The Life | The Art | The Tradition
“I came to this world in three hundred and ten.”
Veysel Satiroglu was born in 1894 in Sivrialan Village of Sivas, District of Sarkisla. The story of how he was born is somehow similar to that of almost every child in Anatolian villages. But it is interesting and extraordinary for the ones to have a different point of view especially today. To tell the story, his mother Gulizar started having labor pains on her way to Ayipinar pastures nearby Sivrialan where she was going to milk the sheep, and she gave birth to Veysel just over there. She cut the umbilical cord herself, wrapped the newborn with a piece of clothing and went back to the village on foot.
The family of Veysel is called Satirogullari in this region. His father is a farmer named Ahmet and nicknamed Karaca – the roe. In times when Veysel was born, smallpox was prevailing all over Sivas. Before Veysel was born, two of his sisters died of smallpox.
In 1901 when he celebrated his 7th age, there occurred another smallpox outbreak in Sivas, and he got this disease as well. He tells us about those days as follows: “Before I got bedridden because of smallpox, my mother sewed me a nice dress. I wore that dress and went to Muhsine Karin to show her my new dress. She caressed me. That was a foggy day, and I slipped on the way back home. And I could not stand up again. I got smallpox… It was though. My left eye was pockmarked. And cataract developed in my right eye, I think because of being compelled too much in the absence of the left eye. Ever since that day, the world is a misery for me.”
After having slipped this way, a color penetrated into his memory: Red. Probably, he hurt his hand when he slipped and the wound bled. His mother Gulizar explains it as follows: “You know, he remembered only red among all the other colors. He slipped and fell before his eyes turned into his heart, I mean before he got smallpox. He saw blood. He remembered only the color of the blood. Red… He used to like and find the green with his hands!”
His right eye had the chance to see, he had the sight of light with his right eye. In those days, there was a doctor only in Akdagmadeni which is close to their village. People told his father “Take the child to Akdagmadeni, there is a doctor who can make him see there.” His father got very happy.
However, negativities did not leave Veysel. “His father came to him while he was milking the cows some day. When Veysel had a sudden movement backward, one end of the stick his father had in his hands thrust into his hand. Thus, that eye got blind too.”
Veysel had a brother named Ali and sister named Elif. All the members of the family got very sad and cried to this situation for days. From that day on, his sister, Elif, started to take Veysel for a walk by holding his hand. Veysel got more and more introvert every other day. In that area of Sivas named as the region of Emlek which was generous in asiks and ozans, Veysel’s father was also interested in poetry and was too intimate with the dervish lodge, the tekke. He gave Veysel a saz to make him forget about his troubles just a little bit. He tried to soothe his son by reciting the poems of the folk poets. Moreover, the poets of the region also started to drop in Satiroglu Ahmet’s house with their friends. They played instruments and sang songs. Veysel used to listen to them carefully. Their neighbor Molla Huseyin used to tune his saz and repair the broken strings.
Veysel first had courses from Camisihli Ali Aga (Asik Ala) who was his father’s friend from a village of Divrigi. He devoted himself wholeheartedly to playing saz and started playing and signing the superior works of art. It was Camisihli Ali who introduced him to the world of ozans that enlightened his world of darkness. Thus, he got to know about the worlds of Pir Sultan Abdal, Karacaoglan, Dertli and Ruhsati.
The second significant change in his life came about with mobilization. His brother Ali went to war, and little Veysel was left alone with his broken stringed saz. After the outbreak of war, all the friends rushed to the frontiers. Veysel was deprived of doing that… Thus, his soul living in solitude retreated once more. The pain of being left alone without any friend and the misery he lived in, made him so unhappy, desperate and depressed. He started sleeping beneath the pear tree in his little garden and relieved his pain and troubles out in the skies and darkness by climbing the highest points of the trees in the nighttime.
Asik Veysel told Enver Gokce those days as follows:
“I went into the house putting on a face; my mother and my father could not understand me. I did not tell them about my problems not to upset them. They thought I was defying them. But I, on the contrary, recoiled from telling my problems and I was about to lose my enthusiasm for my saz.”
Although this was a result of the way people approached the ‘boys’, the main effective factor was his patriotism and the feeling of paying his debt to his motherland. He expresses those feelings as follows:
Unfortunately, it was not in my destiny
When the people of my country eradicated the enemy
Fate broke my legs, did not let me keep watch
Wield a sword in the heads of the enemy.
If those days were facilitated to me by God
I would not be indebted for a spoonful of blood
Nothing happens but the predestined
What has befallen to Veysel?
Through the end of the mobilization, Veysel’s mother and father made him marry a girl named Esma from among their relatives with the idea that they might die and “his sister would not take care of him anymore.” Veysel had one daughter and a son from Esma. His son died when he was only 10 days old while being nursed by his mother… Veysel’s suffering was not that much; unfortunate events continued one after the other. First, his mother died on February the 24th of 1921. Then his father passed away eighteen months later after getting bedridden for 17 days. Meanwhile, he put himself into gardening. Many asiks were visiting the village and were playing the lyrics of folk poets such as Karacaoglan, Emrah, Asik Sitki, Asik Veli. Veysel did not miss any of the performances of those asiks.
When his brother Ali had another daughter born, they find a servant to help them in the house works and take care of the children. This servant later becomes the reason for another wound to be made deep in the heart of Veysel. One day, while Veysel was lying in bed ill and Ali was out collecting milk vetch, this servant persuaded Veysel’s first wife Esma to run away together. Thus another pain was included in Veysel’s chain of pains.
When his wife left him all alone, she left her daughter only six months old with Veysel. Veysel carried his daughter in his nap for two years, but unfortunately, she did not live as well. He says in one of his poems:
Faith associated itself with suffering,
It does not leave me in peace everywhere I go.”
In short, a chain of redoubled pains…
Now, he wanted to get away from the world, from this place and was in a mood to emigrate. He decided to emigrate to Adana with his best friend, Ibrahim in 1928. But a person named Deli Suleyman from the village Karacayir of Sivas persuaded him to give up this idea. Let’s listen to Veysel:
“This man listened to me when I played the saz, interrupted me when I started singing. When I say, let me go, he says “oh, my friend, the kids, and everybody is crying, please don’t go.” Finally, I could not take it and gave up the idea of leaving this place.”
Veysel’s first travel away from his village takes place as follows: Someone named Kasim from the village Barzan Beleni of Zara took Veysel to his village. There they lived a couple of months together. Deli Suleyman who did not let Veysel go to Adana and Kalayci Huseyin from Sivas accompanied Veysel on the way. On the way back, Veysel dropped by the village Yalincak of Hafik and Girit of Zara and bought a nice saz for 9 liras. On the way back from Sivas to Sivrialan, his friends were stopped by a group of “swindlers” and lost all their money. His friends took 9 liras of Veysel and lost it in gambling. After a short while from this event, Veysel got married a girl named Gulizar from the village Karayaprak of Hafik.
In 1931, Ahmet Kutsi Tecer who was a literature teacher at Sivas High School and his colleagues founded the Association For Preservation of Folk Poets. And on December 5, 1931, they organized the Fest of Folk Poets that lasted for three days. Thereupon, a new turning point started in Veysel’s life. We can say that having met Ahmet Kutsi Tecer pointed out a new starting for Veysel.
Until 1933, Veysel played and sang the poems of master ozans. In the tenth anniversary of the Republic, upon the directives of Ahmet Kutsi Tecer, all folk poets wrote poems on the Republic and Mustafa Kemal. Veysel was one of those poets. The first poem of Veysel that came into the daylight was the poem starting with the line “Ataturk is the revival of Turkey…” This poem came into daylight only after Veysel left his village.
