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)
‘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: