About Pir Sultan Abdal

There is very little of a scholarly nature written about Pir Sultan Abdal in English. Sometimes he, or his persona as understood from his lyrics and oral tradition, is mentioned in the footnotes of works concerning 16th century Ottoman history, particularly in respect to Ottoman-Safavid conflict and rebellion in Anatolia. Sometimes his name is evoked in the context of Alevi identity politics and particularly with regard to the attack on the Madımak hotel in Sivas in during the Pir Sultan Abdal Festival 1993 in which 37 people died. But, despite the significance of his identity for Alevis  his lyric works have not attracted even the scant interest that has been shown to the great Turkish lyric poet Yunus Emre in English.

The earliest published writing about Pir Sultan Abdal was the short article by Mehmet Fuad Köprülü in Hayat Mecmuası in 1928 (written in Ottoman script). Köprülü’s work was developed into a more substantial work, the first monograph on Pir Sultan Abdal including 105 lyrics, by Köprülü’s student Sadettin Nühzet (Ergun) the following year in 1929, and in the new Latin script Turkish. I have made an English translation (with explanatory footnotes) of Köprülü’s short article since it does set the tone for much writing on Pir Sultan that was to follow over the subsequent century, especially in regard to the preoccupation with locating the historic Pir Sultan through the association with his nemesis Hızır Paşa and the emphasis on his social and political history.

My peer reviewed paper published in that wonderful online journal under the inspired editorship of John Miles Foley, Oral Tradition provides a short introduction giving some context about Pir Sultan Abdal. For something a bit more substantial, see my PhD thesis (linked below).

“Pir Sultan Abdal : Encounters with Persona in Alevi Lyric Song”

Oral Tradition. Vol. 26, no. 1 (March 2010)


Paper page in Oral Tradition journal


‘I am Pir Sultan Abdal’ : a hermeneutical study of the self-naming tradition (mahlas) in Turkish Alevi lyric song (deyiş)

PhD thesis, University of Western Sydney, 2001

My PhD thesis, although not about Pir Sultan Abdal per se, does consider Pir Sultan as the examplar of persona in Alevi lyric song and  includes, among other things, an analysis of the historical context and textual construction of the Pir Sultan Abdal persona along with 50 translations of Pir Sultan lyrics. The thesis is available online here:

A brief introduction to the work more fully developed in my thesis may be had from my paper that was accepted for the 2015 International Council for Traditional Music International (ICTM) World Conference in Astana, Kazakhstan. This paper is titled ‘Players in the Web of Poetic Tradition’: interpreting self-naming in Alevi sacred and secular sung poetry which I have put online here:
Koerbin_2015_ICTM_paper (PDF file)

I also created a Prezi slide show to accompany this paper which can be viewed here:


7 thoughts on “About Pir Sultan Abdal”

  1. Hi Poul,

    I am very happy to come across your site. It has been my great occupation the last few weeks to wander around in your world. Especially your interest in PSA and the Anatolian Alevi/Bektashi traditions.
    I have long been very interested in reading more about deyis’ and the Asik traditions, mainly on Pir Sultan Abdal. I have not been able to come across much English materials on the subject, at least not on the level matching your thesis “I am Pir Sultan Abdal”.

    It really gives a complete picture on very familiar subjects when seeing a person who has not been introduced to it from birth dedicate so much effort and diligence into it. It makes me appreciate it much more. Truly inspiring.

    Please keep on sharing.

    PS: for a better reading experience I have converted your thesis to the .mobi and .epub versions (compatible with e-readers, kindle and apple).

    • Thank you Azem. I appreciate your interest and comments – I hope wandering around in ‘my world’ was not too arduous! Nice to know someone has looked at my thesis 🙂

  2. Hello, dear Paul Koerbin. Firstly i got happy because i read Pir Sultan Abdal in english. İn terms of Alevists this is enormous thing. So i thanks you. You translated “deyiş”. But i want ask you a thing. Can you play “bağlama” and can you sing this deyiş (or deyişler/ deyişs) in english with “bağlama”? İ know that this question is hard and strange. İ thanks Ayfer Karakaya because i know you through Ayfer karakaya. İ thanks you again…. Finally i want tell you in turkish and kurdish. İn Turkish “Hizmetlerin Hakk defterine kaydolsun” and in Kurdish “Xizir hevale ta bi” ( Hızır yoldaşın olsun)

    • koerbin said:

      Dear Abidin, thank your for your kind comments (in English, Turkish and Kurdish). To answer your question, yes I do play bağlama and sing deyiş, but I only sing them in Turkish, not in English. I think it would be a very difficult thing to do, to make singable English versions. I have heard someone try and and I was not convinced by the result. The best attempt at this I have heard was on Ferhat Tunç’s last record, Dersim, which has songs sung in both Kurdish and English versions. Best wishes, Paul

  3. Hi Poul,
    I think words are not enough for me to express my appreciation and gratitude for what you have done. First of all I am very happy to come across your blog. It has been a wonderful experience to read through your posts and observing your interest in Pir Sultan and the Bektashi culture. I am coming from the heart of this tradition. Living and working in Japan at the moment, I have not been able to come across much English materials too, as Azem mentioned above, not on the level matching your thesis “I am Pir Sultan Abdal”.
    I am really proud of you, what is more that to know that even a person from Tasmania feels the same way as we feel is truly
    inspiring. Additionally, I would like to tell you about a book named “Osmanlı Gizli Tarihinde Pir Sultan Abdal ve Bütün Deyişleri” by author “Ali Haydar Avcı” , who has done a fascinating work and collected Pir Sultan”s deyis in the book. This book has opened a new door to his life and lifetime events from historical perspective.
    I do not know if you can get this book from Australia but here is the link;

    what is more, I always think it would be great if one day all of PSA”s poems are translated into English. I am not a native English speaker but I am ready to help you by any means if we embark on this translation project. what do you think about it?

    • Hi Serkan. Thanks for your comments. I especially appreciate kind words coming from those with Alevi backgrounds or Bektaşi connections. I am very aware of, and have, Ali Haydar Avcı’s book (and his earlier publications on Pir Sultan) and used it extensively in my studies. I met Ali personally at the Pir Sultan Abdal festival in Banaz in 2007. Ali is the best contemporary scholar in respect to Pir Sultan.
      I agree that it would be good to have all the deyiş attributed to Pir Sultan translated and that is perhaps a long term goal of mine. I have done around 60-70 so far which about an eighth of the total. This blog is intended as my own ‘work space’ and I welcome comment, criticism and correction of my translations. Currently I do not have the time to devote to much translation work but I hope to pick it up again in the near future and add more to the blog. I usually select the one to add here based on some interesting details about their use or appearance in Alevi or popular culture, so that I have something to write about rather then just present the translation. This all takes time.
      While I am not in a position to embark on a joint translating project, I certainly encourage you to undertake your own translations. Everyone has different perspectives and different approaches and the best approach to translation of material such as this, with its mystic and associative meanings, is, as Talat Halman suggests, to have many versions. In this way the possibilities of meanings can emerge in many elucidating ways.
      Thanks again, Paul

  4. Leyla Eylem Altun said:

    Really great read. I have to agree, there isn’t much PSA reading material out there in English so I really enjoyed your writing.

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