-west areas of Iran. Naturally, their music was evolved in the course of the grand migration and ensuing feuds with the original inhabitants the acquired lands. An important component of this cultural evolution was that the Turks embraced Islam within a short time and of their own free will. Muslim Turk dervishes, desiring to spread the religion among their brothers who had not yet entered the Islamic fold, moved among the nomadic Turks. They choose the folk language and its associate musical form as an appropriate medium for effective transmission of their massage. Thus, ashik literature developed alongside mystical literature and was refined starting since the time of Turkic Sufi Khoja Akhmet Yassawi in early twelfth century.7

The single most important event in the history of ashugh music was the ascent to the throne of Shah Isma'il (1487–1524), the founder of the Safavid dynasty. He was a prominent ruler-poet and has, apart from his diwan compiled a mathnawi called Deh-name, consisting of some eulogies of Ali, the fourth Caliph of early Islam. He used the pen-name Khata'i and, in ashik tradition, is considered as an amateur ashugh.8 Isma'il's praised playing Saz as a virtue in one of his renowned qauatrains;9

Azeri English
Bu gün ələ almaz oldum mən sazım Today, I embraced my Saz
Ərşə dirək-dirək çıxar mənim avazım My song is being echoed by heavens
Dörd iş vardır hər qarındaşa lazım: Four things are required for the life:
Bir elm, bir kəlam, bir nəfəs, bir saz. Conscience, speech, respiration, and Saz.

According to Köprülü’s studies, the term ashik was used instead of ozan in Azerbaijan and in areas of Anatolia after the 15th century.10 After the demise of Safavid dynasty in Iran, Turkish culture could not sustain its early development among the elites. Instead, there was a surge in the development of verse-folk stories, mainly intended for performance by ashughs in weddings. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the governments of new republics in Caucasus region and Central Asia sought their identity in traditional cultures of their societies. This elevated the status of ashugs as the guardians of national culture. The new found unprecedented popularity and frequent concerts and performances in urban settings have resulted in rapid innovative developments aiming to enhance the urban-appealing aspects of ashug performances.

Ashug music in Armenia

A concise account of the ashugh music and its development in Armenia is given in Garland Encyclopedia of World Music.11 In Armenia, ashughs are known since the 16th century onward. By far the most notable of the ashughs was Sayat Nova (1712–95), who honed the art of troubadour musicianship to crowning refinement.12

Revival of ashug music in Iranian Azerbaijan

Pahlavi era was the darkest period for Azerbaijani literature. The education and publication in Azerbaijani language was banned and writers of Azerbaijan, had to publish their works in Farsi language. However, ashug music was tolerated. Ashughs frequently performed in coffee houses in all the major cities of east and west Azerbaijan in Iran. Tabriz was the eastern centre for the ashughs and Urmia the western centre. In Tabriz ashughs most often performed with two other musicians, a Balaban player and a Qaval player; in Urmia the ashugh was always a solo performer.13 After the Islamic revolution music was banned. Ten years later, ashugh Rəsol Qorbani, who had been forced to make a living as a travelling salesman, aspired to return to the glorious days of fame and leisure. He started composing songs with religious and revolutionary themes. The government, realizing the propaganda potential of these songs, allowed their broadcast in national radio and sent Rəsol to perform in some European cities. This facilitated the emergence of the ashug music as the symbol of Azeri cultural identity.

The defining characteristic of ashiks

The defining characteristic of ashik profession is the ethical code of behaviour and attitude, which as been summarized by Aşiq Ələsgər in the following verses;14

Azeri English
Aşıq olub diyar-diyar gezenin To become and ashik and travel the countries,
Ezel başdan pürkamalı gerekdi One should have comprehensive knowledge,
Oturub durmaqda edebin bile One should be good in one's way of behaving,
Me'rifet elminde dolu gerekti And one should have civility and politeness.
Halqa heqiqetden metleb qandıra He should be able to teach people the truth,
Şeytanı öldüre, nefsin yandıra To kill evil within himself, refrain from ill emotions,
El içinde pak otura, pak dura He should do favours, good deeds in order to,
Dalısınca xoş sedalı gerekdi People to think highly of him.
Danışdığı sözün qiymetin bile He should know the weight of his words,
Kermesinden lel'i-gövher toküle He should be brilliant in speech,
Mecazi danışa, mecazi güle He should speak figuratively,
Tamam sözü müemmalı gerekdi And be a politician in discourse.
Arif ola, eyham ile söz qana He should be wise and understand unspoken words,
Namehremden şerm eyleye, utana He should be modest in behaviour,
Saat kimi meyli Haqq'a dolana He should tend to mysticism,
Doğru qelbi, doğru yolu gerekdi And have a good heart and follow the path to salvation.
Elesger haqq sözün isbatın vere Ələsgər will prove his assertions,
Emelin melekler yaza deftere Angels will record his deeds,
Her yanı istese baxanda göre He will have a third eye,
Teriqetde bu sevdalı gerekdi He will devote himself to righteous path.

