Manes flying in the wind

Horses gallop through the pages of the history and geography books of the Turkish peoples.

If you go one day to Bolayır you’ll see the grave of Namık Kemal beside a road that runs through fields of brilliant yellow sunflowers. And immediately next to the grave of this Ottoman poet and patriot is another one that looks like a ‘türbe’. If you step inside, once your eyes have dark-adapted you’ll spot a chest with a turbaned head. Resting there is Süleyman Pasha, remembered as the Conqueror of Rumelia. Nor is Süleyman Pasha alone in his endless sleep. Lying next to him in another grave is his tutor and on the other side, his horse! The Pasha is lying side by side with his teacher and mentor and with the steed that carried him on its back for years. Ottoman history is full of such stories of owners’ undying love for their horses. The horses of Lala Şahin Pasha too lie next to him in Istanbul’s famous Karacaahmet Cemetery. And Genç Osman had a special tomb erected in the palace garden for his beloved horse,
Sisli Kır.

The working horse is a fixture in the history of the Turks, and Kashgarli Mahmud defines the horse as ‘the wings of the Turk’.
(Would Pegasus take umbrage? Who knows?) There are Central Asian stories of wingéd horses dating back to the period of shamanism, of horses, for example, that either bear a dying hero to the other world, or bring him back to earth from there. But there is one point on which everyone agrees, namely, that the horse was domesticated by Proto-Turkish communities on the steppes of Central Asia sometime between 4000 and 3500 B.C. And the world’s first known carpet, the ‘Pazyryk carpet’, was discovered on the back of a horse found buried there in a glacier. Even the women of the nomadic Turks were skilled riders, suckling their infants on horseback when necessary. The Turks ate horse meat in those times and drank ‘kımız’ made from mare’s milk.
Similarly, ‘jereed’, a game played on horseback, numbers among the Turks’ ancestral sports. Sultan Mahmud II was an unabashed devotee, who loved to play as well as watch. After one of the Harem eunuchs, Şuayip Agha, fell off his horse and died in a fierce match played in 1816, tension rose to a fever pitch six months later. And when it became clear the two teams were merely out for revenge, the Sultan cut the match short and did not allow jereed to be played again.

Just take a look at history. Are there any heroes without horses? From Köroğlu and Zaloğlu Rüstem to Battal Gazi and Alexander the Great, all heroes both real and fictitious are remembered together with their steeds. In his linguistic masterpiece, ‘The Legend of Mount Ağrı’, immortalizing the love of Ahmet and Gülbahar, writer Yaşar Kemal dispatches the horse of Mahmut Khan, Pasha of Beyazıt, to Ahmet’s door. Although Ahmet tries three times to get rid of the horse, whose owner is unknown to him, it won’t go away and keeps turning up again at his door. From its trappings it is clear that this is not just anybody’s horse. By time-honored custom the horse, which returns despite  being sent off three times, is now Ahmet’s property. But Mahmud Khan, scorning custom, demands his horse back. What happens then? You’ll just have to read ‘The Legend of Mount Ağrı’!
Then one day horses escaped from the pages of books and met up with a painter at the station! Or was it that the painter encountered them in the meadow? Or shall we say that they collided in the light? Collision, encounter or whatever, painter Orhan Peker put his signature on a series of ‘Horses’ of extraordinary beauty. “There was probably something in the patched rugs thrown over their backs, or in the bright blue beads around their necks, that motivated me to paint horses,” explains the artist. “Whatever it was, it not only influenced my painterly side but also drove me to make a statement...”
What all springs to mind at the mention of horses! Phaetons, horsedrawn carriages, cavalry regiments, the Trojan horse, the dappled horse for which Alaçatı is named, the horses that pull the winter sleds at Kars and Ani, Karacabey Stud Farm, ‘Land of Beautiful Horses’ Cappadocia, jockeys, Arabian horses, horsedrawn trams, Turkey’s first horse hospital at Beyoğlu, stables, gravestones in the shape of horses, the Ömer Seyfettin story ‘Currycomb’, blacksmiths, harnesses, saddles and bridles, spurs, neighing, Ottoman cavalry fiefs, foals, the Malakan horse, thoroughbreds, horses’ rumps, history’s oldest horse training manual, the Hittite ‘Kikkuli’s Book of the Horse’, and so many others...

Nor did the poets sit idly by as the horses were galloping full-speed ahead, but rather penned verses for their manes flying in the wind. And this humble writer, in a high school history class, once asked how many horses died in the Battle of Malazgirt and got a stiff reprimand for an answer, even though he was only trying to point out that at least as many horses as brave men have died in war. Years later the following poem appeared in one of his books: “uncle / uncle, ask your horse / he’ll know / how many horses died at the Battle of Malazgirt // and the boy cried out to the carter’s hadji-green eyes / from the fifteenth storey of a skyscraper / and the old man / pulling some tattered old history books / out of his goathair saddlebag / filled it with horse fodder”... And on another day I encountered mountains, horses and love in a poem by Ilhan Berk and was happy: “...When I think of you / I plant a rose at the place my hand touched / I water the horses / And I love the mountains even more.”
But for me the most beautiful poem about horses is one by Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca, whose surname conjures up images of roaming herds of wild horses. Let me conclude this piece with his poem, ‘Forgiveness’: “Horses love people / I loved you like a horse. / Horses love the faraway / I was faraway tall. / Horses love the plural / And the nations have always multiplied. / Horses / Do you hear, forgive the horses they outrun.”