The Abdals in Maraş



                                                                  Kul Himmet üstâdım ummâna dalam

                                                                  Gidenler gelmedi bir haber alam

                                                                  Abdal oldum şal giyindim bir zaman

                                                                  Bir dost bulamadım gün akşam oldu

                                                                                                          Kul Himmet

            Su dibinde mâhi ile sahralarda âhû ile

            Abdal olup yâ-hû ile çağırayım Mevlâm seni

                                                           Yunus Emre

 Abdal Halil Ağa at a victory ceremony in Kahramanmaraş after the victory of the War of Independence



Abdals are given different names in various parts of Türkiye. In DiyarbakIr, minstrel, mitrip, etc., in Urfa and Adıyaman, gevende or govende (guyende), in Gaziantep and Kahramananmaraş, abdal, kirve, etc., in different places carcar, aynu, teber, tencili, fakcılar, begdili, etc. can be mentioned in this sentence.

When the lives of Abdals living in Türkiye are examined in general, it is seen that they have some differences from other segments of society in terms of social, cultural, economic and religious aspects. This is closely related to their marginality. We do not know for now whether they are marginal because they are marginal or they are marginal because they are so. However, it is a fact that they are marginal.

Therefore, the Abdals living in Türkiye can be considered as a marginal group. Although Abdals, one of the peripheral social elements of Türkiye, seem to be content with their own situation and in harmony with the socio-cultural norms of the society at first, when they are looked at closely, when they are interviewed and talked to, it is understood that this is not the case at all, they see themselves as marginal, they are aware of their marginality and accordingly they feel stigmatized and excluded by the society.

The economic activities of the Abdals, although there are some exceptional cases, become evident with his crafts which are mostly drumming, sieve, etc.

If we look at the historical origins of abdalism, it is seen that the abdals are related to Sufism, Bektashism and Alevism; but today, as we have seen closely in our interviews with Abdal or Minstrels in Diyarbakır, Kırıkkale, Kahramanmaraş and Gaziantep, they adapt to the sectarian and religious life of the people of the city they live in. For example, they seem to have adopted the Hanafi sect in Kahramanmaraş and the Shafi'i sect in Diyarbakır.

Kahramanmaraş Abdals have very important positions in terms of Maraş. Abdal Halil Ağa, one of the important symbols of the liberation of Kahramanmaraş, has a great role in having this position. Abdal Halil Ağa's stance against the collaborative attitude with the invaders made him a hero in the eyes of the people of Kahramanmaraş and played a significant role in the integration of the Abdals with the people of Kahramanmaraş.

In this article, the social and religious situations of the Abdals living in Türkiye and trying to take their place in the scene of socio-cultural, economic, religious, etc. existence by gaining an identity awareness, albeit very slowly for now, are tried to be discussed within the framework of written texts and some interviews with them.



1.1.1. Subject, Importance and Objective of the Research

The subject of the research is the social and religious situations of Abdals living in Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye. Considering the scarcity of studies on Abdals in the periphery of Turkish society, the importance of the research increases even more. When the importance of marginality, staying out of social life, in a sense social exclusion, being on the edge of the center, social deviation, etc. is added to this, it becomes clear that it is very important to research the subject.

In the research, it is aimed to deal with issues such as the relations of the Abdals of Kahramanmaraş with other segments of the society, their marginality, how they feel and position themselves in the society, how they live in the periphery of the society, how they look from the periphery to the center, what level of social exclusion and stigmatization are in the periphery of the society, what the dimensions of social harmony and integration are, what their educational and economic status is, how they live religion in a marginal life, what their relationship with religion is, what their level of religiosity is, and to contribute to the understanding and clarification of these issues.

1.1.2. The Hypotheses of the Research

1. The social status of the Abdals is changing. This has a relationship with general change, adaopting sedentary life and urbanization.

2. Although there is a religious revival in the Abdals, religiosity is relatively relaxed and loose. This situation is related to their marginality.

3. The Abdals generally perform occupations that society does not do. Their economic status is also determined by these occupations. This is related to their eccentricity in the society.

4. The marginality of the Abdals does not create disharmony with other segments of society. This is mostly related to the fact that they do not have a political and strict ideological stance, and that the exclusion that manifests itself due to marginality is not at a level that will force them to see the society as the other for the time being, and the general religious perception and life in Maraş has a relationship with the social integration function.

5. The fact that the marginality of the Abdals does not pose a problem in terms of disharmony is related to the fact that the people do not violently exclude them and do not subject them to ill-treatment to the extent that it leads to disharmony.

1.1.3. The Limits of the Research

The research was conducted by interview technique on 30 Abdals in Kahramanmaraş in February-March 2003 and is limited to trying to understand and reveal the social and religious status of Abdals. The study was supported by the researcher's observations as well as theoretical and historical information.

The findings or results obtained in the research are limited to the sample and it should be emphasized that the research findings are limited to the time of the survey and interview, with the thought that the attitudes and behaviors of the subjects may change over time (Koştaş, 1995, p. 21), since the research was carried out within a certain time period.

1.1.4. The Method of the Research

The research was carried out on the basis of the scanning model, and written texts have been consulted in order to reach information about the past and present of the Abdals by making use of the documentation technique, and the current social and religious situations of the Abdals, which are the subject of research, were tried to be described by interview technique, to be addressed, understood and explained as they are in their own terms.

The interviews were in the form of semi-structured interviews (Karasar, 1994, p. 168), and the questions asked by the researcher and the answers given by the interviewees were recorded instantly.

The interviews were held on the group level as well as on the individual level (See. Arslantürk, 1995, p. 102). In group discussions, various topics were put forward and discussions were made around those topics. Sometimes, it was aimed to understand the situation in the best way by trying to make group members discuss with each other.

Another important point to be noted within the scope of the research method is the following: Expressions such as "revival in religion", "increase in religiosity", "inclination towards religion" used in the study do not carry value judgments, on the contrary, they are used to express an objective reality. In this context, it should be stated that the researcher acts with the principle of impartiality.


