KÖROĞLU, also Göroḡly, name of an early-17th-century folk hero and poet, whose stories are mainly known among the Turkic peoples. But they have also passed into the folk literature of the Armenians, Georgians, Kurds and Bulghars, and circulate in the Iranian provinces of Azerbaijan and Khorasan. There are at least 17 versions of the Köroǧlu/Göroḡly tradition, and storytellers occasionally explain the variations as different ways of remembering the same person. The Köroǧlu/Göroḡly epic spread among Turkic and non-Turkic peoples through bards (ʿāšeq, baḵši) whose bilingualism facilitated the diffusion of differing poetic accounts in northern Khorasan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and southern Uzbekistan.
Linguistic diffusion. The Oḡuz (see ḠOZZ) Turkic versions of the Köroǧlu story are known among the Azerbaijanis (see AZERBAIJAN), the Turks of Anatolia, and the Turkmen, and they are most similar to each other regarding language and plot. According to the 19th-century Persian tradition (Chodźko, p. 3), Köroǧlu was born in Khorasan, and known as a bandit minstrel in the Azerbaijani cities of Ḵᵛoy and Erzurum during the time of Shah ʿAbbās I (r. 1588-1629). Yet Köroǧlu’s origin is also traced to Azerbaijan, the Caucasus (see CAUCASUS AND IRAN), or Eastern Anatolia. A Caucasian group of variants of the Köroǧlu story includes versions in Georgian (see GEORGIA), Armenian (see ARMENIA), Kurdish, Lazgi, and Avar; an Azerbaijani group comprises versions in Turkmen, Tajik, Kazakh, and Arabic; and an eastern Anatolian group has a variety of Turkish and Uzbek versions (Abbaslı and Cəfərev, p. 633). The Köroǧlu story has changed in different lands, and in each place it has assumed characteristics relevant to the culture and political ideology of that particular place and people.
The story and its variants. In all versions Köroǧlu is a minstrel and poet who has revolted against the ruler’s injustice, and his story is told in prose interspersed with poetry, or entirely in prose. In general, poetry from different sources was gradually added to the various versions of the Köroǧlu story. The contents and the form of the Azerbaijani and Anatolian versions are closely related (cf. the literary genres qošma and türkü; see FOLK POETRY), and in both the hero’s name is Ruşen (Pers. rovšan bright).But in the Turkmen and Uzbek version, the hero’s name is Guroḡly (lit. son of the grave) because his mother had died before birth and her son was born in the grave.
The story of Köroǧlu (lit. son of the blind) begins with his father’s loss of sight. The feudal lord Hasan Khan blinds his stable manager Ali Kişi for a trivial offense by plucking out his eyes. Father and son leave the khan, taking with them the horses Kır-at (lit. pitch-dark horse) and Dur-at (lit. pearl-color horse). These horses are endowed with magic powers, since they were bred by a magician, sired by a legendary sea-horse, and reared in a dark place. Father and son stop on the slope of the mountain Çenlibel (lit. misty slopes; cf. Bakikhanov, pp. 181, 191), where they take a bath in the spring Qoşa Bulaq (lit. twin brooks). The spring’s magic water endows Köroǧlu with the gift of poetry so that he becomes a minstrel (ʿāšeq, baḵši). After the death of Ali Kişi, Köroǧlu buries his father near this spring, and eventually manages to bring Hasan Khan to Çenlibel in order to chain him in the stable. Köroǧlu’s personal vendetta soon becomes a campaign against the unjust rulers of the region. He is a Robin Hood-type character who fights oppressors and takes from the rich to give to the poor. As his fame begins to spread in the region, more and more people who are dissatisfied with their rulers and ready to revolt join him in his mountain headquarters. Ãşıq Junun, Eyvez, and Kosa are just a few of his many well-known followers. More than once Köroǧlu’s small detachment suddenly attacks a city or fortress and defeats a huge garrison of enemy soldiers. Afterwards Köroǧlu ’s followers celebrate their victory in his inaccessible mountaintop fort.
Women, who are often the daughters or wives of the local khans, have a special place in the Köroǧlu story. They are so fascinated by the bravery and democratic behavior of Köroǧlu and his followers that they become their wives. Köroǧlu’s beloved Negar has left her noble family, and she is Köroǧlu’s companion in his quest for justice, as well as a motherly figure for all members of his band at Çenlibel.
