Bitlis’te Bes Minare – Turkish/Kurdish

Bitlis the Town

Bitlis’te beş minare translates as “5 minarets in Bitlis”. Bitlis is a city in Eastern Anatolia (Turkey). Eastern Turkey can be a code phrase, as it’s current majority population is Kurdish, an ethnicity the Turkish government doesn’t recognize (they call Kurds ‘Mountain Turks’).

Bitlis Castle & part of the town. Source: Wikipedia

Bitlis has a long history. One legend has it that the town developed around a fort built by a general of Alexander the Great (331-329BC) named Bidlis. Armenians remember it as Baghesh, and had control until roughly 700AD, after which control shuffled chaotically between Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Byzantines, Ottomans, and briefly in 1916-17, Russians.

Today Bitlis is a town of about 45,000 people, mostly Kurds. Wikipedia says “Bitlis preserves more medieval and traditional architecture than any other town in eastern Turkey. They are of a high quality and are mostly constructed from locally quarried light-brown stone, sometimes called Ahlat stone…Important monuments include the 12th-century Ulu Mosque with its 15th-century minaret, and the Gokmeydani Medresesi and Sherefiye Mosque from the sixteenth century. Until 1915 there were five Armenian monasteries and several churches in Bitlis – only a 19th-century Armenian church survives, now used as a warehouse.[14]…Bitlis is also notable for its many old houses. These are built of cut stone and are often large and impressive structures. Most have two stories, but three stories are also found. Ground floors were generally intended for storage and stables, with the residential quarters on the upper floors. Ground floor rooms have few windows, upper floors are well lit. Roofs are flat and covered with beaten clay. Unlike traditional houses in nearby Erzurum or Van, Bitlis houses do not have bay windows and balconies.[15]

Armenians, especially USA expats may know of Bitlis as the ancestral home of author William Saroyan, whose father cam from there.

View of modern Bitlis. Source: Wikipedia.

Bitlis’te beş minare – The Legend and Music

Bitlis’te beş minare is one of the best-known folk songs in Turkey. I stopped counting after finding 30 YouTubes of the song’s (not the dance’s) performance. The melody is clearly a lament. Sheet music is available here: http://www.sarkinotalari.net/bitliste-bes-minare-notalari

Legend of the Five Minarets in Bitlis

This information comes from the site of the government district of Bitlis http://www.bitlis.gov.tr/sehrimiz  (not very clearly Google translated) :
During the Russian occupation, Bitlis receives a ruined city view. After the enemy's withdrawal, a father, who escaped from Bitlis during his war, set out on Dideban Mountain, which dominated the city on his way back to Bitlis. The father sends his son to the city to see if he is alive in the city. After a while, the son returns and calls his father from the distance: bab There is no sign of living in the city; only five minarets remained standing, '' the father who hears it is destroyed, kneels and burns a mourning calls your son.  
Since five minarets in Bitlis,
come since the boy come. 
My heart is full of yare,
since come boy since come. 
Before the First World War, Bitlis had a population of 30000. However, when the war broke out, the population migrated and the population fell to 3000. 


Other Narrative:
After the Russian occupation of Bitlis, the commander of the Bitlis Armies, the commander of the commander Serif Bey, saw a hill overlooking Bitlis to see Bitlis after the war. that Bitlis ruined every side of the ruins are only a stop standing around the stopper 5 minarets ... And there sit and tells the turkey. 

This lament comes to our day as a folk song.

So according to popular Turkish folklore the song commemorates a scene from the Turkish (Kurdish) liberation of Bitlis from a Russian occupation in 1916. Two fighters, a father and son, approach the a mountain guarding the entrance to the town. Knowing the destructive tendencies of the Russians, the father hesitates, fearing what he might discover. He sends his son ahead. The son calls back, saying the only objects left standing are the 5 minarets. The father’s lamentation has the refrain “Come back, son, come back….”

Bitlis'te beş minare               5 Minarets in Bitlis
Beri gel oğlan beri gel Come back, son, come back
Yüreğim dolu yare My heart is full of wounds
Beri gel oğlan beri gel Come back, son, come back

İstedim yare gidem I wish to come beside you
Beri gel oğlan beri gel Come back, son, come back
Cebimde yok beş para Don't have a nickel in my pocket
Beri gel oğlan beri gel Come back, son, come back

Tüfeğim dolu saçma My rifle is loaded with buckshot
Beri gel oğlan beri gel Come back, son, come back
Sevdiğim benden kaçma My love don't run away from me
Beri gel oğlan beri gel Come back, son, come back

Doksan dokuz yarem var I have 99 wounds
Beri gel oğlan beri gel Come back, son, come back
Bir yare desen açma Don't cause another wound
Beri gel oğlan beri gel Come back, son, come back

The story doesn’t quite make sense to me. If the Russians really were as nasty as claimed (and they had a long record of being anti-Muslim), one would think the first (and among the easiest) things they would destroy would be the minarets. And what about all the ancient buildings that are still standing? Lately, another story is emerging. First, it was discovered that of the 5 minarets in Bitlis, only 4 of them existed in 1916. The fifth was built in 1924. Rumors were circulating that a 5th was destroyed sometime in the past, but no records could be found of its existence or its destruction.