The word Abdal is the plural form of the word "bedel", which means something like counterpart, deputy, witness, representative, and derivated from the Arabic verb stem "b-d-l" is the plural of the word "bedel", which means to exchange, to substitute for something, to replace something in return for something. It is generally used for ascetic, dervish, religious people, saints, deboner people. They are also called idiot. In Sufi language, it is used for persons occupying an important position in the religious hierarchy.

The following information about the meaning of the word Abdal is given in the Turkish Dictionary with Examples of the Ministry of National Education: (1) A wandering dervish who gave his heart to God and cut off his ties to the world. They used to roam around calling out "Yâ Hû". (2) Pure hearted, pure soul. (3) Poor. (4) A person who does not think about anything, has a calm life and is a dervish. In the same dictionary, Abdalân (Abdals) is defined as those who reach the highest levels of the way of reaching Allah in the belief of tariqa. (Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı (MEB), 1995: 4)

In another dictionary (Eren and others, 1988, p. 2) there is the following information against the word Abdal: (1) One of the Turkish tribes living in Iran during the Safavid era. (2) Name given to some tribes living in Anatolia: The Abdals of Geygel. Abdal, the name given to some wandering dervishes in the past: “If the mount does not walk, the abdal will.” (Proverb). “Varıp yaslanayım Hacı Bektaş’a/ Abdalın olayım çullar içinde” (Gevherî)

The Abdals are also called Gegel among Anatolian Turkmens. (Yörükan, 1998, p. 403)

In this study, the idea of Abdals is a social group.

In accordance with the dictionary meanings expressed above, we see Abdal as the pseudonyms of some historical figures. It is possible to mention personalities such as Pir Sultan Abdal, Kaygusuz Abdal, Abdal Musa, Koyun Abdal, Küçük (Köçek) Abdal, Meczub Abdal in this sentence.

The Khorasan saints, who came to Anatolia from Khorasan during the Seljuk period in the 12th/13th century and played an important role in the establishment of the Ottoman state, were also called "Abdalan-ı Rum" (Anatolian Abdals).

The Abdal tribes are shown as Turkmen tribes in documents and they are mentioned under the title of both Turkmen tribes and Turkmen communities. (Türkay, 1979)

The Abdals are Turkmen by lineage. Today's Anatolian Abdals are the remnants of Babai and Bektashi Khorasan Turkmens. (Ülkütaşır, 1940)

Today, Abdals live in various parts of Türkiye. The Abdals have settled life in settlements such as Antalya, Kahramanmaraş, Gaziantep, Adana, Ş. Urfa, Konya, Sivas, Osmaniye, Amasya, Dinar, Osmancık, İskilip, Van, Merzifon, Mecitözü, Havza, Karaman, Kulu, Mut, Muş, Elmalı, Keskin, Kırşehir, Niğde Çiçekdağı, Tarsus, Erzurum, Hatay, Eskişehir, Burdur, Tokat, Nevşehir, Tunceli, Manisa, Zonguldak etc. It can be said that nowadays Abdals live almost all over Türkiye.

An important point about Abdals is that they are not the same social group as Gypsies or Romani people. This is true both in historical documents and they feel the need to specifically state that this is so.

 Apart from Türkiye, Abdals also live in countries such as Afghanistan, China, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The studies show that some of their characteristics are actually similar to Abdals in Türkiye. According to the information given by A. D. Gülçiçek about these Abdals, “those who made the first regular study were the western researchers and orientalists such as F. Grenard (Le Turkestan et le Tibet, Leroux 1898), P. Pelliot (Les Âbdâl de Painâp, in: Journal asiatique, Xe Série, t. IX, 1907) and Albert v. Le Coq (Die Abdal, in: Baessler-Archiv, Band II, Leipzig/Berlin 1912).

F. Grenard met 50 Abdal families in the Keriya (Kéria) region of Chinese Turkestan during his 1893 trip to Central Asia. He met with 7 or 8 Abdal families in Qarqan (Tchertchen) and gave extensive information about them. According to Grenard, the folk group here is called 'Abdal', which is not much different in type from its neighbors, the Turks, but speaks a language of their own, mostly based on Persian. They call themselves 'Heynou' (Äynu). These people, who do not have proper land or territory of their own, are mostly engaged in wicker work professionally. In terms of faith, although they say they are Muslims, they do not have much relations with other Muslims; they don't intermarry whit each other.

Grenard, in his first observation of the Abdals here, assumes that they may have originally been some kind of settled Luli-Gypsies. However, seeing that these are very different groups in terms of traditions, customs and lifestyles, in an observation he made later, he concluded that this Abdals group was a group of Iranian origin living in East Turkestan, some of whom became Shiite-Muslims in the 8th century, some by force and others willingly. Due to the pressures of orthodox Sunni governments, they had to hide their Sufi-based beliefs.

According to what they tell, their ancestors came to East Turkestan with an army from the city of Kufa, Iraq, in the entourage of Imam Mehmed Ghazali, one of the grandsons of Hazrat Ali, while they were fighting against the infidels, some of them were martyred and the rest settled in the Kashgar region.

The French sinologist Paul Pelliot, on the other hand, talks about Abdals living in the village of Painap in Chinese Turkestan, in his work called 'Les Abdals de Painap' during his research trip in Central Asia in 1906. According to what the Turks in the Kashgar region tell, the Abdals are a Muslim community who speak the same language as themselves. According to them, the phrase Abdal is not a separate group of people, but a name given to different types of wandering dervishes.

