Âşık Veysel Şatıroğlu (1894-1973)

Veysel Şatıroğlu was born in 1894 in Sivrialan Village of Sivas, District of Şarkışla. 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 Gülizar started having labor pains on her way to Ayıpınar 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 new born with a piece of clothing and went back to the village on foot.

The family of Veysel is called “Şatıroğulları” in this region. His father is a farmer named Ahmet and nicknamed “Karaca” – the roe. In times when Veysel was born, smallpox was prevailing allover 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 bed ridden because of smallpox, my mother sewed me a nice dress. I wore that dress and went by Muhsine Kadın 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 Gülizar 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 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 Akdağmadeni which is close to their village. People told his father “Take the child to Akdağmadeni, there is a doctor who can make him see there.” His father got very happy.However, misfortunes did not leave Veysel. “His father came by him while he was milking the cows some day. When Veysel had a sudden movement backwards, 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 âşıks 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 sooth his son by reciting the poems of the folk poets.Moreover, the poets of the region also started to drop in Şatıroğlu Ahmet’s house with their friends. They played instruments and sang songs. Veysel used to listen to them carefully. Their neighbor Molla Hüseyin used to tune his saz and repair the broken strings.

Veysel first had courses from Çamışıhlı Ali Aga (Âşık Alâ) who was his father’s friend from a village of Divriği. He devoted himself whole-heartedly to playing saz, and started playing and signing the superior works of art. It was Çamışıhlı 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, Karacaoğlan, Dertli, Rühsati.

The second significant change in the life of Âşık Veysel 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 at night-time.

Âşık Veysel told Enver Gökçe of 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 loose 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 befell 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 bed ridden for 17 days. Meanwhile he put himself into gardening. Many âşıks were visiting the village and were playing the Iyrics of folk poets such as Karacaoğlan, Emrah, Âşık Sıtkı, Âşık Veli. Veysel did not miss any of the performances of those âşıks.

When his brother Ali had another daughter born, they found 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 wherever 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 immigrate to Adana with his best friend, İbrahim in 1928. But a person named Deli Süleyman from the village Karaçayır 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 friends, the kids and everybody are crying, please don’t go.” Finally, I could not take it and gave up the idea of leaving this place.”

Veysel’s first trip away from his village takes place as follows: Someone named Kurdish Kasım from the village Barzan Beleni of Zara took Veysel to his village. There they lived a couple of months together. Deli Süleyman and Kalaycı Hüseyin from Sivas accompanied Veysel on the way. On the way back, Veysel dropped by the village Yalıncak of Hafik and Girit of Zara, and bought a nice saz for 9 liras. On the return trip 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 to a girl named Gülizar from the village Karayaprak of Hafik.”

In 1931, Ahmet Kutsi Tecer who was a literature teacher in 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. This encounter with Ahmet Kutsi Tecer led to a new beginning 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 “Atatürk is the revival of Turkey…” This poem also came to be more known only after Veysel left his village.

Ali Rıza Bey, the mayor of Ağcakışla 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 Atatürk, and set out for Ankara on foot with his faithful friend İbrahim. These two pure hearts that started their travel on bare foot 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 Atatürk, it was not possible for him to do so. His mother Gülizar says “He felt bitter regret for two things in life: first not having been able to visit the Great Leader, second not being recruited in the army…”. However, his tale was published in a printing house named Hakimiyeti Milliye (in Ulus) and it appeared in the newspaper for three days. Then, he started to travel around the country playing and singing everywhere he went to. He was loved and respected.

Upon the establishment of village institutes, with the initiatives of Ahmet Kutsi Tecer he worked as saz teacher in the Village Institutes of Arifiye, Hasanoğlan, Çifteler, Kastamonu, Yıldızeli 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 Âşık Veysel 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 Erdoğan Alkan would be the best depiction to sum up his life: “Kızılırmak looks like a question mark. It sources from Zara, and leaves the territory of Sivas passing through Hafik and Şarkışla. Taking the from of a bow, irrigates the lands of Kayseri, Nevşehir, Kırşehir, Ankara and Çorum. Spills its water to the sea in the District of Bafra of Samsun. The life story of Âşık Veysel is like that of Kızılırmak. 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 Kızıldağ in the east of Zara.”