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This song is also known as Allah Allah desem gelsen. My translation is based on the text collected from Ali İzzet Özkan by Pertev Naili Boratav and included in Boratav and Gölpınarlı’s 1943 book on Pir Sultan Abdal. It rather stands out awkwardly as a Pir Sultan piece being in the form of a conversation (söyleşi) on the theme of transformations – folk theme common throughout European folkore (The Two Magicians being the most well known English version). However it does bring in some suggestions of mystical themes, which might be why Ali İzzet attributed it Pir Sultan. We know from İlhan Başgöz that Ali İzzet was readily prepared to attribute deyiş to Pir Sultan if he thought them appropriate. Halil Atılgan in his book Türkülerin İsyanı observes that it was also collected in the eastern Anatolian Iğdır region where the version is attributed to Kul Himmet Üstadım which is also surprising as Kul Himmet Üstadım is generally associated with the Sivas-Divriği region. The attributions at the very least suggest it is a lyric favoured among Alevis. Also, İbrahim Aslanoğlu in his book on Kul Himmet Üstadım (1976) does not include this text. As can be noted from Atılgan’s book, the TRT ‘official’ repertoire version does not include a şah beyit (mahlas) at all and manifests as a somewhat less interesting and simple türkü.

The recorded versions of this song by Muhlis Akarsu and Ruhi Su (who recorded the song in 1971 on his first LP Seferberlik Türküleri) change the opening line from Bülbül olsam varsam gelsen to Allah Allah desem gelsem, which does fit a little more logically with the following line Hakkın divânına dursam to present an opening reading “If I come and repeat Allah Allah/If I stand in the presence of God”. I have given the Turkish text and based my translation, however, on the version as presented in Boratav and Gölpınarlı although it retains is some confusing regionalisms, such as alma for elma, şahan for şahin, yanıl for yanal and çövmem for çöven. The final verses present the most problems however. The line Ben bir Azrail olsam (If I am the Angel of Death) seems corrupt, certainly for a Pir Sultan Abdal lyric! This song is an 8 syllable koşma yet this line only contains 7 syllables. This can be fudged, as Ruhi Su does, by inserting a spurious syllable – not uncommon practice – to make Azrail, Azırail. Muhlis Akarsu’s solution seems more satisfying. Akarsu sings Ben bir can alıcı olsam (If I am a receiver of souls). The second last line containing the mahlas is also problematic. The printed version has bulsa (if he/she finds) which doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context; and other sources, including the recorded versions have bulsan (if you find) which is more consistent and logical. It does put the mahlas into the position of an object rather than the subject, which does happen, but is somewhat uncommon. In this reading the accusative ending (-ı) is lacking, however that is a very common practice in folk lyrics. The use of the form üstadın (your master) in this line suggests this is not part of the mahlas and this form is certainly not associated with Pir Sultan; however it does suggest why the attribution mentioned above may have been made to Kul Himmet Üstadım.

Finally, I should mention the controversy over the use of Muhlis Akarsu’s recording by Nelly Furtado on her song Wait for You. On one level it would be nice to think the likes of Ms Furtado or the song’s producer DJ Timbaland have the curiosity, interest and good taste to investigate the work of master Alevi aşık-s and musicians like Akarsu. It is rather unfortunate however that it appears that such interest does not extend to the good grace and good intent of acknowledging such sources, traditions and artists. It would seem to be a position of arrogance to think that Muhlis Akarsu is just some ‘obscure’ musician and that no one would notice or care about such self-serving use. Besides the generally shabby approach of pop music muscle and identities, the real issue, if I understand correctly, would be the actual sample they used from Muhlis Akarsu’s recording Ya Dost Ya Dost, a selection of recordings issued by Kalan Müzik in 1994 (see the English language report from the Turkish online newspaper Today’s Zaman – only available now since the paper was shut down in July 2016 thanks to the Internet Archive). I believe the original recording of the song was on Akarsu’s album Kalk Gidelim Deli Gönül though I don’t know the date of its release, but judging by the sound I would say some time in the late 1980s, possibly 1987. Ruhi Su recorded the song earlier (1971) with much the same musical phrase; and the song is, or course, essentially traditional and in the public domain.

Pir Sultan Abdal: Bülbül olsam varsam gelsem

Translation: Paul Koerbin


If I am a nightingale if I approach and come

If I stand in the presence of God

If I am a rosy red apple

If I sprout on your branch, what do you say?

If you are a rosy red apple

If you come to sprout on my branch

If I am a silver clad crook staff

If I draw and strike a blow, what do you say?

If you are a sliver clad crook staff

If you come to draw and strike a blow

If I am a handful of maize

If I am scattered on the ground, what do you say?

If you are a handful of maize

If you come to be scattered on the ground

If I am a beautiful grey partridge

If I gather up bit after bit, what do you say?

If you are a beautiful grey partridge

If you come to gather up bit after bit

If I am a young falcon bird

If I seize and steal you off, what do you say?

If you are a young falcon bird

If you come to seize and steal me off

If I am a shower of sleet

If I break your wing, what do you say?

If you are a shower of sleet

If you come to break my wing

If I am a wild nor’easter wind

If I spurn and disperse, what do you say?

If you are a wild nor’easter wind

If you come to spurn and disperse

If I have a great sickness

If I lie down in your way, what do you say?

If you have a great sickness

If you come to lie down in my way

If I am the Angel of Death

If I take your soul, what do you say?

If you are the Angel of Death

If you come to take my soul

If I am a subject destined for heaven

If I enter into heaven, what do you say?

If you are a subject destined for heaven

If you come to enter into heaven

If you find your master Pir Sultan

If we enter in company together, what do you say?


Original text from Pir Sultan Abdal by Gölpınarlı and Boratav (1943)

Bülbül olsam varsam gelsem

Hakkın divânına dursam

Ben bir yanıl alma olsam

Dalında bitsem ne dersin

Sen bir yanıl alma olsan

Dalımda bitmeye gelsen

Ben bir gümüş çövmen olsam

Çeksem indirsem ne dersin

Sen bir gümüş çövmen olsan

Çekip indirmeye gelsen

Ben bir avuç darı olsam

Yere saçılsam ne dersin

Sen bir avuç darı olsan

Yere saçılmaya gelsen

Ben bir güzel keklik olsam

Bir bir toplasam ne dersin

Sen bir güzel keklik olsan

Bir bir toplamaya gelsin

Ben bir yavru şahan olsam

Kapsam kaldırsam ne dersin

Sen bir yavru şahan olsan

Kapıp kaldırmaya gelsen

Ben bir sulu sepken olsam

Kanadın kırsam ne dersin

Sen bir sulu sepken olsan

Kanadım kırmaya gelsen

Ben bir deli poyraz olsam

Tepsem dağıtsam ne dersin

Sen bir deli poyraz olsan

Tepip dağıtmaya gelsen

Ben bir ulu hasta olsam

Yoluna yatsam ne dersin

Sen bir ulu hasta olsan

Yoluma yatmaya gelsen

Ben bir Azrâil olsam

Canını alsam ne dersin

Sen bir Azrâil olsan

Canımı almaya gelsen

Ben bir cennetlik kul olsam

Cennete girsem ne dersin

Sen bir cennetlik kul olsan

Cennete girmeye gelsen

Pir Sultan üstadın bulsa(n)

Bilece girsek ne dersin