According to Pelliot, the phrase 'Abdal' had a different meaning and feature apart from what Grenard described. Pelliot, in his research in the village of Paynap (Painap) near Kashgar, states that unlike the Abdals in Kerya and Qarqan, the Abdals here, consisting of almost 400 families, had very close relations with their Turkish neighbors, intermarried with each other, even this group of Abdals was respected by the Turks because of some miracles they showed, they were engaged in farming and commerce like them, and the traveler Abdals learned some languages besides Kashgar Turkish, such as Persian, Kyrgyz, Hindi, Khirghiz and Arabic. They say that their grandparents migrated to Paynap long ago from the Darwat (Darband) region in Iraq or Iran. Pelliot cannot learn much about Abdals in other regions, but states that there are 5 Abdal families in Tezgun (Kaşgar/Shule).

Like Grenard, Pelliot writes that the Abdals referred to themselves as 'Heunou' (Äynu) and some as 'Gilaman', the language they spoke is mostly of Persian origin.” (Gülçiçek, 2004)

Albert von Le Coq also gives important information about the Abdals.  Le Coq mentions that he also visited Ak-su, Uch-Turfan and its environs in September 1906 during his trip to Chinese Turkestan, and that there were villages of people who spoke Eastern Turkish and called themselves Abdal, for example, in and around Hotan, Keria and Kashgar. (Le Coq, 1928: 39) During the few days he spent in Hotan (1275), which was once visited by the Venetian traveler Marco Polo, Le Coq learns from the Afghan merchants around him, especially from Swat and Bagaur, that there is a group of people called 'Abdal' in the city. Thereupon, a bearded Abdal group dressed in white, led by Rıza Mulla, visits him. According to the information Le Cop obtained from them, when the Chinese conquered East Turkestan again, they settled 40 Abdals as farmers in the Tamegil region around Yurunkash. These Abdals, who used to be nomadic people, used to make a living by making household items such as sieves, brooms and spoons, and by making music. They say that they are Muslims and they continue their traditions, but they do not have much relations with Turks, Indian and Afghan Muslims, they only intermarry, eat and smoke among themselves. They, too, do not consider them to be true Muslims, and say that they eat the meat of makruh (not prohibited by the Shari'a, but not allowed to be eaten unless forced) animals such as rabbits and lizards without hesitation.

In 1901-1902, Le Coq went to Adana as a volunteer intern with the research assistants sent by the Berlin Orient-Comité to conduct a research on the Eskikale hill in Zincirli (Zencirli) village near İslâhiye, and passed from there to Zincirli. He met with two Abdals, Musa and his son Ali, there. The father and son used to go to the warehouses of German researchers from time to time and sell them partridges and household items made of wood.

One day (May 5, 1902), Le Coq invited these two Abdals who spoke a language other than Kurdish and Turkish. A Kurdish heroic folk song that he heard from them caught his attention. These Abdals, who are from the Karaburçlu village near İslahiye, are called 'Abdal' by the Turks and 'Gewende or Gawende' by the Kurds. These Abdals, who belong to the Delikan group of a Kurdish tribe named Rişvan, call themselves "Teberci".

The entire possessions of Abdals in the vicinity of Zincirli village is a black tent, a cow, and a donkey with sunken cheeks. These people, who were very poor, make a living by making and selling wooden spoons, spindles (kirmen, eğirmen; Kurdish: teşi or serteşi), tobacco board (dar-i tütün), musical instruments, especially baglama (saz), which they call 'tambur', water barrel or jug, basket and sieve, by making music at weddings and also by catching partridges. They mostly intermarry among themselves. Although they say they are Muslims, they do not care much about its rules.

Le Coq makes an audio recording of the language spoken by the Abdals in Zincirli and leaves it to W. Foy as he had to return early.

W. Foy, in his assessment, writes that the Teberci Abdals were a branch of the nomadic Yuruks, but spoke a different language from them. Although their language is similar to Southern Turkish in terms of sentence structures and verb conjugation, in terms of words, it is mostly Kurdish, some words are composed of Gypsy and some lost words from Anatolia. Le Coq writes that this language has close resemblances to the dialect of the Gypsies (Romani), whom the Teberci and Domas living in Hallaj villages around Lake Urmia call 'Kara-cı’ in Western Iran.

Another important study on the Abdals in East Turkestan was done by C. G. Mannerheim, Kaarlo Hilden and Gustav Raquette in 1906/1907. The study by Kaarlo Hilden is more of an antropological study. In this research, Kaarlo states that the Abdals in East Turkestan are not definitely of Mongolian origin, and that they may possibly be a mixture of Eastern, Armenian and Turanian races.

Swedish Gustav Raquette, after studying medicine, was in East Turkestan, especially in Kashgar and Yarkand regions, as a missionary between 1886-1921. In 1906, he made some researches about the Abdals in Yarkand.

C. G. Mannerheim stopped by the village of Tamaghil in the vicinity of Hotan during his trip between 1906-1908. This village belongs to the Abdals. Mannerheim, while conveying the observations and evaluations he made on his trip, says that "the Abdal tribe is a strange beggar tribe that is in a position quite similar to the position of the Jews among the Christian nations". According to him, “The Abdals, who were exiled from their homelands and divided into small colonies in various parts of Muslim countries following the death of Imam Hussein, took the curse of Imam Hussein and came face to face with accepting begging as their profession. For a certain time each year, rich and poor alike, a beggar should carry his bag on his shoulder and go around begging for alms. You can meet them everywhere carrying beggar's wand, some in rags, some well-dressed and wearing precious ornaments, rings, necklaces, brooches, etc. The appearance of Abdals as beggars is so common that most people make the mistake of calling beggars Abdals. Abdals rarely admit that they belong to the Abdals tribe and seem to take the name Abdal as an insult. When asked, for example, they say they belong to the Tamaghil tribe. Partly because of religious differences brought about through Hussein's death (the Abdals are said to celebrate the day when Muslims mourn Hussein's death as a feast day), partly because their beggars were accused of deviating to superstitions and deceiving the Sarts into giving them what they wanted with tricks, it cannot be said that they were very much liked by the Sarts.”

