Traditional sohbet meetings have different names in different areas, including: sıra gezmeleri, sıra name, barana sohbetleri, yaran, sırayarenler, kürsübaşı sohbetleri, velime geceleri, cümbüş, delikanlıteşkilatı, gençler kurulu, gezek, keyf/kef, muhabbet, oda teşkilatı,oturmah, sohbet, and erfane.
Groups with different numbers of men come together especially in the wintertime within the framework of certain rules and serve a social solidarity function. The day chosen for the meetings is generally Thursday, Friday or Saturday. The meetings begin in the evenings and end around midnight. Every member is expected to arrive at the meeting on time and leave on time.
The traditional sohbet meetings are recognized and kept alive throughout Turkey with different names in different regions. In the province of Çankırı province, they are called Yaran Sohbeti, in Kütahya’s Simav district Yaren Teşkilatı, in Şanlıurfa Sıra Gecesi, in Elazığ Kürsübaşı Sohbeti, in Balıkesir’s Dursunbey district Barana Sohbetleri. In Ankara and its environs, they are called Cümbüş, in Ankara’s Kazan district Delikanlı Örgütü, in Niğde’s Dündarlı district Gençler Heyeti, in Kütahya and Isparta Gezek, in the provinces of Antalya and Isparta Kef/Keyif, in Ankara’s Beypazarı district, the provinces of Kırşehir and Yozgat and the
Safranbolu district of Karabük Muhabbet, in Balıkesir’s Erdemitdistrict and Manisa’s Soma district Oda Teşkilatı, in the province of Van Oturmah, in Konya’s Akşehir district Sıra Yarenleri, in Ardahan Erfene/Arfane, in Afyon Gezek, in Bursa Erfane/Gezek, in Erzincan Sıra Gecesi/Herfene, and in Diyarbakır Velime Geceleri.
There are traditional, unwritten rules for the formation and operation of sohbet meetings. Even though the numbers vary, sohbet groups generally consist of 5-30 people and are governed by a committee of 3-5 people or a chairman chosen by the members. Depending on the region, the sohbet chairman has various names such as sıra başkanı, kolbaşı, köşe ihtiyarı, büyük yarenbaşı, küçük yarenbaşı, sözcü, yiğitbaşı, büyük başağa, yaran reisi. His job is to manage relationships in the group and ensure that the meetings are conducted according to specified rules.
The members and attendees of traditional sohbet meetings are generally males older than 15-16 years of age. One does not have to belong to a certain ethnic or religious group to participate in the meetings, but is expected to have certain moral characteristics, such as being honest, keeping secrets and obeying their elders. At the first sohbet meeting, the chairman or assembly chief is elected, responsibilities are reviewed, a decision is made about the types of food that will be served during the sohbet, musicians are contacted and the general operation of the meetings are specified. When a new member is going to be admitted to the sohbet group, his background is checked, and the contribution he will make to the sohbet is evaluated. New members must be compatible with theother members on several levels but especially social status. It is possible for non-members to attend as guests provided that all of the members approve.
The sohbets are held in the homes of members on a rotating basis. Specific guidelines are followed for arrival and greetings at the sohbet location. For example, in the barana tradition, the chairman enters the sohbet room first followed by the members. In the yaren tradition, on the other hand, the members stand at attention waiting for the chairman. There are also certain rules for the seating arrangement. For example, in Gerede meetings, the members sit in a half-circle with the chairman in the exact middle. The musicians sit to his left and the members on the right in order of seniority. There are also certain criteria for how the sohbet location is arranged. In places where the largest room of the house is used, carpets or rush mats are rolled out. The mats are covered with rugs featuring traditional designs, cushions and pillows. As can be ascertained from the name, the focus of the traditional sohbet meetings is conversation (sohbet). Any issue related to daily life is discussed in the meetings. Other important elements include events like folk music, folk dances, entertaining dances performed in the room, theatrical plays as well as food and dining culture. A variety of games such as “hiding the ring” and talaka are played on sohbet nights including the ring game in the barana tradition, and the vızvız game and dumb mute game in the yaren tradition. The Şanlıurfa Sıra Gecesi and Elazığ Kürsübaşı meetings have a special music focus and function as a conservatory where traditional music performers receive training in a master-apprentice relationship. The food eaten at the meetings also varies from region to region. For example, the Şanlıurfa Sıra Geceleri always feature raw meatballs (çiğ köfte) as well as dessert and bitter coffee known as murra. The list of food for the sıra gecesi is determined at the beginning and may not be altered. The yaren meals in Çankırı are full course occasions with soup, stew, pilaf and baklava. In the Elazığ kürsübaşı tradition, fruit leather, almonds, dried mulberries and walnuts are served. In the barana tradition, on the other hand, the chairman gives a signal before the food is completely finished, with the exception of tirit, and the rest is left for the host.Traditional sohbet meetings basically have similar functions. The primary purpose is to spend free time outside of work conversing and having fun and to educate those who attend the sohbet in an entertaining way. The topics of conversation may range from social and political issues to the economic and health problems of the members. These meetings make a significant contribution to transmitting and keeping intangible cultural heritage alive and to creating a feeling of mutual respect and solidarity, especially among the younger generation. The group members have equal rights and responsibilities without regard for their social and economic status, or other differences. These differences do not result in a hierarchical structure within the group. The membersof the group are taught and supervised by the leaders and the elder members on issues related to daily life. In times of need, they benefit from monetary and moral support.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism continues research, identification and documentation work on the traditional sohbet meetings where different regional elements with similar functions are placed in the same category. In order to guarantee the viability of the element, the activities and publication efforts of communities that implement the practice and concerned civil society organizations are supported.
As a result of fieldwork conducted in areas where the element is practiced, documentaries have been prepared by the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). The traditional sohbet meetings play a crucial role in the transmission of cultural heritage and its many aspects such as traditional attire, oral expressions, music, dance and cuisine to future generations. They also contribute to the safeguarding of cultural heritage with a holistic approach to ensure the continuity of the tradition.
In 2010, the Traditional Sohbet Meetings were registered on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on behalf of Turkey.