Ali Riza Bey, the mayor of Agcakisla to which Sivrialan was then affiliated, liked this tale of Veysel very much and wanted to send the poem to Ankara. Veysel said he himself would like to go and visit the Great Leader Ataturk, and set out for Ankara on foot with his faithful friend Ibrahim. These two pure hearts who started their travel on barefoot under tough winter conditions arrived in Ankara after having trampled down the roads for three months. Veysel was hosted by his hospitable friends for forty-five days in Ankara. Although his aim in traveling to Ankara was to present the letter to Ataturk, it was not possible for him to do so. His mother Gulizar says “He felt bitter regret for two things in life: first not having been able to visit the Great Leader, second not having recruited the army…”6 However, his tale was printed in a printing house named Hakimiyeti Milliye (in Ulus) and was published in the newspaper for three days. Then, he started to travel around the country and to play and sing everywhere he went to. He was loved, he was respected.
He tells us about those days as follows:
“We left the village. We could arrive in Ankara only in three months after having passed through the villages of Yozgat, Corum and Cankiri. We did not have enough money to stay at a hotel. We thought a lot about “What to do? Where to go” People told us, “Here lives a Pasha from Erzurum. He is a very hospitable man. “The Pasha had a house built in the then called Dağardı (which is now known as the Quarter of Atif Bey). We went there. This man really put us as a guest in his house. We stayed there a couple of days. At that date, there were no trucks or anything in Ankara, like today. Everything was run by horse carriages. We met a man named Hasan Efendi who had horse carriages. He took us to his house. We stayed at his house for forty-five days. During our stay there, we used to go out, rambled around an returned house, and we used to see that he prepared our dinner, our bed and everything. Then I told him: -Hasan Efendi, we are not here to ramble around! We have a tale. We would like to give this to Mustafa Kemal.
How can we do that? What can we do?
He said: -To tell you the truth, I don’t know about such things. There is a deputy here. His name is Mustafa but I cannot remember his surname. We have to tell this to him. Maybe, he can help you.
Then we went to Mustafa Bey and told him the issue. We said that we have a tale that we want to give it to Mustafa Kemal. We asked for help!
He said: -My God! This is not the right time to lose time with poetry. Go and sing it somewhere else!
We said, “No, this is not possible! We will sing our tale to Mustafa Kemal.!”
The deputy Mustafa Bey said, “Okay, sing it to me first!” We sang him and he listened. He said he would talk to the Newspaper named Hakimiyet-i Milliye that was being published in Ankara at that date. He said, “Come and visit me tomorrow!” We went by him the other day. He said, “I can not do anything!” We thought a lot about what to do. At last, we decided to go to the printing house ourselves. We had to renew the strings of the instrument. The bazaar in Ulus Square was then named Karaoglan Bazaar. We walked to that bazaar to buy strings.
We had sandals on our feet. We were wearing woolen baggy trousers and woolen jackets. We braced a big cummerbund on our waists. Then came the police. He said: -Do not enter! It is forbidden!
And he did not let us get in the bazaar to buy strings. He insisted: -I say it’s forbidden! Don’t you understand what I say? It is crowded there. Do not get into the crowd!
We said, “Okay, let’s not get in there.” We went on walking pretending as if we got rid of him. He came by, and rebuked my friend İbrahim: -Are you nutty? I say do not get in! I’ll just break your neck!
We said: -Gentleman, we do not obey you! We are going to buy strings from the bazaar!
Then the police said to Ibrahim: -If you are going to buy strings, then have this man seated somewhere first. And then go and buy your string!
Then, İbrahim went and bought the strings. But in the morning we could not pass through the bazaar. Finally, we found the printing house.
-What do you want? Said the Director.
We said: -We have a tale; we want to have it published in the paper.
He said: -Play it to me first, I want to hear it!
We played the tale and he listened.
-Woo! Very well done! I liked it a lot. He said.