Mannerheim says that he met with the mullah and Captain of Abdals in Tamaghil and that his people treated him very well and offered good food to him. (Mannerheim, 1969, p. 92)

Mannerheim also stopped by the village of Hayran Bağ, where Yarkand Abdals lived on September 28, 1906. Mannerheim explains that in this village of 50 households, he was received very differently than in Tamaghil, that he was given many excuses, and that he had difficulty in recruiting a mullah and about 15 Abdals for anthropological assessments and evaluations. He says that Abdals in this village are very poor, they are intermarried with people of different origins. (Mannerheim, 1969, p. 110)

As part of the same trip, Mannerheim mentions that he stopped by another Abdallar village to support his anthropological observations in Hotan and Yarkand, that the four villages he visited on January 28, 1907 had the same name, that this name was Painap, and that Abdals lived in one of these villages, which was called Painap. According to his observations, the Abdals in Painap look much more miserable and poor than the other Abdals. Most of them admit that they are professional beggars. Most of them do not have land or territory. They are looked down upon by neighboring villages. (Mannerheim, 1969, p. 115)

In both of the researches about the language of the Abdals, which the Central Asian expert M. Aurel Stein observed in Xin-jiang region in 1911-12 and the Abdals of ‘Äynu’ (Eynu), which are called as ‘Abudaerren’ by the Uyghurs in the village of Giwoz in Hotan region observed by Zhao Xiangru and Haxim, they write that the language spoken by these people, who originally came from Iran, was a branch of the Iranian language, which was included in the Indo-European language family, but showed many changes over time due to the influence of Uyghur.

During a research trip by Sinologist O. Ladstätter and Turcologist A. Tietze to Xinjiang in 1983 and 1986, they get extensive information about the origins and languages of the Abdals in the region through meetings with many scientists at different universities in Urumci and at the Pedagogical High School in Kashgar; they also visit the settlements of Abdals and make on-site investigations.

Peter Alford Andrews, who carried out a large-scale research on ethnic groups in Türkiye, going down to the village units, in his examination of Abdals, states that apart from the information mentioned above, according to the information given by Teberci Abdals in the Gaziantep region, they migrated from Sivas and Yozgat regions together with the Turkmen under the leadership of Dedemoğlu. He also writes that the Abdals called 'Carcar' who migrated from Yozgat region to Konya, originally attributed themselves to the Alakeçili Yuruks, most of the Abdals in the South and East to the Beydili Tribe, and some of them to the Karakoyunlus. Again, according to the information Andrews gave based on Atabeyli, he states that the Abdals, who lived in the Zeytin Köyü neighborhood of Antalya, came to Anatolia from Khorasan together with the Turkmen.

Ali Rıza Yalman (Yalgın), who traveled among the Turkmen tribes in South and Southeast Anatolia and conducted extensive research on their lifestyle, folklore, ethnic structure and tribal order, stayed in Yazlıbecer village, which was built on a hill overlooking the Syrian border in 1931 (in May) and consists of fifty houses, during his investigations among the Elbeyli tribe in Gaziantep/Kilis region. Yazlıbecer is a combined village between Ağcabekirli and Elbeyli and Turkmen and Yuruks. Turkmens settled in this village, where the Shirvanli tribe wintered before 1722. (Gülçiçek, 2004)



The factual situation that emerges with the factual questions asked to obtain information about the social and personal characteristics of the group members among the questions asked to the sample group. (Sencer-Sencer, 1978, p. 257) makes an important contribution to understanding how certain characteristics of the subjects, such as age, gender, education, occupation, marital status, etc., affect social behavior, social and religious structure, etc. or vice versa. For this reason, firstly, the factual situation of the sample group has been revealed. The following situations are included in the scope of the factual situation of the sample group in the research: Gender, marital status, age, education level and occupation.

2.1.1. The Gender of the Sample Group

30% of the abdals we interviewed are women and 70% are men.

2.1.2. The Marital Status of the Sample Group

73.3% of the sample group is married and 26.7% is single.

2.1.3. The Age of the Sample Group

The age of the sample group ranges from 12 to over 60 years old. The sample group consists of the following age groups: 10% 12-18, 30% 19-25, 16.7% 26-30, 10% 31-40, 23.3% 41-60 and 10% 60 years and over.

2.1.4. The Education Level of the Sample Group

30% of the people we interviewed are illiterate; 26.7% of them are primary school graduates; 16.7% are secondary school graduates; 16.7% are high school graduates and 10% are university graduates.

2.1.5. The Work and Occupation Status of the Sample Group

The main occupations of all men, except 3.3% (1 person) of the 31-40 age category which has %10 in overall, and 6.6% (2 people) of the 60 and above category, is playing drum. The said 3.3% of the sample operates a beer house, 3.3% out of 6.6% operates a coffee house, and those at the university level work as peddlers and in marketing. All of the ladies are busy with çiğ (material formed with sticks to lay tarhana) work. The men who work with drums also help women with their çiğ work apart from playing drum.

Considering that it is the season of drum and çiğ work, it can be said that Abdals have free time outside of that season and they spend this free time mostly in coffee houses. Some have said that they also engage in labor in the summer.


2.2.1. The Socio-cultural Situation in Abdals

It can be said that the Abdals have almost completely transitioned to a settled life. There is almost no nomadic life. They are temporarily moved from their place of residence to another place in various seasons, especially in summer, for business purposes, for example, for çiğ, labor, etc. Therefore, it can be said that the Abdals do not live a nomadic life to a large extent.

The Abdals or the Minstrels are at a low level, perhaps one of the lowest, in terms of their social status as a subcultural group in Türkiye. They themselves are aware of this. In the interviews, it is understood that they have information on this subject.

The relations of Abdals with people other than themselves, such as friendship, neighborliness, work, travel, etc., are shaped in accordance with their status.

It can be said that the Abdals are an introverted, introverted group as a requirement of their marginality. In the formation of this structure, both themselves and other segments of the society have an impact. It is evident that aforementioned structure has been formed by both the Abdals, for example, by being introverted against people outside of themselves and not actively participating in social life, and the society, for example, by not assimilating them within itself, marginalising them, for example by not recruiting them for a period of time (Yörükan, 1998, p. 108).

