The köçek (plural köçekler in Turkish) was typically a very handsome young male slave or a Romani dancer[1] (rakkas), who usually cross-dressed in feminine attire, and was employed as an entertainer.[2]

Köçek in Ottoman miniature.


"Köçek troupe at a fair" at Sultan Ahmed's 1720 celebration of his son's circumcision. Miniature from the Surname-i Vehbi, Topkapı Palace, Istanbul.

The Turkish küçük derives from the Persian word کوچک kuchak, from Middle Persian (kwck' /kūčak/, “small”), from Proto-Iranian *kaw-ča-ka, from Proto-Indo-Iranian *kaw- ~ *ku- (“young, small”).[3][4][5][6][7]In the Crimean Tatar language, the word köçek means "baby camel".[8] The culture of the köçek, which flourished from the 17th to the 19th century, had its origin in the customs in Ottoman palaces, and in particular in the harems. Its genres enriched both the music and the dance of the Ottomans.[2]

The support of the Sultans was a key factor in its development, as the early stages of the art form was confined to palace circles.[9] From there the practice dispersed throughout the Empire by means of independent troupes.[2]


"Performing Köçek", illustration from Hubanname by Enderûnlu Fâzıl, 18th century

A köçek would begin training around the age of seven or eight after he was circumcised and would be considered accomplished after about six years of study and practice. A dancer's career would last as long as he was clean shaven and retained his youthful appearance.[10]

The dances, collectively known as köçek oyunu, blended elements from throughout the empire, most importantly Turkish (like Karsilamas and Kaşık Havası) and Arab elements. They performed to a particular genre of music known as köçekçe, which was performed in the form of suites in a given melody. It too was a mix of Sufi, Balkan and classical Anatolian influences, some of which survives in popular Turkish music today. The accompaniment included various percussion instruments, such as the davul-köçek, the davul being a large drum, one side covered with goat skin and the other in sheep skin, producing different tones. A köçek's skill would be judged not only on his dancing abilities but also on his proficiency with percussion instruments, especially a type of castagnette known as the çarpare.[2] The dancers were accompanied by an orchestra, featuring four to five each kaba kemençe and laouto as principal instruments, used exclusively for köçek suites.[11] There were also two singers. A köçek dance in the Ottoman seraglio (palace harem) involved one or two dozen köçeks and many musicians.[2] The occasions of their performances were wedding or circumcision celebrations, feasts and festivals, as well as the pleasure of the sultans and the aristocracy.

The youths, often wearing heavy makeup, would curl their hair and wear it in long tresses under a small black or red velvet hat decorated with coins, jewels and gold. Their usual garb consisted of a tiny red embroidered velvet jacket with a gold-embroidered silk shirt, shalvar (baggy trousers), a long skirt and a gilt belt, knotted at the back. They were said to be "sensuous, attractive, effeminate", and their dancing "sexually provocative". Dancers minced and gyrated their hips in slow vertical and horizontal figure eights, rhythmically snapping their fingers and making suggestive gestures. Often acrobatics, tumbling and mock wrestling were part of the act. The köçeks were sexually exploited, often by the highest bidder.[12][13]

Famous poets, such as Fazyl bin Tahir Enderuni, wrote poems, and classical composers, such as the court musician Hammamizade İsmail Dede Efendi (1778–1846), composed köçekçes for celebrated köçeks. Many Istanbul meyhanes (nighttime taverns serving meze, rakı or wine) hired köçeks. Before starting their performance, the köçek danced among the spectators, to make them more excited. In the audience, competition for their attention often caused commotions and altercations. Men would allegedly go wild, breaking their glasses, shouting themselves voiceless, or fighting and sometimes killing each other vying for the opportunity to rape, molest, or otherwise force the children into sexual servitude.[14] This resulted in suppression of the practice under Sultan Abdulmejid I.[2]

As of 1805, there were approximately 600 köçek dancers working in the taverns of the Turkish capital. They were outlawed in 1837 due to fighting among audience members over the dancers.[15] With the suppression of harem culture under Sultan Abdulaziz (1861–1876) and Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876–1908), köçek dance and music lost the support of its imperial patrons and gradually disappeared.[16]

Köçeks were much more sought after than the çengi ("belly dancers"), their female counterparts. Some youths were known to have been killed by the çengi, who were extremely jealous of men's attention toward the boys.[14][17]

Dance and Music

Köçek dancers ranged from ten to eighteen years old. Their attire consisted of wearing colorful garments, makeup, perfume and long hair. They were tasked with entertaining their superiors through dance, music, singing and performing acrobatics.

Aside from dancing, köçeks were required to play instruments simultaneously. They used dâire (Arabic for “circle”) which is similar to a drum, a çaǧana (Persian origin) that were metal castanets, and çelpara (Persian for “four pieces”), also known as çârpâra, clappers. Vocally, they used ince sâz (soft sounding instruments) consisting of kemençe rumî (fiddle) and lavta (lute).

