Monday, November 24, 2014

In the Hasankeyf market: Arif Ayhan, kilims and kahkabu

Arif Ayhan helps his uncle, Fares Ayhan, straighten the loom
Like many in Hasankeyf, Mehmet Arif Ayhan could easily choose to live elsewhere. For several years he made his living designing and selling jewelry in Marmaris, a resort town on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. “But I always felt something was missing,” he says. “Marmaris is culturally very different from Hasankeyf, and being so far from home took its toll.”

“I felt that Hasankeyf had potential,” says Arif, a Hasankeyf native who returned to the town several years ago to build a business and start a family. “Every type of person comes to Hasankeyf, and I can meet people from all over the world, people from different cultures.”

Arif, a former weaver, in his shop
Today he sells textiles from Western Iran and Eastern Turkey. “Each region – Hakkari, Tabriz, Kirmanshah – has its own history,” says Arif, “and each kilim has a story. I love sharing these stories with people.” He is also eager to help visitors, be they journalists, photographers, film-makers or casual tourists, make the most of their time in Hasankeyf. The only thing he asks in return is for people to tell their friends about his hometown.

“There is no place like Hasankeyf, with its special setting on the banks of the Tigris River. We played in the caves when we were young,” says Arif. He recalls a game called kahkabu, a distinctly Hasankeyf version of “hide and seek,” explaining: “When we were children, one of our favorite games was kahkabu. There are two teams, five people on a team. We would cast lots to decide which team would hide first. We usually played in the evening and hid in the caves toward the Citadel.”

Anyone fancy a game of kahkabu?
Do you ever play kahkabu with guests visiting Hasankeyf? “We’ve not tried it so far,” he says, “but it would be a good way for tourists to learn about Hasankeyf, especially because this game is part of our heritage.”

The tomb of Aslan Baba, on the far side of the Citadel, is
one of several mausolea and cemeteries that encircle the town
Another way to discover the special culture of Hasankeyf is to visit the tombs and cemeteries that encircle the town, such as the tombs of Şeyh Sevinç, Wuqanna and Imam Abdullah. “Each year in the spring (late May or early June) there is a special festival in honor of Imam Abdullah,” Arif says. Hundreds of people come from surrounding towns to remember Imam Abdullah, who as the grandson of Ja’far al-Tayyar and nephew of the Caliph Ali, provides an important link to the first decades of Islam. As Arif says, “It’s not just that Hasankeyf is home for me, but this place has a pull on everyone. You can’t describe it, but when people come, they feel it immediately and they don’t want to leave.”

What is Arif’s favorite pastime in Hasankeyf? “Each day I walk across the bridge at least four times to look at the river and see look at the castle, but the thing I enjoy most is spending time with my son.”

-- John

This is the first in a short series of posts profiling local Hasankeyf business owners.

The view of Hasankeyf from the left bank of the Tigris

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