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The Minstrelsy tradition is not only the cultural memory of Anatolia, but it is also an important expression of its cultural diversity and richness. It is a multi-faceted art that includes poetic, musical and narrative expressions filtered and shaped through centuries of experience. The most important characteristic of the minstrelsy tradition with its unique performance and convention is its appeal to broad segments of society because it reflects the lifestyles, worldviews, ethics and aesthetic values of the age.
Artists who can recite poetry in accordance with tradition, engage in verbal duels, tell stories and generally play the saz (Turkish stringed instruments) to accompany their performance are known as aşık (minstrel), and this type of singing is called aşıklık-aşıklama (minstrelsy). Representatives of this art form are trained by working with master minstrels as an apprentice for many years. Minstrels have, with both poetic and poetic-prose works, created their own unique style, which in literature is called the minstrel style.
There are different theories about the origin of the minstrel tradition, but the generally accepted view is that minstrelsy is based on the Turkish epic narrative tradition known as bardshaman literature and that this tradition was shaped by the Sufi doctrine that arose after the Turks accepted Islam and by Seljuk and Ottoman lifestyles and orthodoxy.
Minstrels sing their own lyrics or those of their masters praising beauty and pointing out pain in dramatic language using local melodies played on the saz. The poems and ballads sung by minstrels talk about the longing for lovers, divine love, tales of heroism and social problems of the time. The world view of the Anatolian people as well as their moral and aesthetic sense is reflected in the poems of the minstrels.
Minstrel repertoires are associated with different characteristics and different names depending on the region or area. The primary forms found in the Minstrel repertoire are: Ağıt, Başayak, Destan, Divan, Lebdeğmez, Duvak kapma, Geraylı, Güzelleme, Hiciv,Herbe zorba, Hurufat, Kalenderi, Kıta, Koçaklama, Koşma, Muamma, Muhammes, Satranç, Selis, Semai, Tekellüm (or tekerleme), Taşlama, Tecnis, Üstadname, Varsağı, Vezn-i aher, Vücudname, Yanıltma and Yıldız.
The most well-known examples of the minstrel repertoire are repartee and lips parted. Repartee (atışma) is a type of competition in which at least two minstrels come together before an audience and sing together or try to defeat one another with their lyrics. Lips parted (lebdeğmez), on the other hand, is a type of repartee in which the minstrels try to demonstrate their mastery in terms of their skill with words. This form requires that minstrels put a pin between their lips so that they are forced to recite their poetry without using labial or dental-labial sounds such as b, p, m, f and v.
Although the minstrel’s art varies depending on the region, they conform to a certain sequence called the aşık fasılları (minstrel segments). The greeting is the introductory segment where minstrels greet the audience with lyrics based on rhymes such as “hoşgeldiniz”, “merhaba”, “safa geldiniz”. Reminder is the segment where lyrics from master minstrels are sung. Discussion is the most comprehensive segment of the performance and requires the most skill; it is generally done with two minstrels. In this segment, the minstrels attempt to demonstrate their superiority by displaying their skill in a competition that consists of satirizing one another. The master-apprentice relationship which plays such a significant role in the minstrelsy tradition serves as a bridge that transmits knowledge, etiquette and experience between minstrels from the past up to the present. Karacaoğlan, Köroğlu, Kazak Abdal, Pir Sultan Abdal, Ercişli Emrah, Gevheri, Âşık Ömer, Kul Himmet, Dadaloğlu, Dertli, Ruhsati, Bayburtlu Zihni, Âşık Şenlik, Âşık Sümmani, Âşık Mahsuni Şerif, Âşık Veysel, Davut Sulari, Âşık Murat Çobanoğlu, Âşık Yaşar Reyhani and Âşık Muharrem Ertaş are recognized as the leading representatives of this tradition. The fact that public spaces such as streets, boulevards and schools have been named after these minstrels can be seen as an indicator of the value placed on this tradition by the society. Poems and stories about the minstrel tradition transferred from generation to generation by the oral narrative tradition have survived to this day. Today’s minstrels generally performed their arts in minstrel coffee houses in Central and Eastern Anatolia where the tradition is still alive and well. New venues for performance outside of the minstrel coffee houses are primarily Minstrel Festivals organized by civil society organizations, especially in the larger cities, as well as festivals organized by local administrations. In order to ensure that the tradition is viable in the future, 834 minstrels were registered in the Living Human Poets database, which was created within the Ministry of Culture in 1986 in order to guarantee the future viability of the tradition.
The Symposium of Intangible Cultural Heritage, Living Minstrel Art was held November 29-30, 2007 in cooperation with the Gazi University Turkish Folklore Research and Application Center, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism Directorate General of Research and Training, and the Turkish National Commission for UNESCO.
The CD entitled Desire and Companion (Arzu ile Kamber) by Muharrem Ertaş, an important representative of the minstrel tradition, was released by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2010.
In order to transmit the tradition to future generations, the Minstrel Cultural Center was founded in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Kars Municipality as part of the Alliances for Cultural Tourism in Eastern Anatolia UN Joint Program, in 2011 in the city of Kars, one of the Turkish regions where the tradition of minstrelsy is most widely practiced. A book and CD entitled Folktales from the Minstrels was also published.
In 2010, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism proclaimed Minstrel Şeref Taşlıova, who passed away in 2014 and Neşet Ertaş, who passed away in 2012, to be "Living Human Treasures".
The Minstrelsy Tradition was registered on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.
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