During the interviews with the Abdals, various questions were asked about their relations with segments of society other than themselves, and the subject was also discussed in group form. When they are asked whether they are excluded by society or not, they usually say that they are excluded. But they have different views on the degree of this exclusion. Some of them say that they are excluded a lot, some of them say that they are excluded a little, and some of them say that this is natural. For example, some Abdals in Kahramanmaraş state that they do not feel like an alien in Kahramanmaraş, but there is still an otherness, othering. When we ask “Is this really happening or an illusion”, after some thought, they say that “there really is exclusion”.

However, they specifically state that other segments of the society do not inflict any material or physical discomfort on them.

Some of the interviewees prefer to explain their relations with the society with stigmatisation, and state that the society stigmatizes them with "abdalism". For example, in Kahramanmaraş, the grandson of Abdal Halil Ağa and some people state that the word Abdal has a deep and good meaning, that they are not offended by it, but that people do not know this and that they despise them with this name. Interestingly, a similar situation is encountered in East Turkestan Abdals in 1906. According to Mannerheim's findings, in a village near Hotan, “The Abdals rarely admit that they belong to the Abdals tribe, and they seem to take the name Abdal as an insult. When asked, for example, they say they belong to the Tamaghil tribe.” (Mannerheim, 1969, p. 92)

"They despise us, they exclude us," says a person who is known as the tribal chief in Kahramanmaraş and has a respectable place around him. But he adds the following: “Though they are close to me too. For example, I received an offer to become a muhtar, but I refused.”

It is important to truly feel and express the exclusion. Similar statements are made in Kırıkkale, Diyarbakır and Gaziantep.

In this context, the person who is a teacher in Gaziantep describes an event that happened to him as follows: “I went into a restaurant. The owner called me 'come kirve'. I left the restaurant saying to him, 'If another teacher comes, would you address him by his name or in another way?' As it is evident in these sentences, they do not like to be addressed by certain names such as kirve.

Some of them argue that people underestimate themselves and act with a prejudice against them.

While explaining their stigma and exclusion, they say that some people stay away from praying with them in the mosque and change mosques. They even state that 15-20 years ago, some imams did not perform or did not want to perform the funeral prayers of their dead, but now the situation is good. But they add that such cases are rare.

A high school graduate in Nurdağı states that even though he passed the exams held by a local institution, they openly told him in the interview that they would not be able to hire him because he was Abdal, and he was very affected by this. He says they are discriminated against.

At this point, discrimination should be emphasized. It is clear that the Abdals feel themselves subject to a kind of cultural discrimination. Of course, there is no direct cultural discrimination in the sense of denying or limiting the free expression of different cultural values and lifestyles of subgroups (Kallen, 2004, p. 63). However, it can be said that there is an indirect cultural discrimination through social discrimination, labeling, stigmatization and prejudice. Of course, the ones who are more effective in making discrimination are social authorities.

Going back to the interviews, when we asked some of them whether they were doing something about finding regular jobs for Abdals in Kahramanmaraş, they said that they acted with a sense of oppression and exclusion, including the relatives of Abdal Halil Ağa, and therefore they did not take any serious initiative as they would not be hired. Some young people express that they are actually lazy and act with a sense of accepting their situation, and they state that they have great shortcomings and negligence in this situation.

Similar things are also said in Diyarbakir.

When Abdals are asked about their neighborly relations, they state that their relations with their neighbors are detached and that the neighbors do not develop the closeness with themselves that they develop among themselves.

When the politics is addressed while talking about their exclusion from society, Abdals state that they did not actively participate in local politics before, they were subjected to a lot of pressure and oppression during elections, but now the situation is a little different.

Considering what has been said above, the integration of Abdals as a marginal group into society emerges as an important issue.

As it is known, the marginalized groups either accept or oppose the existing social system, socio-cultural system and socio-cultural norms, or they may appear to accept them.

From the interviews and observations, it is clear that the marginality of the Abdals does not present a feature that forces social cohesion excessively and creates deep dissonances. The Abdals seem to be in harmony with the society and present a view that does not want to conflict with the socio-cultural norms and values of the society.

When we ask them this, they specifically state that they "want to be in harmony with society". They also state that religion is very effective in social harmony because there is brotherhood in religion, equality and social harmony will be better achieved through religion.

It is seen that the Abdals in Türkiye want to live with the current political order and laws, and they obey the laws. One can speak of loyalty to the state among the Abdals.

Of course, the fact that the Abdals are in harmony with the general socio-cultural structure of the society is most likely the effect of their Turkmen origin. It should even be pointed out at this point that it is not correct to use the term race for Abdals. It is possible to say that Abdals is a Turkmen tribe and group.

Another issue that the Abdals attach great importance to is that they should not be confused with Gypsies and Gurbets (the Gypsies living in Cyprus. Abdals state that Gypsies and Gurbets are a different community. They state that they do not want to share the negative image the Gypsies have in those regions. Indeed, Abdals have nothing to do with Gypsies in terms of their way of life, ancestry, temperament, belief, ritual, etc. (Köprülü, 1995) They also do not like to be associated with Gypsies or to be seen as the same. (Güzelbey, 1972)

In the interviews, when we talk about their organization under certain roofs such as associations etc., they say that they do not have such a level of awareness and education.

We should also mention that the coffeehouse culture is common among Abdals. It is seen that they spend the remaining time, when they do not play the drums, in the coffee house. They determine a coffee house in their neighborhood as their place and spend their "free time" there. The majority of those who spend time in those coffee houses are Abdals. There are non-Abdals, but they are few in number.

In terms of marriage in Abdals, it is seen that in-group marriage is common among Abdals. Again, this seems to be closely related to their marginality, introversion, tribal culture, etc. Some of them state that there is no inter-marriage with other groups, even if it happens, this is done by abduction, likewise, non-Abdal people do not enter into a marriage relationship with them. Some of them say that it is easy to give a girl in marriage, but it is very hard to get a girl in marriage.

