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29 May 2009

2856) Mahcubi Baba, A Poet Of Armenian Extraction, And His Islamic Views In His Poems

Assoc Prof Dr. Muhittin ELİAÇIK
Kırıkkale University Faculty of Arts and Science Dept. of Turkish Language and Literature / Kırıkkale


Armenians came under the rule of the Seljuks in 1071 and from then on lived in peace under Turkish rule thanks to the sense of justice and tolerance of the Turks towards non-Muslims. The two nations influenced each other deeply and mutually though one was the ruler and Muslim and the other the subject and Christian. However, the Turks had a more and stronger impact on the Armenians allegedly due to the advantage of a higher population and political force. Neither the Seljuks nor the Ottomans ever forced Armenians to convert to Islam since Islamicization was never their policy. . .

Fatih Sultan Mehmed (Muhammad II) founded the Armenian Patriarchate in 1461 and invited Armenian immigrants to his country. Yavuz Sultan Selim (Selim I) invited Armenian artists from Tabriz. Shah Abbas, King of Safavids, established the city “Yeni Culfa” for Armenians. The Armenians reached a high standard of living and gained considerable economic power in the Ottoman lands and Iran. This was indirectly admitted, even in the prejudiced book Histoire Du Peuple Arménien (History of the Armenian People) by De Morgan.1 In

1 Jacques de Morgan, Histoire Du Peuple Arménien, Paris 1919, p. 390.

the history of the Ottoman Empire, there were 29 pashas of Armenian extraction, 33 deputies, 7 ambassadors, 11 diplomats, 11 professors, and 41 senior officers. Furthermore, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were called the “Loyal Nation” Considering this fact, it can be said that Armenians were always valued in the Ottoman Empire.

From the 13th to the 14th centuries, the Armenians under Turkish rule increasingly adopted Turkish traditions and culture except for religious beliefs. During the reign of Mahmud II, some Armenians found very important positions in the Palace (i.e., the Ottoman government) and adopted a Turkish way of life. Moltke, who was traveling around Anatolia at the time, thought that these people were Christian Turks.2 Both nations always lived in harmony and created a common language, culture, and literature. This fact can be demonstrated easily if the literary works of the period are studied carefully.3 These two nations had different languages, cultures, and religions but lived in the same country, the same towns, in the same neighbourhoods, and even in the same houses, in peace and harmony for centuries. This is a rare example in history.

Having lived in the same country and shared the same destiny with Turks from 1071, Armenians created literary works of the same style, attitude and spirit. Between the 14th and 19th centuries, many Armenian works were written in Turkish using the Armenian alphabet, and in many churches the sermons were in Turkish, as well. Between 1727 and 1968 in fifty cities and more than 250 printing houses, many Turkish books using the Armenian alphabet were printed.4 So, it is not surprising that the two languages and cultures influenced each other profoundly and many traditions, proverbs, words, idioms, and literary styles were taken and mutually used.5 Thus, it is evident that these two nations were very closely interconnected.

2 Fuad Köprülü, The Studies of Literature, Ankara 1986, p.259.
3 Kevork Pamukciyan, Turkish texts in Armenian Alphabet, Puplisher of Aras, İstanbul 2002.
4 Kevork Pamukciyan, said work, p.XVII.
5 Bedros Keresteciyan, Some matters for Dictionary of derivation of Turkish(French), London 1912.


Armenians first familiarized themselves with Turkish aşık poetry in the 15th and 16th centuries and then started producing their own aşugs (minstrels) using Turkish in their poems and songs. These aşugs also wrote and sang in their own language using the same style and tone as the Turkish poetry. So, in a way, Armenians served the Turkish culture. The word aşık became aşug in the Armenian language. It is also admitted by Armenian researchers that Turkish literature had a great influence on Armenian literature and that there is a close link between the Turkish aşıks and Armenian aşugs.6 Armenian poets and folk singers performed with a saz (a stringed instrument) in wedding and funeral ceremonies, festivals, and feasts.

Some Armenian aşugs were blind by birth and many were illiterate. They mostly sang and played about religious matters and were seen as holy people. They learned the profession from their masters, never married and led a wandering life. Some of them wrote instructive poems and hymns about Armenian saints. They moved from one place to another with their sazes and attended weddings and funerals without invitations They took pleasure in this casual way of life, wandering from this place to that place and thus disseminating their works. They also found new ideas for new poems and songs in this way.