In the Anatolian version Köroǧlu ’s father is named Mirzabey, the cruel lord Bolubey (lit. governor of Bolu, a town between Istanbul and Ankara), and Köroǧlu’s headquarters Çamlıbel (lit. pine slopes). On the basis of the proper names Bolu, Çamlıbel, and Ruşen, it has been argued that the story originated in Anatolia, from whence it spread to the north and the northeast, and that the Turkmen version is secondary (Boratav, p. 912-13).
Historical context. In most versions Köroǧlu is a leader of an early17th-century Jalāli revolt (Wilks, p. 315 n. 4), during which a rebellious group in eastern Anatolia fought for more than 30 years against the Ottomans and their local representatives (Abbaslı and Cəfərov, p. 634). In the Erzurum tradition, the names of Gürcü Mehmet Pasha and Câfar Pasha correspond with those of two late 16th-century Ottoman officials, while in the Kars version the latter is named Cevher Pasha (Boratav, p. 913). Between 1575 and 1585, when Özdemiroǧlu Osman Pasha (d. 1585) led the Ottoman campaign against the Safavids, there was a chief called Köroǧlu, but whether this is the same Köroǧlu is not certain (Yener, p. 368). The famous Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi (1611-82) was in Anatolia and in the Caucasus around 1650. He mentions that the stories about Köroǧlu, a bandit minstrel of the Jalāli tribe, were well known in Anatolia. On the occasion of the execution of the leaders of a Jalāli rebellion near Lake Iznik, a minstrel was brought to the Ottoman sultan. This man reminds Evliya Çelebi of Köroǧlu, “who was an extraordinary chogur [a type of long-necked lute instrument] player and no one could compose poems like his” (Evliya, V, pp. 7, 196; cf. Bakikhanov, 1970, pp. 181, 191; Raʾisniyā, pp. 144-45).
The Armenian historian Arakʿel of Tabriz (d. 1670) provides a list of Jalāli leaders who pillaged and plundered the countryside in Anatolia and Armenia during the days of Shah ʿAbbās I (r. 1587-1629). Among these men Arµakʿel mentions a poet: “K’or-oḡli—this is the same K’or-oḡli who composed many songs, which are now sang by minstrels —[rebelled]. Gzir-oḡli Mustafa Bek, with 1,000 men [rebelled]. He was a friend of K’or-oḡli, who mentions him in many songs” (I, pp. 70-71, cf. II, p. 514). The Safavid historian Eskandar Beg Torkamān Monši (d. ca. 1633) also mentioned that the Jalalis, whom he described as a branch of the Takalu tribe, revolted against the tyranny and injustices of local rulers in Anatolia (II, pp. 765-66). Yet in a Georgian version of the epic (Chlaidze; cf. Alakbarov), Köroǧlu and his men fight against Shah ʿAbbās I. Pertev N. Boratav (1907-1998) has argued that on the basis of the currently known archival documents all versions can be considered stories about the same Köroǧlu (1967, p. 913). The minstrel who between 1584 and 1585 accompanied Özdemiroǧlu Osman Pasha on his Safavid campaign also participated between 1587 and 1591 and again in 1602 in Jalāli rebellions. Boratav specalutes that the Ottomans pardoned the Jalāli rebel, though he later reverted to his old way of life.
The Azerbaijani scholar Vaqif Valiyev (pp. 31-35), however, has argued that the Jalali bandit chief was not identical with the poet who lived in Azerbaijan. The Turkish historian Fuat Köprülü (p. 52) mentions a 16th-century poet of folk tales (see DASTĀN, DASTĀN-SARĀʾI) with the name Köroǧlu, and considered Eyvez, one of the companions of the famous Köroǧlu, a poet. The Turkish scholar Ergun Sadettin Nüzhet (pp. 244-45; cf. Abbaslı and Cəfərov, p. 635) saw Köroǧlu as a divan poet who flourished during the time of the Ottoman sultan Murat IV (r. 1623-40) and died in 1654.