It can be said that monogamy is common in Abdals. They especially emphasize this. In addition, early marriage is more valid in Abdals.

They also state that the family form is extended, but the new generations prefer the nuclear family.

It may be useful to talk about male-female relations in the context of marriage and wives. It can be said that the Abdals have a patriarchal family structure and the word of the father is valid in the family.

It can be said that in relations with others, Abdal women are relatively relaxed and open to everyone. (Atalay, 1991, p. 25-26)

The Abdals is a group that love entertainment. Their wedding ceremonies last for 3-4 days. They play drums and zurna at their weddings. However, they also state that gradually the piano and other musical instruments are also used. The Abdals give importance to alcohol in their entertainment culture, they say that they consume too much alcohol. They also say that men and women have fun separately at wedding ceremonies, etc. Interestingly, this last case was also detected in Kırıkkale. Some Abdals interviewed there state that men and women have fun at separate places at their weddings, that the men dance among themselves and the women among themselves, that they drink, and that men prefer to dance halay.

At the cultural plane, it can be said that the Abdals are subject to the dominant culture, but they also have their own unique cultural structures. There are different cultural structures suitable for their marginality.

A few words can also be said about the clothes of the Abdals. The Abdals in Kahramanmaraş wear almost the same clothes as the general public. This is true for both women and men. Women cover their heads halfway with a scarf or similar cover. Long ago you could see them walking around in old torn clothes. But now it can be said that they are dressed in accordance with the general situation of the city. It is seen that some Abdals like to wear fancy rings, necklaces, bracelets, etc. What was said about the Abdals in some Abdal villages in East Turkestan in 1906 may be useful for comparing the Abdals in our country: Some of the Abdals are 'in rags, some are well-dressed and wear valuable ornaments, rings, necklaces, brooches, etc.'. (Mannerheim, 1969, p. 92)

It can be said that the meals of the Abdals have a parallelism with the people of Kahramanmaraş in general. In this context, we can state that we have observed that they can prepare local foods of Kahramanmaraş, such as stuffing, stuffed meatballs, and lahmacun at home.

The issue of begging is also important in relation to the socio-cultural aspects of the Abdals. Most people think that they have chosen begging as a profession by comparing them to some other tribes or groups. However, when looked carefully, it can be said that they did not choose begging as a profession, at least in the examples of Kahramanmaraş, Nurdağı, Diyarbakır and Kırıkkale, but that some Abdal women begged, especially on religious days such as Eid al-Adha and Ramadan Feast. When we ask them about this, they definitely say that those who are beggars are not one of them. Although they say so, it is possible to say that we sometimes personally observe the existence of women begging, but begging is not practiced as a profession in them, as, for example, an Abdal tribe in East Turkestan did in 1906 (Mannerheim, 1969, p. 92).

Music is also an important issue among Abdals. As is known, they use drums and zurna. As far as we can see in Kahramanmaraş, they play drums and zurna. Apart from that, for example, they do not sing a piece.

It may be necessary to address the language issue within the framework of the socio-cultural conditions of the Abdals.

Abdal language is defined as the secret language used by the nomads in some parts of Anatolia in Hulki Aktunç's Büyük Argo Sözlüğü. (Aktunç, 2002, p.  27)

It is clear that the Abdals have a special or secret language (Caferoğlu, 1953, p. 77). Le Coq states that Abdals, whom he met in Chinese Turkestan, also spoke Eastern Turkish, but used some words of unknown origin among themselves. (Le Coq, 1928, p. 39) C. G. Mannerheim also states that during his anthropological trip to Asia between 1906-1908, four villages he visited on January 28, 1907 had the same name, that this name was Painap and that Abdals lived in one of these villages called Painap, and that Abdals claimed that they did not know the language other than the Sart language, but that the inhabitants of other Painap villages unequivocally claimed that the Abdals used another language among themselves. Mannerheim adds that this secrecy is strange, considering their linguistic and religious differences. (Mannerheim, 1969, p. 115)

When we asked if there was an Abdal language in our interviews, they said, “Yes, we have Abdal, we speak this language among ourselves.” When we asked the people we talked to in their coffee houses in Kahramanmaraş to say some words and sentences in Abdal, they gave some Turkish-Abdal examples with the Kahramanmaraş dialect:

Ev işleyek: Gedek (Let’s go)

Nımıslıyak: Yatak (Let’s sleep)

Gıyılıyak: Gel yatak (Let’s go to bed)

Neher: Water

Cıbır: Wife

Kef: Chicken, stone

Kefleyek: Tavuk yiyek (Let’s eat chicken)

Kimsenin dükesine ev işleme! Do not go to anybody’s home!

It is seen that Kurdish-Abdal language is also existent among Abdals in Diyarbakır.

Finally, it is useful to briefly touch on the color of Abdals under this title. The Abdals are brown, but not too dark, not only in Kahramanmaraş, but in all of Türkiye as far as we can see, and even wherever they seem to be found.

2.2.2. The Economic Situation in Abdals

We can say that the main livelihood of Abdals is playing drums. Today, Abdals play drums at weddings, soldier farewells, folk dances, various ceremonies, and at Sahurs in Ramadan. In most ceremonies, they play drums in accompaniment with zurna. Usually, two separate drums are played by two abdals or minstrels and they are accompanied by one or two zurna playing abdals or minstrels. It can be said that in Abdals, playing drum is performed by men. Therefore, drumming appears as a profession for men.

The Abdals play the drum for a certain amount of money. They make pricing based on the time they spend. However, this pricing cannot be said to be rigid. Nevertheless, it can be said that there is an increasing institutionalization in determining the amount of money.

It is known that Abdals make and sell things such as sieves, saddles and baskets. (Atabeyli, 1934) However, nowadays they seem to have largely stopped selling sieves, saddles, baskets, etc. While they produced and sold such things 15-20 years ago, now we know that at least the abdals who formed the sample group do not make and sell them.