Ashik stories (hikaye)

İlhan Başgöz was the first to introduce the word hikaye into the academic literature to describe ashik stories.15 According to Başgöz, hikaye cannot properly be included in any of the folk narrative classification systems presently used by Western scholars. Though prose narrative is dominant in a hikaye, it also includes several folk songs. These songs, which represent the major part of Turkish folk music repertory, may number more than one hundred in a single hekaye, each having three, five or more stanzas. 16

As the art of ashik is based on oral tradition, the number of ashik stories can be as many as the ashiks themselves. Throughout the centuries of this tradition, many interesting stories and epics have thrived, and these are the ones who handed down. The main themes of the most ashik stories are worldly love or epics of wars and battles or both. Interestingly, in stark contrast to the conservative medium of Islamic societies where most stories take place, the heroin's rule is always as important as the hero's. In contrast to the doctrine of Islam, there in no objection to the heroin public singing.

In the following we present a brief list of the most famous hikayes:17

  • Shah Ismail, the founder of the Safavid empire, is the protagonist of a major hikaye. Despite the apparent basis in history, Shah Ismail's hikaye demonstrates a remarkable transformative ability. Feared as a ruthless despot during his lifetime, Shah Ismail becomes a poetic maestro in the hikaye, with his sword replaced by his saz, which is the weapon of choice for Shah Ismail's new persona of folk hero.18
  • The Warrior of The North. A Romantic Action Epic about bard named ashik in Constantinople in the 16th Century where he faces political and military problems and saves many people. In the end, he marries his soul mate, Nuur, but dies the same day in an attempt to save her from Hardun The Evil.
  • The Epic of Köroğlu is one of the most widespread of the Turkic hikayes. It is shared not only by nearly all Turkic peoples, but also by some non-Turkic neighboring communities, such as the Armenians, Georgians, Kurds, Tajiks, and Afghans. Although the hikaye's path of transmission is not yet fully understood, most researchers agree that it originated in the south Caucasus region, most likely Azerbaijan.19 In the Azeri version, the epic combines the occasional romance with Robin Hood-like chivalry. Köroğlu, is himself an ashik, who punctuates the third-person narratives of his adventures by breaking into verse: this is Köroğlu. This popular story has spread from Anatolia to the countries of Central Asia somehow changing its character and content.20 Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov has created an opera by this name, using the ashik stories and masterfully combined some ashik music with this major classical work.
  • Ashiq Qərib, Azeri epic, made famous by Mikhail Lermontov, is another major story of a wandering ashik who began his journeys with worldly love and attains wisdom by traveling and learning then achieving sainthood. The story of Ashiq Qərib has been the main feature of a movie with the same name by director and producer Sergei Parajanov.21 In early 1980s Aşıq Kəmandar narrated and sang the story in a one hour long TV program, the cosset record of which was widely distributed in Iranian Azerbaijan and had a key impact on the revival of ashug music.
  • Kerem ile Aslı is the story of a Muslim prince Kərəm and a Christian girl Əslı who fall in love despite major opposition by their parents and community. The story has a tragic ending; Kərəm catches fire and Əslı, in an attempt to extinguish the fire, mistakenly pours oil on him. The song she sings in despair is known as "Yaniq Kərəm".22
  • Aşıq Valeh is the story of a debate between Aşıq Valeh23 (1729–1822) and Aşıq Zərniyar. Forty ashiks have already lost the debate to Aşıq Zərniyar and have been imprisoned. Valeh, however, wins the debate, frees the jailed ashiks and marries Zərniyar.

Verbal dueling (deyişmə)

In order to stay in the profession and defend their reputation ashiks used to challenge each other by indulging in verbal duelings, which were held in public places. In its simplest form one ashik would recite a riddle by singing and the other had to respond by means of improvisation to the verses resembling riddles in form. Here is an example:24

The first ashik The second ashik
Tell me what falls to the ground from the sky? Rain falls down to the ground from the sky
Who calms down sooner of all? A child calms down sooner of all.
What is passed from hand to hand? Money is passed from hand to hand
The second ashik The first ashik
What remains dry in water? Light does not become wet in water
Guess what does not become dirty in the ground? Only stones at the pier remain clean.
Tell me the name of the bird living alone in the nest The name of the bird living in its nest in loneliness is heart.