Other men with the name Köroǧlu are mentioned in historical sources, but these are not also remembered as poets and minstrels. During the reigns of Shah Ṭahmāsb (r. 1524-76) and Shah ʿAbbās I, the rebellious Turkmen chief of Ḵosrov Sulṭān Guroḡlu lived in the mountains of Kerman (Raʾisniyā, p. 152). The Oghuz Ḵosrov Sulṭān Guroḡlu is remembered as one of the killers of Šāhqoli Beg Ostājlu, the Safavid commander of Khorasan during the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I (Ḥasan Beg Rūmlu, p. 631). As late as the end of the 20th century, in the era of the Ottoman sultan Abdülhamit II (r. 1876-1909), Köroǧlu was the name of a famous bandit chief (Boratav, pp. 913-14).
Western literary adaptations. The Polish poet and orientalist Aleksander Chodźko (1804-1891) was the first to translate and study the Köroǧlu tradition, when he served between 1832 and 1834 in the Russian consulates in Tabriz and Rasht. His Persian/Azeri Turkish Köroǧlu manuscript is held today in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris (MS Suppl. Persan 994; cf. Wilks, pp. 309-310). Chodźko published this research in English in 1842, and already in 1843 the novelist George Sand (1804-1876) published a French translation in several installments in La revue indépendante as “Les adventures et les improvisations de Kourroglou” (FIGURE 1). The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) adapted a single episode in his poem “The Leap of Roushan Beg,” which first appeared in 1878. Longfellow describes how Köroǧlu is chased by his enemies when his horse Kyrat stops at the edge of a precipice in Kurdistan. A 30-foot chasm yawns in front of them, and Köroǧlu talks to his horse: “O my Kyrat, O my steed, / round and slender as a reed, / Carry me this peril through!” The horse takes a giant leap and saves him from his enemies.
Western musical adaptations. The story of Köroǧlu also inspired musical works. Chodźko (pp. 583-84) included in his literary study Anthony de Kontski’s Persian Air on the tune of the Köroǧlu improvisation, set for piano. Particularly important is the opera by the Azerbaijani composer Uzeir Hajibekov (1885-1948). The Azerbaijani author Mammad Said Ordubadi (1872-1950) based his libretto on the popular Azerbaijani version of the story, and its theme of a peasant revolt against unjust khans meshed perfectly with the official Soviet ideology. Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), who may have known a Georgian version of the Köroǧlu story, attended the opera’s first performance in 1938, and is said to have greatly admired the work. This opera was the crowing achievement of Hajibekov’s career, though some critics claim to recognize criticism of the Soviet regime, under which Hajibekov had considerably suffered.
İsrafil Abbaslı and Nizami Cəfərev (Cäfärov), “‘Köroǧlu’ eposu,” in Azerbaycanədəbiyatı tarixi, ed. M. Karimov, 2nd ed., Baku, 2004, pp. 628-74; orig., Azerbaycan edebiyatı tarihi, 3 vols., Baku, 1957.
Tansel Fevziye Abdullah, “XVII. asir saz şâırlerınden Köroǧlu,” Ülkü, no. 95, 1941.
Farid Alakbarov, “The Other ‘Koroghlu’: Tbilisi Manuscript Sheds Light on Medieval Azerbaijani Hero,” Azerbaijan International 10.1, Spring 2002, pp. 53-57; also available at htttp://www.azer.com (accessed on 25 April 2008).
Anar (Anar Rizayev), Min beş yüz ilin oǧuz şeri: Antologiya, Baku, 1999.
Arµakʿel of Tabriz, The History of Vardapet, tr. from the Armenian by G. A. Bournoutian, 2 vols., Costa Mesa, Calif., 2005-2006.
Hamid Araslı, Halkın kahraman oǧli, Baku, 1942.
Himmet Alizade, ed., Köroǧlu, Baku, 1941.
Abbas-Koli-aga Bakikhanov (ʿAbbāsqoli Āqā Bāqi Khan), Golestān-e erām, ed. Z. M. Buniyatov, Baku, 1970; tr. as The Heavenly Rose-Garden: A History of Shirvan and Daghistan, by W. Floor and H. Javadi, Washington, D.C., 2008.
S˘amad Behrangi, Majmuʿa-ye maqālahā, Tehran, 1969, esp. the three essays pp. 136-67; repr., ed., Tehran, 1978.