As far as we can detect, as shown in the economic situation table, the Abdals do mostly çiğ work after playin drum in Kahramanmaraş. It is possible to say that mostly women do the çiğ. Men are less involved in çiğ weaving. The çiğ is used to lay tarhana in Kahramanmaraş. The tarhana makers usually buy the çiğ, which are by the Abdals. We see that Abdal women are also occupied with making sieves, although they are relatively few in addition to çiğ.

As can be seen, women contribute to the production of Abdals.

In our interviews, it has been detected that there are relatively few men in Abdals who do not play drums. They operate coffee shops, off-licenses, work as peddlers, circumcisers, etc., and do not play drums. But as mentioned above, their number is low.

It should be noted that the main profession of Abdals is playing drum.

It can be said that as the profession of Abdals, playing drum is a marginal profession in Türkiye. Playing drum is seen as the profession of Abdals, with some exceptions. When it comes to playing drum, Abdals come to mind.

In the interviews with Abdals, it is understood that they cannot earn enough money from playing drum. They state that the income they earn is not enough for their living. They say that the people are not interested in drums in entertainment as in the past and that drumming is dying out gradually. When we ask them “they need to get another job or profession in this situation and if they do something about it”, they say that “actually, they haven't done anything serious”. They add that some of them are looking for a job, but they are not hired. When they are told that they are "as if they are satisfied with their situation, and that they do not show the necessary sensitivity to pursue various professions and find other jobs", especially young people state that this is true.

In short, the Abdals are not at a "good" level economically. The situation is the same in Gaziantep-Nurdağı, Diyarbakır and Kırıkkale. In the view of the information Le Coq gave, Abdals were in a socio-economically poor position in most places in China in 1906. (Le Coq, 1928, p. 39) Now we don't know if there has been a change in their condition.

2.2.3. The Religious Situation of the Abdals

The Abdals see themselves as Muslims in terms of religion and express their sensitivity on this issue.

One of the most important issues regarding the religious situation of the Abdals is their relationship with Alevism. It is understood from the studies and observations that Abdals have Alevism dimensions. In the interviews with Abdals, some of them state that they regularly attend, for example, Bektashi festivals. They also state that they have a special love for Hazrat Ali. When religious speeches are made, they make many references to Hazrat Ali. According to Ülkütaşır (1940), Abdals are Alevi-Caferi in sect and their cem rituals are the same as those of Bektashis, Chepni and Tahtacıs. According to Köprülü, the majority of Abdals are Alevis. (Köprülü, 1935) This may be so in certain regions, but it should be noted that in general, Abdals have a different structure than other Alevi groups. (Yörükan, 1998, p. 109) Moreover, as of today, it can be observed that Abdals adapt to the social, cultural and religious environment in which they live. For example, Abdals, who live in the center of Kahramanmaraş, follow the Sunni-Hanafi sect of the people of Maraş in the exactly same form. They go to prayer like them, although they are few in number, they go on pilgrimage like them, and they fast like them. The Abdals living in Diyarbakır where the people are Shafi'i, adhere to the Shafi'i sect and practice religion like the people of Diyarbakır. In the interviews, some say that their ancestors were Alevis, but they have little to do with Alevism.

The Abdals have a number of books. The manuscripts called Risale-i Şeyh Safiyüddin Erdebili and the journals called Menâkıb-i Evliya are books considered sacred by the Abdals. Among these journals, especially the poetic prayers (nefes) and legends sung by "Hatayi (Shah Ismail)", "Abdal Musa" and "Kaygusuz Abdal" are given more value and are sung with respect. (Ülkütaşır, 1940, p. 185; Ülkütaşır, 2003) However, it should be noted that as far as we can observe and according to the information we obtained from the interviews, very few Abdals know these books. This culture is not common among Abdals. Morever, these are almost unknown in Kahramanmaraş.

It was stated above that the Abdals were in harmony with the religious beliefs and actions of the social environment in which they lived. It is more accurate to understand this issue as follows: The adaptation of Abdals to society is crude and formal. They show such harmony in religion that they both fit into society and give religion their own color. They have a relatively different, loose and easy approach to religion in accordance with their marginality, and in many areas of their lives they have little or almost no relationship with religion.

However, at this point, one point should be underlined: Although this is the approach of the Abdals to religion, it is observed that there is a religious revival in the Abdals in parallel with the awakening in other religions and religious sections. In addition to its relationship with the search for identity, it also has a relationship with urbanization. Becoming more settled and their settlement in city centers brought along an increase in religious inclination and religiosity in parallel with the urbanization of other segments of the Abdals. It is possible to observe this situation especially in Kahramanmaraş and Nurdağı when we compare it with 15-20 years ago. The urbanization leads the Abdals to more and more organized and disciplined religiosity. For example, this can be seen in praying, fasting, pilgrimage, etc.

The Abdals themselves state that religion has an important place in their adaptation to society. Perhaps, just as going beyond the general religious situation of the society played a role in the marginalization of the Abdals, so today's participation in the general religious situation ensures harmony.

Based on this information, the level of religiosity of the Abdals can be looked at.

In the interviews we made, it was determined that 2 people went to pilgrimage. However, they also said that there were other pilgrims.

9 people pray 5 times a day. 16 people stated that they performed Eid and Tarawih prayers, while the rest stated that they perform Friday, Tarawih and Eid prayers. It is stated that women are more religious.

It is stated that some Abdals stop playing the drums when they hear the sound of adhan while playing the drums. It is also said by themselves that some of them perform the 5 daily prayers in the mosque.

It is stated that some Abdal youth recite the adhan in the mosque in Nurdağı and work as muezzins.

They say that they become more sensitive to certain kinds of worship, such as ghusl.

While they had difficulties in bringing an imam to their funerals in the past, they say that there is no such problem today. When we asked why this was the case before, some said that it was because they were despised, while others said that they deserved it because they had nothing to do with religion and faith back then, but now they spruced up a little bit, so there is no such problem.