Lyrics and poems were written about the köçek, describing their performances, mentioning their coquettish ways and charm. Derived from that, came the köçekçe, becoming a musical phenomena as they performed in ensembles.


Education was provided to the köçek at enderȗn mektebi (the school of the palace) and only some were chosen to live in the inner part of the sultan’s palace. Others resided elsewhere and worked in the kol (in the guilds of craftsmen).

Köçeks were recruited of several background and ways, such as by captives, slaves or devşirme (recruiting of boys from the Janissary corps) from the fourteenth to early eighteenth century.

They performed at varying sultan festivities, presented to ambassadors and showed their skills at taverns, wine cellars and coffee shops for money.

Modern offshoots

A modern interpretation is the movie Köçek (1975) by director Nejat Saydam. The movie follows the life of Caniko, an androgynous Gypsy, who struggles with his gender identity.[18][19]

See also


  1. Besiroglu, Sehvar. "Music, Identity, Gender: Çengi̇s, Köçeks, Çöçeks".
  2. Prof. Ş. Şehvar Beşiroğlu. "Music, Identity, Gender: Çengis, Köçeks, Çöçeks". ITU Turkish Music State Conservatory, Musicology Department. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. Bailey, H. W. (1931). "To the Zamasp Namak II". Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London. 6 (3): 599 of 581–600. ISSN 1356-1898. JSTOR 607195.
  4. Bailey, H. W. (1933). "Iranian Studies II". Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London. 7 (1): 69 of 69–86. ISSN 1356-1898. JSTOR 607605.
  5. Mackenzie, D. N. (2014-09-25). A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary. Routledge. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-136-61396-8.
  6. Allan R. Bomhard. Mann - An Indo-European Comparative Dictionary (1984-1987).
  7. Nourai, Ali (2011). An Etymological Dictionary of Persian, English and other Indo-European Languages. p. 258.
  8. Üseinov, S.M. (2007). "Rusça-Qırımtatarca, Qırımtatarca-Rusça luğat". Aqmescit, Tezis.
  9. Stephen O. Murray, Will Roscoe (1997). Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature. NYU Press. ISBN 0814774687.
  10. Anthony Shay (2014). The Dangerous Lives of Public Performers: Dancing, Sex, and Entertainment in the Islamic World. Palgrave MacMillan. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-349-49268-8.
  11. "The Classical Turkish Music: Köçekçe". Archived from the original on 15 December 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  12. Danielle J. van Dobben (2008). Dancing Modernity: Gender, sexuality and the state in the late Ottoman Empire and early Turkish Republic (PDF). The University of Arizona, Near Eastern Studies. pp. 43–44, 47–51. ISBN 978-1-243-41693-3.
  13. Joseph A. Boone (2014). The Homoerotics of Orientalism: Mappings of Male Desire in Narratives of the Near and Middle East. Columbia University Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-231-15110-8.
  14. Stavros Stavrou Karayanni (2006). Dancing Fear & Desire: Race, Sexuality and Imperial Politics in Middle Eastern Dance. WLU Press. pp. 78, 82–83. ISBN 088920926X.
  15. Judith Lynne Hanna (1988). Dance, sex, and gender: signs of identity, dominance, defiance, and desire. p. 57. ISBN 9780226315515.
  16. Arno Schmitt (1992). Sexuality and eroticism among males in Moslem societies. Routledge. pp. 84–85. ISBN 1560240474.
  17. Tazz Richards (2000). The Belly Dance Book: Rediscovering the Oldest Dance. pp. 11, 27, 28, 29–37, 32. ISBN 9780970024701.
  18. Aziza Sa'id (31 August 2008). "A Question of Köçek – Men in Skirts".
  19. "Köçek". TSA Center for Turkish Cinema Studies. Retrieved 22 April 2013.


  • AYVERDİ, Sâmiha; Istanbul Geceleri The nights of Istanbul, ed. Baha, Istanbul, 1977.
  • ENDERUNLU Fazıl bey; Çenginame', 1759
  • Erdoğan, Sema Nilgün: Sexual life in Ottoman Empire, ed. Dönence, Istanbul, 1996. p. 88–92
  • JANSSEN, Thijs: Transvestites and Transsexuals in Turkey, in Sexuality and Eroticism Among Males in Moslem Societies, edited by Arno Schmidt and Jehoeda Sofer, ed. Harrington Park Press, New York, 1992
  • Klebe, Dorit. "Effeminate Professional Musicians in Sources of Ottoman-Turkish Court Poetry and Music of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.” Music in Art 30, no. 1/2 (2005): 97–116.
  • KOÇU, Reşad Ekrem, Eski İstanbul'da Meyhaneler ve Meyhane Köçekleri, İstanbul Ansiklopedisi Notları No
  • ÖZTUNA, Yılmaz: Türk Musikisi Ansiklopedisi, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, İstanbul, 1976. p. 23
  • S.M. ÜSEINOV: Rusça-Qırımtatarca, Qırımtatarca-Rusça luğat, Aqmescit, Tezis, 2007.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.