There were many Armenian aşugs using Turkish masterfully in their poems and songs and most of them were of Alevi-Bektashi faith because being an aşug involved being a Bektashi. The Bektashi faith influenced many Christians in Anatolia and the Balkans to convert to Islam and adopt the Turkish way of life. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, some of the Armenian aşugs were Nahapet Kuçak, Kul Artunî, Tatos, Hayâtî, Çubukoğlu, Abgar, Sefanî, Hovnatan, Nağaşî, Kul Arzunî, Miran, Keşişoğlu, Sayat Nova, Şamçı Melkan, Kiçik Oğlan, Bağdasar, Dibir, Bağıoğlu, Miskin Bürcü, and Abdin Oğlan. Among the Armenian aşugs and poets who used Turkish in their works were Sarkis Zeki, 6 Arşak Çobanyan, Les Trouveres Armeniens, İstanbul 1906.

Harbî, Mahcûbî, Nakabî, Hiranî, Aşık Vartan, Civan Ağa, and Coşkunî. There were actually over 50 Armenian aşıks whose poems were never published in periodicals and magazines and thus none of them are currently available.7

One of the Armenian aşugs using Turkish expertly in his poems and songs was Mahcubi Baba, who lived in Kayseri. He had all the characteristics of a classical Armenian aşug mentioned above. We have two of his poems, which were published in a literary magazine published by a man named Arifi. One of these poems is about his love for the Prophet Mohammad and the other is a moralistic one. It is easily seen from his life story that he was a sincere Bektashi dervish. Although it is difficult to judge his power of poetry since we have only two of his poems at hand, we can still say that he was perhaps not a first class poet like Aşık Ömer, Dertli or Emrah, but he was very good at using Turkish and reflecting the feelings, thoughts, and understanding of his people.

His Armenian name was Ohannes. Originally from Tiflis, he lived in a neighbourhood called Süleymaniye in Kayseri. He was born in 1848. He didn’t go to school so he was illiterate.8 He was apprenticed with a former poet of Bektashi faith who saw his music ability. Studying with his master for a long time, he became a Bektashi as well. Within a short time he became well-known and travelled to many towns in Anatolia and Rumeli. He also went to Tiflis. Arifi says Mahcubi could play any kind of saz and he was especially talented at playing the violin. He had a bass resonant voice and recited lyrics beautifully. He became ill and died in 1913 in Kayseri when he was 65. It is said that Mahcubi had a poem about the Prophet İsmail and he used to weep whenever he recited this poem. It is also said that he knew all the poems by Fuzuli by heart. In one of his two poems we have, he praises the prophet Mohammad saying Mohammad was the leader of religion, a source of pride for

7 Ramazanov Y., Azerbaycan Dilinde Yazıb Yaradan Ermeni Âşıkları, Bakü 1977, p.262.
8 Sadeddin Nüzhet, say in his article “The Poets of Armenian who’s under the influence of Turkish Literature”: actual name of Mahcûbî is Kirkor. (Milli Mecmûa number. 119 pp. 68-69, İstanbul 1 Teşrîn-i Sânî 1930.

the other prophets, and beloved of the God. Here is what else he says briefly in this poem:

The sun, the earth, and the moon were all created for the sake of him. He was sent by the Almighty as the evidence of 18 thousand different worlds. No matter what and who we are, we all need his kindness. The whole world witnessed his miracles with great amazement and the whole universe bowed before him. The moon showed respect to him by dividing itself into two. Nobody can find the way to God without him. Oh Mohammad! Please intercede with God for Mahcubi so that he can be saved.

In the other poem, he advises his listeners:

Never drink water from ordinary fountains. If you see a closed twowinged door, do not pass through. One who is in love never blocks the way to the love….Mahcubi’s heart is broken and he is faithful to Hak [God], who is the only one that can repair this broken heart.


Armenians lived in peace and tranquillity together with the Turks from centuries and gradually adopted a Turkish lifestyle and traditions except for their religious beliefs. The fact that there were many Armenian poets and aşugs (minstrels) who wrote and sang in Turkish is a indication of this situation. Mahcubi Baba, who lived in Kayseri, was one of the Armenian aşugs that used Turkish successful in his poems and songs. Like the other Armenian poets, he was also a poet of the Alevi-Bektashi belief. In his two poems that we have at hand, he explain ethical elements in one poem and in the other praise for the Prophet Mohammed.


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