Turks had often changed their homeland and spread widely in the world. They had been influenced by many cultures, beliefs and religions and lived within different civilizations in this historical period. As a result, they have a literature world which has changed and developed from the times in Middle Asia to today.
The cultures connected within the same civilization share a similar world view. And this world view forms the literary sense special to that civilization. The literary works are shaped in regard to the value system of the culture of a living community.
Âşıklık (Minstrelsy) tradition is an important part of a cultural entity. Âşıklık is a tradition shaped by experiences of centuries. Its structure is based on the customs including a distinctive performance. And it has a series of rules to fall in love and to sustain the minstrelsy. Turkey has a rich and rooted history. This creating cultural wealth is also reflected in the poetry tradition of minstrelsy. The products of this tradition sheds lights on the living style of the community, its attitude against the events and situations and its understanding of the environment and the world. It has an important role in determination of the Turkish community’s art taste and identity within history. The minstrelsy tradition also enables the solidarity within social life. Because it voices the shared opinionsof the community, it has a significant role in preserving and keeping the Turkish culture alive. Turkish literature also has a long history. Turks had had a literature based on the culture and customs of the belief systems before Islam. The Turkish poetry of the pre-Islam period gained a new shape with the new literary forms and types of the Islam culture, the poems of the ozan-baksı, epic tradition enriched with the myths of the new culture and other Islamic components within the acculturation process. Each literary custom gains a special expression as cultural accumulation, the world view and living style change. And the minstrelsy type literature was formed as the poet-singer (ozan-baksı) tradition disappeared and Anatolian living style changed.
All types of literature which came up in Anatolia after Islam is based on Islamic world view. As a result, it only has religious rules. After 15th century, the minstrelsy literature developed in Anatolia. The poet-singer called ozan is replaced with minstrel, the lute is replaced with other instruments called "karadüzen, bağlama, çöğür, tanbura, cura" etc. The culture of ozan-baksı had been formed with verbal customs and had been a combination of the legend and the history. All of these components then nurtured the minstrelsy.
The minstrelsy poetry tradition is shaped by Islam, culture of Anatolia and Ottoman and gained a new form and content to respond the point of view, perception and taste in a new geography. Even if ozan-baksı tradition affected by the minstrelsy literature, two differ in their cultural roots. In other words, ozan-baksı tradition based on the national content is not a prototype of the minstrelsy. The minstrelsy is a totally new type rooted in Islamic content and formed with the new culture in Anatolia.
The minstrelsy literature addresses to a large mass of people while the divan literature (another literary branch) to an upper culture. And the tradition reflects such differences of the minstrels from different regions with various cultures, languages and tastes. The anonymous products which are social outputs of the individual lives nurture the tradition as well. The minstrels in Anatolia developed the ways of saying as epic for social, historical experiences and lyric for individual experiences and situations. The minstrel is a quoter singing the master minstrels’ products also known as the “master’s product”. As he becomes a master then starts to sing his own poets created within the tradition. The minstrel’s poem is created and disseminated usually spontaneously.
The products of ozan-baksı tradition were not identified in Anatolia. The samples assumed to be written in 16th century are the matured ones which cannot be considered as the first samples of the minstrelsy poetry tradition. The public literature of religious mysticism aka Sufism which is shaped by a synthesis in Anatolia and transformed into the whole of a living style and values deeply influenced the minstrelsy tradition. The minstrel type formed with a new cultural identity in Anatolia is a product of nomads and settled organizing. When the epic poetry which had been an outcome of the nomad culture started to disappear, the lyric poetry of the settled people came out. The minstrel functionally differs from the dervish searching for the mystic union and the ozan carrying the saga culture which is nurtured with the pre-Islamic belief systems with dance and music. The minstrels have a role to proclaim the community’s voice, feelings and opinions. The culture in the villages, small towns and migrant groups in Anatolia was different than of the Middle Asia Turks as a result of the Islamic culture and also couldn’t reach the upper culture in the big cities. The minstrel type poetry is the output of this culture.
In 19th century, localizing trend increased in Divan literature. The minstrels close to the divan poetry were influence by it. The minstrel groups were formed. The political and social changes resulting from the dissolution of the empire influenced the minstrel type poetry as well. Because the master-apprentice relations weakened in minstrel groups, the janissaries was closed, the dervish lodges which had been nurturing the tradition disfunctioned, the places to train the minstrels disappeared.
One of the fundamental changes in the society as a whole and in the institutions came out with the reforms in 19th century. The French revolution in the west 18th century shattered the world. The concepts like nationalism, freedom, equality, right, justice became symbols of the new values. The reform literature which had been developed with the western civilization’s influence formed a new art and literary understanding facing the west. This understanding impressed the individuals and the society. And the minstrelsy literature was affected by these progresses and started to face human beings and turn to outside subjects.
After 20th century, the minstrels were dismissed from the army and they lost their protectors when the dervish lodges were closed. And the minstrelsy literature started to decline. The reform in Ottomans, constitutionalism, 1st world war also affected the Turkish society and their daily life fast. The new culture and the living style cause dilemmas as in any transitional period. The minstrels started to question the social problems. They did not know what to do against the aging traditions. They could not adapt the change and progress. The minstrels have an attitude in favor of the tradition, criticize and lampooned the persons with behavioral disorder. They adopt raising awareness of the community and inform them as a principle. Their advices suggest preserving the old habits as a model value.
During Ottoman looking for a new living style with western influence in 20th century, the minstrels could not sustain their old style because they did not follow the change and progress in the community. In last 50 years, the cultural dilemma of centuries disappears. Today, half of the society shares the same cultural environment with the intellectuals. The ones in the villages are also connected to the urban culture fast. Today’s humans prefer different kind of poems instead of the poetry to an intangible lover. The new poetry is concrete responding the longings of the today’s society and consisted of new perceptions. The minstrelsy tradition has started to lose its specific characteristics. The minstrel poetry is no longer formed of and disseminated with the words. Apart from the decreasing number of the samples, there still are the minstrels singing improvised poems with their instrument in public. The minstrels using the traditional materials in the improvised poetry started to put their signature on the new type minstrelsy poetry by bringing individual creativeness in the poems.
With the migration from the villages to the cities, the rural and urban cultures combined in the big cities. The stories of the people who were trying to hold on to life after they had migrated to a city from their village; their problems, dilemmas became subjects of the minstrelsy poetry and the tradition gained a new dimension in terms of the content. A new kind of minstrel came out who is living in the cities, benefiting from the urban society’s resources, providing new openings to the tradition. Today’s minstrels are now drifting away from the tradition.