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This deyiş is one of my favourites since first hearing it on Arif Sağ’s 1983 masterwork, İnsan Olmaya Geldim, where he performs it with an accompaniment of restrained intimacy and intricacy on the bağlama. It was only recently that I learned that the musical arrangement is in fact by Feyzullah Çınar and heard his recording on the album Aşkın Çilesi. Hearing the way Sağ develops Çınar’s arrangement, particularly in the instrumental bridges between verses,  into an intricate bağlama ornamentation only heightens my admiration for Sağ’s interpretive mastery. It is interesting to note the different emphasis given the lyric by the titles the performers give the song: Sağ (and Sabahat Akkiraz who also recorded the song in 1984) title it ‘İnsana muhabbet duyalı’ (Since feeling love for humanity) while Çınar titles it on his recording ‘Bana yer kalmaz‘ (There is no place for me).

Sefil Selimi, whose real name was Ahmet Günbulut (1932-2003), was born in Şarkışla a place renowned for great aşıks, both Aşık Veysel and Aşık Ali İzzet both coming from this area. Selimi was not from an Alevi family but many of his lyrics show a great interest and empathy with Alevi culture and belief and his work has received reciprocal respect from Alevis. Mahmut Erdal in his book Yine Dertli Dertli İniliyorsun mentions being given a manuscript of Selimi’s by İhsan Öztürk in which, some time later when he looked at the poems, he recognised the remarkable talent and picks out this lyric as an example.

The text given here for my translation of all five verses is taken from Uğur Kaya’s book Şiirleri ve türküleriyle Aşık Sefil Selimî (Sivas, 2001). The recorded versions use only the 1st, 2nd and 5th verses although in this wonderful live recording of Sağ and Akkiraz performing the song together (which looks to be around the mid-1980s) Sağ includes the 4th verse. There are some variations in the versions which are mostly minor and don’t affect the meaning. The main differences affect the 2nd line of the 3rd verse which also occurs as ‘Ne bir hatır sorar, göz yaşım siler in the versin‘ in Erdal (and also in Bekir Karadeniz’s book Elâ Gözlüm); and the 2nd line of the 4th verse which Karadeniz gives as: Kapıya bacaya konmaz dediler.

Sefil Selimi ‘İnsana muhabbet duyalı’

Translation: Paul Koerbin

I have no friends nor any to help me

Since I dressed in the cloak of bravery

Were the world entirely empty there is no place for me

Since I felt love for humankind

My belief is monarch, my conceit is captive

I loved the Sacred Lineage, they said I’m at fault

Some speak cowardly, some bravely

Since I pastured the sheep with the wolf

Those striking my back smile at my face

They scarcely share the butchered morsels

Everyone whets their knife on my neck

Since I presented myself to the open

‘These are Kızılbaş, unwashed’, they say

‘Their sacrifice is forbidden, inedible’, they say

‘They don’t halt at a mosque, great or small’, they say

Since I set out to follow the Shah Imam Hüseyin

Often some seek written proof in me

Not knowing the condition, ask of my forbears

Friends, some decide on my death

Since I called myself Sefil Selimi


Original text from Uğur Kaya Şiirleri ve türküleriyle Aşık Sefil Selimî (Sivas, 2001)

Kimse bana yaren olmaz, yar olmaz

Mertlik hırkasını giydim giyeli

Dünya bomboş olsa, bana yer kalmaz

İnsana muhabbet duydum duyalı

İmanım hükümdar, benliğim esir

Ehl-i Beyt’i sevdim, dediler kusur

Kimisi korkak der, kimisi cesur

Kurt ile koyunu yaydım yayalı

Ardımdan vuranlar, yüzüme güler

Kestiği az gibi parçalar böler

Herkes kılıcını boynumda biler

Başımı meydana koydum koyalı

‘Bu Kızılbaş olmuş, yunmaz’ diyorlar

‘Kestiği haramdır, yenmez’ diyorlar

‘Camiye mescide konmaz’ diyorlar

İmam Şah Hüseyn’e uydum uyalı

Çoğu, bende kağıt hüccet arıyor

Hâl bilmeyen, dip dedemi soruyor

Dostlar, ölümüme karar veriyor

‘Sefil Selimî’yem’ dedim diyeli