Mehmet Ağa with yellow boots by Barış Manço

During a lengthy class of philosophy in a cold October morning in Rome, I scribbled the name of a song that I was dictated to by my classmate. We were occasionally whispering during the long phases of class. It was my first time sitting next to a Turkish person, and of all the countries in the world I knew or read about, Turkey somehow never passed me.

During the short bursts of whispering small talk it somehow led to music. Admittedly, I rarely listen to music, and if so, it was usually in the background while working or when i’m inside public transportation. All that I remember of the conversation now was myself scribbling down Barış Manço (pronounced Barish Mancho) to listen to his songs later.

Later when I searched his music and specifically lyrics, I was awestruck.. I rarely like Rock music in general nor the usual music lyrics, though Barış combined Rock music with Turkish folklore gracefully, and I was also surprised how similar Turkish folklore, inherited from nomadic tradition for centuries, was to our own Arabic and Balochi culture. Not only did he not blindly copy the Western music (as I expected most non-Western singers do), he enriched his music with lyrics by modernizing folk/religious poetry with beautiful proverbs and wisdoms.

Born in 1943 during the height of WW2; he was given the name Barış by his parents which meant peace (while his older brother’s name was Savaç for war). He was notable for being one of the founders of Turkish rock music in the 1970s, and an esteemed rockstar with famous music and shows up to his death in 1999.

While there is so much to be spoken about Barış’s different lyrics and folk-stories; this time I will dissect and translate one of my favorites;

Sarı Çizmeli Mehmet Ağa

Originally from Karaman in Anatolia, central Turkey; a great business man (Ağa) called Mehmet was given 3,000 acres of land for cultivating in Cyprus by the Ottoman sultan in late 1800s — to help develop the island and give locals jobs.

Mehmet Ağa went beyond his call of duty; he used his wealth to reconcile problems, pay for weddings, building and renovating houses and donating some of his land. He was known for working around in his yellow work boots (Sarı Çizmeli), hence was given the nickname of name Mehmat Ağa with yellow boots or Sarı Çizmeli Mehmet Ağa.

It was notorious that when he went into shops, restaurants or coffee houses, he asked that all the poors’ debt to be written on his own name for him to pay it off. Hence the name of Mehmet Ağa with yellow boots was constantly written by debtors in the island; an act that was figuratively and literally commemorated in the chorus of Barış’s song;

Yaz dostum (write my friend).

The word Dostum itself was familiar to me, though I didn’t know why until we fast forward to today, 4 years after I first heard the song, when I realized (thanks to my manger) that Dostum was the same meaning as friend (دُشت +affix م) in my mother language too!(in Balochi language, which I am terrible at. The Turkish Dostum comes from the similar origin in the old Persian language).

Mehmet Ağa passed away in the 1920s with nothing to his name, for he gave all his money to the poor. It was only decades later when Barış Manço came to Cyprus for a concert in the 1970’s that he learned of this story and subsequently wrote and released his popular song “Sarı Çizmeli Mehmet Ağa” in 1977.

The lyrics of the song goes as:

Disclaimer: My Turkish language level barely makes it out of A1 (beginner), I hesitated in translating this, but I couldn’t find a better English or Arabic translation, and I believe a little effort in spreading language and cultural knowledge is better than nothing. I used various online translations to correct. I am open to revision if someone would like to point out where I mistranslated.

Barış returned to Cyprus in 1982, managed to find the surviving relatives of Mehmet Ağa in a small village called Göçeri and renovated his grave.

The takeaway from this song was that the thought and idea of how so much wisdom and folklore could be preserved if only we rethink the methods of preserving them. Especially for cultures dependent on oral culture such as ours. To conserve our folk wisdom into songs, nasheeds, books or even short movies.

A food for thought.

Newspaper articles of Manço gifting the grandson of Mehmet Ağa the vinyl of the song and renovating the grave. Dated 7.3.1980.
Left: Manço’s rennovation in 1980s. Right: Recent renovation by KVİ in late 2020.

sources:
Ikbal, M. (15.12.2020). Kıbrıs Vakıflar İdaresi ‘Sarı Çizmeli Mehmet Ağa’nın KKTC’deki kabrini yeniledi. Anadolu Ajansı. Retrieved from: https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/dunya/kibris-vakiflar-idaresi-sari-cizmeli-mehmet-aganin-kktcdeki-kabrini-yeniledi/2077181.
(21.12.2020). Barış Manço’nun Şarkısının Kahramanı Sarı Çizmeli Mehmet Ağa’nın Hikayesi. Eksi Seyler. Retrieved from: https://seyler.eksisozluk.com/baris-manconun-sarkisinin-kahramani-sari-cizmeli-mehmet-aganin-hikayesi?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=pmd_2Lg69E0HtSxKWPvbJ6glU42TMhsL3WehInNjm5MQCjQ-1631087684-0-gqNtZGzNAmWjcnBszQel

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