Famous ashiks

21st century

  • changiz mehdipour (چنگیز مهدی‌پور), born in Sheykh Hoseynlu, has significantly contributed to the revival and development of ashugh music. His book on the subject25 attempts to adapt the ashugh music to the artistic taste of the contemporary audience.
  • Samire Əliyeva, born in Baku (1981), is a popular professional ashik who teaches at the Azerbaijan State University of Culture and Art. She is committed to the survival of the ashik tradition.26
  • Zülfiyyə Ibadova, born in 1976, is a passionate and vibrant performer with a strong individual style. She has written a great deal of original music and lyrics, and likes combining the Saz with other instruments.26
  • Fəzail Miskinli, born in 1972, is a is a master Saz player. He teaches at the Azerbaijan State University of Culture and Art.27

20th century

19th century

18th century

17th century

16th century

Başina mən dönüm ala göz Pəri, --- My dear green-eyed Pari,

Adətdir dərələr yaz bənəvşəni. --- Already spring has come and it's time for picking violets.

Ağ nazik əlinən dər dəstə bağla, --- Gather a bunch with your fair skined hands,

Tər buxaq altinə düz bənəvşəni... --- And wear it around your soft chin....

13th century

  • Kaygusuz Abdal
  • Yunus Emre (1240–1321) was one of the first Turkish poets who wrote poems in his mother tongue rather than Farsi or Arabic, which were the writing medium of the era. Emre was not literally an ashik, but his undeniable influence on the evolution of ashik literature is being felt to the present times. 34

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Studies on the Soviet Union - 1971, Volume 11 - Page 71
  2. ^ Mehmed Fuad Koprulu, Early Mystics in Turkish Literature, 2006, Taylor & Francis, p.258
  3. ^ Azerbaijan’s ashug art included into UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. 1 October 2009
  4. ^ "ashik,shaman" - DASTAN GENRE IN CENTRAL ASIA; European University Institute, Florence, Italy (retrieved 10 August 2006).
  5. ^
  6. ^ G. Lewis (translator), The Book of Dede Korkut, Penguin Classics(1988)
  7. ^ AlMAD, Y. S. (2006). LITERARY INFLUENCE. Early Mystics in Turkish Literature. pp. lii–lvi. 
  8. ^ Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (Editor), Culture and Learning in Islam, 2003, p. 282
  9. ^ "SAZ". 
  10. ^ Köprülü, M.F. (1962). Türk Saz Şairleri I. Ankara: Güven Basımevi. p. 12. 
  11. ^ The Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume 2, 2013, pp:851-852
  12. ^ Rouben Paul Adalian, Historical Dictionary of Armenia, 2010, p.452.
  13. ^ Albright, C.F. "ʿĀŠEQ". 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Baṣgöz, I. (1967). Dream Motif in Turkish Folk Stories and Shamanistic Initiation. Asian Folklore Studies, 26(1), 1-18.
  16. ^ Basgoz, I. (1970). Turkish Hikaye-Telling Tradition in Azerbaijan, Iran. Journal of American Folklore, 83(330), 394.
  17. ^ Sabri Koz, M. "Comparative Bibliographic Notes on Karamanlidika Editions of Turkish Folk Stories". Harrassowitz Verlag. 
  18. ^ Gallagher, Amelia. "The Transformation of Shah Ismail Safevi in the Turkish Hikaye.". Journal of Folklore Research 46 (2): 173–196. 
  19. ^ [1] J. M. Wilks, The Persianization of Koroglu, Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 60,2001: 305-318
  20. ^ Colin P. Mitchell (Editor), New Perspectives on Safavid Iran: Empire and Society, 2011, pp:91-92
  21. ^ James Steffen, The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov, 2013, Chap. 8
  22. ^ BULUT. "The Role of Education as a Tool in Transmitting Cultural Stereotypes Words (Formal’s):The Case of “Kerem and Asli” Story)". International Journal of Humanities and Social Science. 
  23. ^ Azad Nabiyev, Azarbaycan xalq adabiyyati, 2006, Page 213
  24. ^ ÜSTÜNYER, Ýlyas (2009). "Tradition of the Ashugh Poetry and Ashughs in Georgia". IBSU Scientific Journal. 3 1: 137-149. 
  25. ^ "مجموعه كتاب مكتب قوپوز در زمینه موسیقی عاشیقی منتشر شد". 
  26. ^ a b Oldfield Senarslan, Anna. "It's time to drink blood like its Sherbet": Azerbaijani women ashiqs and the transformation of tradition.". Congrès des musiques dans le monde de l'islam. 
  27. ^ a b "ANTHOLOGY OF ASHIQ". 
  28. ^ "Ashugh Hoseyn Javan". 
  29. ^ [2] OZAN DÜNYASI, No 3 (10), 2012, pp 17-43
  30. ^ "Rasool, The prominent figure of Azeri music". 
  31. ^ "Ashik Rasool; the great artist". 
  32. ^ "Ashik Rasool was awarded for achievements". 
  33. ^ "Ashik Rasool's 80th birthday". 
  34. ^ AlMAD, Y. S. (2006). LITERARY INFLUENCE. Early Mystics in Turkish Literature. pp. 367–368. 

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