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Ashik Ağalar Mikayılov playing the saz
Ashugh Jivani (center, playing the kamani) with instrumentalists
Soviet stamp from 1962 devoted to Sayat-Nova's 250 anniversary.

An ashik (Azerbaijani: aşıq, azb:آشؽق; Turkish: âşık; —all from Azerbaijani: ) or ashugh (Armenian: աշուղ; Georgian: აშუღი)[1]: 1365 [2][3] is traditionally a singer-poet and bard who accompanies his song—be it a dastan (traditional epic story, also known as hikaye) or a shorter original composition—with a long-necked lute (usually a bağlama or saz)[4]: 225  in Azerbaijani culture, including Turkish and South Azerbaijani[4] and non-Turkic cultures of South Caucasus (primarily Armenian and Georgian).[5]: 15–36 [6]: 47 [7][3] In Azerbaijan, the modern ashik is a professional musician who usually serves an apprenticeship, masters playing the bağlama, and builds up a varied but individual repertoire of Turkic folk songs.[8]

An ashik performance in Tabriz

The word ashiq (Arabic: عاشق, meaning "in love" or "lovelorn") is the nominative form of a noun derived from the word ishq (Arabic: عشق, "love"), which in turn may be related to the Avestan and Persian iš- ("to wish, desire, seek").[9] The term is synonymous with ozan [tr] in Turkish and Azerbaijani, which it superseded during the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries.[10]: 368 [11] Other alternatives include saz şair (meaning "saz poet") and halk şair ("folk poet"). In Armenian, the term gusan, which referred to creative and performing artists in public theaters of Parthia and ancient as well as medieval Armenia, is often used as a synonym. [5]: 20 [1]: 851–852 


An ashik performance during Nowruz in Baku
Ismail I (1487–1524)

The ashik tradition in Turkic cultures of Anatolia, Azerbaijan and Iran has its origin in the Shamanistic beliefs of ancient Turkic peoples.[12] The ancient ashiks were called by various names such as bakshy/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 defined 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,[13] 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 message. Thus, ashik literature developed alongside mystical literature and was refined starting since the time of Turkic Sufi Khoja Akhmet Yassawi in early twelfth century.[14]

The single most important event in the history of ashik 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 ashik .[15] Isma'il's praised playing Saz as a virtue in one of his renowned qauatrains;[16]

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.[17][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 ashiks 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 newfound unprecedented popularity and frequent concerts and performances in urban settings have resulted in rapid innovative developments aiming to enhance the urban-appealing aspects of ashik performances.

Ashugh music in Armenia

Main article: Music of Armenia § Gusan and ashugh art

Armenian ashugh school in Yerevan

A concise account of the ashik (called ashugh in Armenian) music and its development in Armenia is given in Garland Encyclopedia of World Music.[1]: 851–852  In Armenia, the ashugh are known since the 16th century onward, acting as the successors to the medieval gusan art. By far the most notable of the ashugh of all was Sayat Nova (1712–95), who honed the art of troubadour musicianship to crowning refinement.[18]

Ashik music in Iranian Azerbaijan

A portrait of Ashik Rasool Ghorbani [fa] taken in 1955.

During the Pahlavi era Ashiks frequently performed in coffee houses in all the major cities of east and west Azerbaijan in Iran. Tabriz was the eastern center for the ashiks and Urmia the western center. In Tabriz ashiks most often performed with two other musicians, a balaban player and a qaval player; in Urmia the ashik was always a solo performer.[19] After the Islamic revolution music was banned.{fact} Ten years later, ashik Rasool Ghorbani, 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 Rasool to perform in some European cities.[citation needed] This facilitated the emergence of the ashik music as the symbol of Azeri cultural identity.[citation needed]

In September 2009, Azerbaijan's ashik art was included into UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.[20]

The foundations of ashik art

A stamp of qavals

Ashik art combines poetic, musical and performance ability. Ashiks themselves describe the art as the unified duo of saz and söz (word).This duo is conspicuously featured in a popular composition by Səməd Vurğun:[21]

Binələri çadır çadır --- (The peaks rise up all around like tents)
Çox gəzmişəm özüm dağlar --- (I have wandered often in these mountains)
İlhamını səndən alıb --- (My saz and söz take inspiration)
Mənim sazım, sözüm dağlar. --- (From you, mountains.)

The following subsections provide more details about saz and söz.