They inscribed the tale and said “It will be published tomorrow. Come and take a paper tomorrow.” There, they gave us some money for the copyrights. The other morning, we went there and took 5-6 copies. We went to the bazaar. The policemen came by and said: -Oh! Are you Asik Veysel? Relax sir! Get in the coffeehouses! Take a seat! And they started making compliments. We rambled around in the bazaar for a while. But still, we could not take any news about our visit to Mustafa Kemal. We said to ourselves: This is not going to come true. But they published my tale in the paper for three subsequent days. Again nothing about my visit to Mustafa Kemal… We decided to go back to our village. But we did not have any money for the traveling expenses. We met a lawyer in Ankara. He said: -Let me write a letter to the mayor. The municipality can meet your traveling expenses.
Then he gave us a letter. We went to the municipality with the letter. There they told us: -You are artisans. You can go back the way you came!
We came back to the lawyer. He asked us what we did. We told him. He said, “Let me write another letter to the governor this time”. He wrote a letter to the governor. The governor undersigned the letter and told us to apply to the municipality. we went to the municipality. But they said: -No! We don’t have any money. We won’t help you.
The lawyer got offended and yelled out: -Go! Go away! The municipality of Ankara does not have any money to spend for you!
I felt sorry for the lawyer.
We thought about what to do, how to solve the problem. And then we decided to stop by the Community Center. Maybe something useful would happen there! “If we can not visit Mustafa Kemal, let’s go to the Community Center.” We thought. This time the doormen did not allow us to get in there. As we were standing by the door, a man came by and said: -What are you doing here? What are you looking for?
-We are going to get in the Community Center but they don’t let us, we replied.
-Let them get in! These are well-known men! This is Asik Veysel! He said.
That man who came by us sent us to the director of the literature department. Their people said: -Oh, please come in!
There were some deputies in the Community Center. The director called them: -Come here! There are folk poets here, come and listen to them!
Necib Ali Bey, one of the ex-deputies said: -Well, these are poor men. Let’s take care of them. We have to have good clothes sewed for them. They can give a concert at the Community Center on Sunday!
They really brought us a pair of suits. That Sunday, we gave a concert at the Community Center of Ankara. After the concert, they gave us some money. We returned from Ankara to our village with that money.”
The first folk song Asik Veysel recorded is the poem of Asik Izzeti who is an Ozan from the region of Emlek:
I am the Mecnun, and I saw my Leila,
Who looked but once and passed by.
Neither she talked, nor asked I
She knitted her brows and passed by.
Did not dare to say anything
Was it the moon or the sun, her face
Thought it was the Venus
Burnt me down and passed by.
So destroyed that I could not stand the fire
That I could not solve the mystery
Could not see her at dawn
She flew like a star and passed by.
Don’t know which constellation she is
This sorrow wounds my feelings
Your dimples, the arrows at times
Sweetheart stroke me in the heart and passed by.
Izzeti, what to do now
I had a dream sleeping
Her lock of curls, the love-locks
And wound around my neck and passed by.
Upon the establishment of village institutes, with the initiatives of Ahmet Kutsi Tecer, he worked as saz teacher in the Village Institutes of Arifiye, Hasanoglan, Cifteler, Kastamonu, Yildizeli, and Akpınar, respectively. In these schools, many intellectuals who later stigmatized the cultural life of Turkey found the opportunity to meet the artist and improved their poetic capacity.
In 1965, Turkish Grand National Assembly resolved upon allocating a monthly salary in 500 TL to him in return for “his contribution to our native language and national solidarity.”
On March 21, 1973, at 3.30 a.m., Veysel closed his eyes to this world in Sivrialan, the village he was born in, which is now used as a museum.
The following words of Erdogan Alkan would be the best depiction, to sum up, his life: “Kizilirmak looks like a question mark. It sources from Zara and leaves the territory of Sivas passing through Hafik and Sarkisla. Taking the form of a bow irrigates the lands of Kayseri, Nevsehir, Kirsehir, Ankara and Corum. Spills its water into the sea in the District of Bafra of Samsun. The life story of Veysel is like that of Kizilirmak. It has one end in Bafra, and the other in Zara. A tragic life stretching up to Bafra leads to an end after being fed by the abundant waters of Kizildag in the east of Zara.”