Photographs in Words 17 – Sheikh Baba

Sheikh Baba was among those Kurdish Muslim spiritual leaders from the East of Turkey who, in the 1920’s, were forced into exile in the Western provinces of the country. Outside the door of his Edirnekapi home in Istanbul, two policemen kept watch. Inside, Sheikh Baba kept at his side two books in separate cases – the Quran and Şeref Khan’s Şerefname.

He felt compassion for those who confided that they never spoke Kurdish in the presence of their children to protect them from their mother tongue. ”Let it be,” he would say. He blamed himself for having placed trust in certain political, military leaders.*

Sheikh Baba kept waiting for the day he would return to Bitlis. He believed one day he would… Three times his prayer mat was dampened by secret tears running down his long, white beard.

The young who listened to his absorbing talks would remember him in their old age with the words ‘Ya Hazret-i Şah, Ya Hazret-i Pir’ ( Oh Our Spiritual Leader ). But they did not tell the young what Sheikh Baba had told them; nor did the young ask about him. Some of Sheikh Baba’s knowledge, however, can be found hidden in the names given by him to babies.

He ate very little. The only exception was on the days everybody got up early to make Bitlis meat balls, on occasions accompanied by Çorti taplaması  (a pickled cabbage and bulgur dish). At such times, he felt deep down in his heart that he was back home.

Sheikh Baba died in his eighties in 1943. Permission for his body to be taken to his hometown was refused. Some time later, a group of those who had been closest to him  secretly opened his grave after midnight. At first, they were unable to fit Sheikh Baba into the trunk they had brought with them. Then, suddenly, they succeeded. It was their belief that he had pulled back his feet to help them.

Only as cargo was Sheikh Baba able to return to his hometown.

* Historical background: Musa Anter, Hatıralarım (My Memoirs), Istanbul, 1992, p. 87-88.

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