They also say that this kind of thing has happened before, not in Kahramanmaraş, but elsewhere.

The Abdals state that they perform religious ceremonies at their funerals and that they do the same as other people read the Qur'an, Mawlid, etc.

It has been determined that religious marriage is valid in addition to official marriage in Abdals and that religious marriage is held during the wedding.

The Abdals state that they attach importance to grave visits. For example, they go to the Malik Ejder tomb, and to Haji Bektash. 1 person has said that he participates in the Haji Bektash festivals.

It is stated by Abdals that there is a desire to learn the Qur'an lately, but this is relatively low. Some even complain about this low number.

In Kahramanmaraş, they boast about Abdal Halil Ağa's religious sensitivity. Abdal Halil Ağa is one of the legendary heroes of the liberation of Kahramanmaraş. There is Abdal Halil Ağa Street in Kahramanmaraş.

Abdal Halil Ağa's grandson, in our interview, specifically mentions how devoted Abdal Halil Ağa was to religion. Of course the other Abdals are proud of him too. The main reason why Abdal Halil Ağa has an important place both among the people of Kahramanmaraş and among the Abdals is that, as the French entered the city, the Armenian Agop Hırlakyan offered him to play the drum in exchange for the money, but he refused this offer saying, “This is an issue of religion, my lord, aha, if you fill the rim of my drum with gold, this stick won't hit this drum... I will not hit my brothers’ chests with stick.”

The increase in religiosity among Abdals is also detected by the society. In the interviews held in Kahramanmaraş, some citizens have stated that the Abdals put forward some conditions that did not exist in the past in order to play drums at weddings, for example, they say that they will go to the mosque at prayer times, etc. Let us state that we have detected similar things in Kırıkkale and Nurdağı.

The Conlusion

In conclusion, the Abdals in Kahramanmaraş have unique sociological characteristics in terms of work, profession, socio-cultural, economic and religious situation. Therefore, their aforementioned situations will be well understood if they are addressed with their specific sociological characteristics.

It should be noted that the Abdals acted and are acting together with the society even in extraordinary times in Türkiye. Their marginality has not lead them to take action against society. It has been observed and determined that Abdals are becoming more religious in parallel with the change in their social lives. The religion explains and validates their situation, inequalities, status, place in the upper culture, and relations with society. In this context, it can be said that religion plays an effective role in the non-formation of a harmful dimension in the harmonization of Abdals in Türkiye. The effective role of religion in this matter is due to both the religiosity and piety of Abdals and the positive attitude of the people of Kahramanmaraş towards them.

In our Kahramanmaraş, the Abdals internalize the settled life more and more and become more integrated with the whole people of Maraş. It can be said that they will be more involved in the social mobilization process with the increase in their education level over time in parallel with their settlement and therefore there will be differentiation in their social status. However, it can also be stated that as a result of the changes in entertainment tools over time and the decrease in the number of weddings with drums and zurnas, the new generations of Abdals naturally or compulsorily have pursued different professions, and in this process, they have started to share the same positions with various segments of the society.


Aktunç, H. (2002). Büyük Argo Sözlük. (3rd edition). İstanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayıları

Alfred, M. V. (Bahar 2001). Reconceptualizing marginality from the margins: perspectives of African American tenured female faculty at a White Research University. The Western Journal of Black Studies, 25/1

                Brodwin, P. (Yaz 2003), Marginality and Subjektivity in the Haitian Diaspora. Anthropological Quarterly, 76/3, p. 383-410

Cullen B. T. and Pretes M. (Nisan 2000). The Meaning of Marginality: Interpretations and Perceptions in Social Science. The Social Science Journal, 37/2

                Eren, H. and others. (1988). Türkçe Sözlük. Ankara: Türk Dil Kurumu Yayınları

                Fichter, J. (ty.). Sosyoloji Nedir? Konya: Toplum Yayınları

                Gülçiçek, A. D. (2004). “Abdallar”.

                Kallen, E. (2004). Social Inequality and Social Injustice. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan

                Karasar, N. (1994). Bilimsel Araştırma Yöntemi. (5th edition). Ankara: Araştırma Eğitim Danışmanlık ltd.

             Köprülü, M. F. (1935). “Abdallar”. Türk Halk Edebiyatı Ansiklopedisi, Burhaneddin Basımevi: İstanbul, I, p. 23-56

             Le Coq, A. V. (1928). Buried Treasures of Chinese Turkestan. Eng. Trans. A. Barwell. New York: Longmans, Green and Co

             Mannerheim, C. G. (1969). Across Asia From West To East in 1906-1908. Oosterhout N. B.-The Netherlands: Antropological Publications

                Marshall, G. (1999). Sosyoloji Sözlüğü. Trans. O. Akınhay-D. Kömürcü. Ankara: Bilim ve Sanat Yayınları

                 Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı. (1995). Örnekleriyle Türkçe Sözlük. Ankara: Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı

                Ülkütaşır, M. Ş. (1940). Abdal. Asâr-ı İslam-Türk Ansiklopedisi, 1940, c.1, p. 183-185

                Ülkütaşır, M. Ş. (2003). Anadolu Etnografyasına Ait Araştırmalar: Abdallar -Coğrafi dağılışları, etnik menşeleri. içtimai hayatları-, (14 september 2003)

                Wacquant, L. (September 1999). Urban Studies, Urban Marginality in the Coming Millennium. 36/10

                Yörükan, Y. Z. (1998). Anadolu’da Alevîler ve Tahtacılar. (Ed. T. Yörükan). Ankara: KBY.

                Yörükan, T. (1998). Footnotes. Anadolu’da Alevîler ve Tahtacılar. (Ed. T. Yörükan). Ankara: KBY. p. 401-404

                Peace, R. (July 2001). Social exclusion: a concept in need of definition. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand.


* Assoc. Dr., Dokuz Eylul University, Faculty of Theology, Department of Sociology of Religion, Lecturer