I'll now paraphrase parts of a 2013 article from this site https://www.haberturk.com/, an online Turkish magazine with a Western outlook.  Here's the article in Turkish https://www.haberturk.com/kultur-sanat/haber/874627-bitliste-bes-minare My English paraphrase:
Before I dive into the famous streets of Bitlis, I want to solve the issues of these five minarets; In this context, I leave the word to the University of Bitlis Eren lecturer - author Mehmet Törehan Serdar. The story about five minarets in Bitlis is completely imaginary and fabrication. When Bitlis was occupied and liberated, there were no five minarets in Bitlis. The number of minarets was 4. The mosque is very small, but the mosque has 4 minarets. 
The song Bitlis'te beş minare was composed by Fatih Gündoğdu of Bitlis, who worked in TRT İstanbul Radio in 1970 and the song 'Come and Come Ever' has been added by this person. This song is compiled from manis. It is not based on any event. And the minarets which are subject to folk are as follows:
1. The Grand Mosque and its minaret, built by the Seljuks in 1150;
2. And the minaret of Şerefiye Mosque built by the Principle of Bitlis Şerefhan in 1529;
3. The Hatuniye Mosque Minaret, commissioned by Huma Hatun, the daughter of Evhadullah Sultan from the Abbasids on an unknown date;

4. Between 1520 and 30, the Meydan Mosque and its minaret, built by the Serefhanlar; the last but not the unknown but in the Ottoman period. 
5. A minaret was added to this mosque in 1924 by Kazim Dirik, who was the governor of Bitlis.
The numbers in this photo were not added by me
and may not correspond to the numbers in the article above.

Alternate lyrics + translation – provided by Bora Ozkok

Only one word is different in this version.  However, as it's in the refrain, it's critical. Oğlan (boy) becomes canan (sweetheart, beloved).  Other words are translated differently, changing the meaning further.

The translation supplied by Bora:
Bitlis'te beş minare Five minarets in the city of Bitlis
Beri gel canan beri gel Come near me sweetheart, come near me.
Yüreğim dolu yare My heart is filled with pain already
Beri gel canan beri gel Come near me sweetheart, come near me.

İstedim yare gidem I want to come near you my love
Beri gel canan beri gel Come near me sweetheart, come near me.
Cebimde yok beş pare I am but a poor man
Beri gel canan beri gel Come near me sweetheart, come near me.

Tüfeğim dolu saçma My shotgun is full of buckshot
Beri gel canan beri gel Come near me sweetheart, come near me.
Sevdiğim benden kaçma Don't run away from me beautiful girl
Beri gel canan beri gel Come near me sweetheart, come near me.

Doksan dokuz yarem var I have ninety-nine wounds already
Beri gel canan beri gel Come near me sweetheart, come near me.
Bir yare desen açma Don't pain me any further
Beri gel canan beri gel Come near me sweetheart, come near me.

This seems like the kind of lyrics a radio DJ would compose, though it makes a good folk song, too. If I interpret “The song Bitlis’te beş minare was composed by Fatih Gündoğdu of Bitlis, who worked in TRT İstanbul Radio in 1970 and the song ‘Come and Come Ever’ has been added by this person.” correctly, it could mean he added a different lyric to the same refrain, giving it a patriotic twist that boosted its popularity as it complemented a local legend.

Nowadays, many YouTubes of the song switch between the ‘oğlan’ refrain and the ‘canan’ refrain within the song. For instance, here’s a huge hit rendition (over 11,000,000 views) that showcases modern Turkey – stars from many cities and genres, including those living abroad.

Bitlis’te beş minare – the dance

Bora Ozkok taught this dance in the 1980’s, saying he learned it from the Tufem Ensemble of Ankara in 1975. Bora’s (the Tufem version) has another figure added to the version below, also from Ankara.

A medley – Bitlei’te Bes Minare is the first. They’re singing the canan version.
This guy spends most of the time recounting the legend of heroic father and son driving out the Russians. At around 2:52 he demonstrates the dance. The rocking from side to side was part of the dance Bora Ozkok taught. A couple more variations are included as well. He has the urban look and carriage of a performing group instructor, and I suspect the extra variations are for performance purposes.

Above are the only YouTubes of dancing to Bitlis’te beş minare I could find from Turkish sources.

Ahmet Lüleci has been teaching Bitlis’te beş minare to recreational folk dancers lately, the simplest of versions, like the Bingöl above. I suspect if there ever was a dance associated with the melody, it was this simple step, performed while vocalizing the melody. I’ve seen no YouTubes of Turks or Kurds dancing ‘village’ style to Bitlis’te beş minare, so I’m calling it a 1st Generation dance, as opposed to Living. The song is definitely Living, but the dance seems to exist only among teachers and performing groups.

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