Musical instruments

Bağlama (saz)

Mastering in playing saz is the essential requirement for an ashik. This instrument, a variant of which is known as Bağlama, is a stringed musical instrument and belongs to the family of long-necked lutes.[22] Often performances of ashiks are accompanied by an ensemble of balaban[23] and qaval performers. During Eurovision Song Contest 2012 all three instruments were symbolically played as a cultural symbol of the host country, Azerbaijan.

Poetry genres

The most spread poetry genres are gerayly, qoshma and tajnis.[24][25]

Ethical code of behaviour and attitude for ashiks

The defining characteristic of ashik profession is the ethical code of behaviour and attitude, which has been summarized by Aşiq Ələsgər in the following verses;[26][27]

Aşıq olub diyar-diyar gəzənin ----(To be a bard and wander far from home)
Əzəl başdan pürkəmalı gərəkdi --- (You knowledge and thinking head must have.)
Oturub durmaqda ədəbin bilə --- (How you are to behave, you too must know,)
Mə'rifət elmində dolu gərəkti --- (Politeness, erudition you must have.)
Xalqa həqiqətdən mətləb qandıra --- (He should be able to teach people the truth,)
Şeytanı öldürə, nəfsin yandıra --- (To kill evil within himself, refrain from ill emotions,)
El içinde pak otura pak dura --- (He should socialize virtuously)
Dalısınca xoş sedalı gərəkdi --- (Then people will think highly of him)
Danışdığı sözün qiymətin bilə --- (He should know the weight of his words,)
Kəlməsindən ləl'i-gövhər tokülə --- (He should be brilliant in speech,)
Məcazi danışa, məcazi gülə --- (He should speak figuratively,)
Tamam sözü müəmmalı gərəkdi --- (And be a politician in discourse.)
Arif ola, eyham ilə söz qana --- (Be quick to understand a hint, howe'er,)
Naməhrəmdən şərm eyleyə, utana --- (Of strangers you should, as a rule, beware,)
Saat kimi meyli Haqq'a dolana --- (And like a clock advance to what is fair.)
Doğru qəlbi, doğru yolu gərəkdi --- (True heart and word of honour you must have.)
Ələsgər haqq sözün isbatın verə --- (Ələsgər will prove his assertions,)
Əməlin mələklər yaza dəftərə --- (Angels will record his deeds,)
Her yanı istese baxanda göre --- (Your glance should be both resolute and pure,)
Teriqetde bu sevdalı gerekdi --- (You must devote himself to righteous path.)

Ashik stories (dastan)

Stamp featuring epic poem "Koroglu", from the series Epic poems of USSR nations, 1989

İlhan Başgöz [tr] was the first to introduce the word hikaye into the academic literature to describe ashik stories.[28] 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.[29]

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 some have survived to our times. The main themes of the most ashik stories are worldly love or epics of wars and battles or both.

In the following we present a brief list of the most famous hikayes:[30]

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:[35]

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 Shik
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

20th century

Hep sen mi ağladın hep sen mi yandın, --- (Did you cry all the time, did you burn all the time?)
Ben de gülemedim yalan dünyada --- (I couldn't smile too in untrue world)
Sen beni gönlümce mutlu mu sandın --- (Did you think I was happy with my heart)
Ömrümü boş yere çalan dünyada. --- (In the world which stole my life in vain")

İşte gidiyorum çeşm-i siyahım --- (That's it, I go my black eyed)
Önümüze dağlar sıralansa da --- (Despite mountains ranked before us)
Sermayem derdimdir servetim ahım --- (My capital is my sorrow, my wealth is my trouble)
Karardıkça bahtım karalansa da --- (Withal my blacken fortune darkened")

Dost dost diye nicesine sarıldım --- (I expected for many people to be real friends)
Benim sâdık yârim kara topraktır --- (My faithful beloved is black soil)
Beyhude dolandım boşa yoruldum --- (I wandered around with no end, I got tired for nothing)
Benim sâdık yârim kara topraktır --- (My faithful beloved is black soil")

19th century

An Azerbaijani postal stamp featuring Ashig Alasgar

Durum dolanım başına, --- (Let me encircle you with love,)
Qaşı, gözü qara, Ceyran! --- (Your black eyes and eyebrows, Jeyran.)
Həsrətindən xəstə düşdüm, --- (I have fallen into the flames of longing,)
Eylə dərdə çara, Ceyran! --- (Help me to recover from this pain, Jeyran".)

An Armenian postal stamp featuring ashugh Jivani

THE mournful and unhappy days, like winter, come and go.
We should not be discouraged, they will end, they come and go.
Our bitter griefs and sorrows do not tarry with us long;
Like customers arrayed in line, they come, and then they go. ...

18th century

17th century

incecikten bir kar yağar, --- (With its tender flakes, snow flutters about,)
Tozar Elif, Elif deyi... --- (Keeps falling, calling out "Elif… Elif…”)
Deli gönül abdal olmuş, --- (This frenzied heart of mine wanders about)
Gezer Elif, Elif deyi... --- (Like minstrels, calling out "Elif… Elif…”)

Ay həzarət, bir zamana gəlibdir, --- (Oh brothers and sisters, what have we come to:)
Ala qarğa şux tərlanı bəyənməz --- (The jay hates the eagle as never before.)

Başına bir hal gelirse canım, --- If something happens to you,
Dağlara gel dağlara, --- Come to the mountains,
Seni saklar vermez ele canım, --- She will embrace you as her own,
Seni saklar vermez ele. --- Never hands you in to the strangers.

16th century

Khatai, he produced a large volume of lyric poetry in Azerbaijani language. Khatai's poetry is graceful and polished and his language closely approaches to folk idiom:[61]

Winter's shaken off, and spring arrives! --- Rosebuds waken, garden plot revives,
Birds all trill in aching harmony,--- Love's a thrilling flame, disturbing me.
Earth is dressed in furry, downy green, --- Whispers press the silence once serene, .......

Dostun en güzeli bahçesine bir hoyrat girmiş, --- (The rough man entered the lover's garden)
Korudur hey benli dilber korudur --- (It is woods now, my beautiful one, it is woods,)
Gülünü dererken dalını kırmış --- (Gathering roses, he has broken their stems)
Kurudur hey benli dilber kurudur --- (They are dry now, my beautiful one, they are dry)

Başina mən dönüm ala göz Pəri, --- (O my dearest, my love, my beautiful green-eyed Pari)
Adətdir dərələr yaz bənəvşəni. --- (Custom bids us pluck violets when spring days begin)
Ağ nazik əlinən dər dəstə bağla, --- (With your tender white hand gather a nosegay,)
Tər buxaq altinə düz bənəvşəni... --- (Pin it under your dainty chin.....)

15th century

kaplu kaplu bağalar kanatlanmiş uçmağa.. ---- The turturturtles have taken wings to fly ...

13th century

A Turkish banknote (2009) with Yunus Emre's image

İsmi sübhan virdin mi var? --- (is The Father's name your mantra?)
Bahçelerde yurdun mu var? --- (are those gardens your home?)
Bencileyin derdin mi var? --- (is your plight just as mine?)
Garip garip ötme bülbül --- (don't sing in sorrow nightingale)

See also

Notes and references

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  2. ^ Russell, James R. (2018). "43. From Parthia to Robin Hood: The Epic of the Blind Man's Son". In DiTommaso, Lorenzo; Henze, Matthias; Adler, William (eds.). The Embroidered Bible: Studies in Biblical Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha in Honour of Michael E. Stone. Leiden: Brill. pp. 878–898. ISBN 9789004355880. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  3. ^ a b Ziegler, Susanne (1997). "East Meets West - Urban Musical Styles in Georgia". In Stockmann, Doris; Koudal, Henrik Jens (eds.). Historical Studies on Folk and Traditional Music: ICTM Study Group on Historical Sources of Folk Music, Conference Report, Copenhagen, 24–28 April 1995. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. pp. 159–161. ISBN 8772894415.
  4. ^ a b Shidfar, Farhad (5 February 2019). "Azerbaijani Ashiq Saz in West and East Azerbaijan Provinces of Iran". In Özdemir, Ulas; Hamelink, Wendelmoet; Greve, Martin (eds.). Diversity and Contact Among Singer-Poet Traditions in Eastern Anatolia. Ergon Verlag. ISBN 978-3956504815.
  5. ^ a b Yang, Xi (5 February 2019). "History and Organization of the Anatolian Ašuł/Âşık/Aşıq Bardic Traditions". In Özdemir, Ulas; Hamelink, Wendelmoet; Greve, Martin (eds.). Diversity and Contact Among Singer-Poet Traditions in Eastern Anatolia. Ergon Verlag. ISBN 978-3956504815.
  6. ^ Kardaş, Canser (5 February 2019). "The Legacy of Sounds in Turkey: Âşıks and Dengbêjs". In Özdemir, Ulas; Hamelink, Wendelmoet; Greve, Martin (eds.). Diversity and Contact Among Singer-Poet Traditions in Eastern Anatolia. Ergon Verlag. ISBN 978-3956504815.
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Further reading