Pertev Naili Boratav, “L’épopée et la ‘ḥikāye’,” in Philologiae Turcicae fundamenta, ed. Jean Deny et al., 3 vols., Wiesbaden, 1959-70, II, 1964, pp. 11-44, esp. pp. 24-28 and 39-41 for a comprehensive bibliography of Turkish and non-Turkish Köroǧlu versions.
Idem, “Kör-oǧlu,” İA, VI, 1967, pp. 908-914.
Liǐa G. Chlaidze, Gruzinskaya versiya èposa Kİr-ogly, Tbilisi, 1978; Georgian text with Russian tr.
Alexander Chodźko, Specimens of the Popular Poetry of Persia, as Found in the Adventures and Improvisations of Kurroglou, the Bandit-Minstrel of Northern Persia, and in the Songs of the People Inhabiting the Shores of the Caspian Sea, Orally Collected and Translated, with Philological and Historical Notes, London, 1842; repr., New York, 1971.
Rémy Dor, Nourali, ou, les aventures d’un héros épique: Orature d’Asie intérieure – Episodes du cycle de Goroghli dans la tradition Özbek d’URSS et d’Afghanistan, Cahiers de poétique comparée: numéro special, Paris, 1991.
Georges Dumézil, “Les légendes de fils aveugles en Caucase et autour de Caucase,” Revue de l’histoire des religions 117, 1938, pp. 58-74.
Eskandar Beg Torkamān Monši, Tāriḵ-e ʿālamārā-ye ʿAbbāsi, ed. I. Afshar, 2 vols., Tehran, 1955-56.
Evliya Çelebi, Seyahatname, Turkish tr. from the Ottoman by Mehmet Zillioǧlu, ed. by Necati Aktaş, 10 vols. in 7, Istanbul, 1973-84.
Uzeir Hajibekov et al., Kİr-ogly, Moscow, 1970; musical score.
Ḥasan Beg Rumlu, Aḥsan al-tawāriḵ, ed. ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Navāʾi, Tehran, 1979.
Baǐmukhamed Atalieviech Karryev, Gİr-ogly: Turkmenskiǐ geroicheskiǐ èpos, Moscow, 1983, Turkmen text with Russian tr.
Mehmet Fuat Köprülü, Türk edebiyati tarihi, ed. O. F. Köprülü and N. Pekin, 2nd ed., 2 vols. in 1, Istanbul, 1980; orig. ed., 2 vols., Istanbul, 1920-21, repr., 1 vol., Istanbul, 1926.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Leap of Roushan Beg,” in Kéramos and Other Poems, Boston, 1878, pp. 57-61; available at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: A Maine Historical Society Website (accessed 15 August 2009). à l’étude du fond socio-historique du destan ‘Köroǧlu’,” Etudes balkaniques 7, 1967, pp. 107-127.
Ergün Sadettin Nüzhet, Tanzimata kadar muhtasar Türk edebiyati tarihi ve nümuneleri, n. p., 1931.
Nuranə Nuriyeva, “Köroǧlunun Amerika səfəri,” Folklor və Etnografiya 3, 2005, pp. 51-56.
Raḥim Raʾisniyā, Kuroḡlu dar afsāna o tāriḵ, Tehran, 1987; incl. Persian tr. of Köroǧlunun meydana Çikisi by Yaşar Kemal.
George Sand, Kourroglou: Epopée persane, Paris, 1856; first pub. as “Les adventures et les improvisations de Kourroglou, recueillies en Perse, par M. Alexandre Chodzko,” La revue indépendante 6, 1843, pp. 71-84, 404-458, and 7, 1843, pp. 338-77; repr. with Le meunier d’Angibault, 3 vols., Paris, 1845, III, pp. 137-352; repr. in Œuvres illustrées, with illustrations by Tony Johannot, 9 vols., Paris, 1852-56, V, 1853, pp. 1-28 with 7 engravings.
Vaqif Valiyev, Azarbaycan qahramanlıq dastanları, Baku, 1953.
Judith M. Wilks, “The Persianization of Köroǧlu: Banditry and Royalty in Three Versions of the Köroǧlu destan,” Asian Folklore Studies 60/2, 2001, pp. 305-318.
Cemil Yener, Türk halk edebiyati antolojisi, Istanbul, 1973.
August 15, 2009
Originally Published: August 15, 2009
Last Updated: August 15, 2009