Five love stories from Turkish culture
Drawing on different cultures, Turkish literature has many great love stories that stem from legends, told and retold over centuries. These dramatic tales became something for people to hold onto over the years, filling many long nights of storytelling.

Divine love: Leyla and Mecnun

Leyla and Mecnun’s story is often associated with Mevlana Rumi, who told the story in his writings as an example of finding God through love. Leyla and Kays are school friends who fall in love. Not finding Kays suitable for her daughter, Leyla’s mother takes her out of school and forbids them from seeing each other. Kays suffers greatly from this separation, and goes mad. People start to call him Mecnun (“crazy” in Arabic). Mecnun wanders the deserts and replaces his material love for Leyla with divine love. Leyla goes after him, but when she finds him Mecnun does not recognize her material being. Understanding that Mecnun’s love for her has turned into a greater, divine love, Leyla gives up pursuing him and dies of her misery. After her death, Mecnun cries at her grave, and begs God to take him too. God hears his prayers. The two become one, defeating time and material being.

Layla and Mecnun

Forever apart: Ferhat and Şirin

This is a story of magical impossibility. A queen in Azerbaijan has a castle built for her beautiful sister Şirin and summons Ferhat to ornament it. When Ferhat and Şirin see each other, they fall in love instantly. However, the queen is also in love with Ferhat and she does everything to prevent them from being together. A king, who sees Ferhat as a son, learns of the situation and offers his help. The king declares war against the queen but the son of the king falls in love with Şirin as well. The king is puzzled and sends Ferhat to do an impossible task: crack through a mountain to bring water from one village to another. While Ferhat is out in the mountains, working on his quest, an old lady, possibly the queen in disguise, comes and tells him that Şirin has passed away. Desperate, Ferhat kills himself. When Şirin learns that her lover is dead, she kills herself as well. The two are buried next to each other. Come spring, a red rose blossoms on Ferhat’s grave and a white one on Şirin’s, but there are always thorns between them. The two cannot become one.

Flame of death: Aslı and Kerem

Another dramatic and sad story without a happy end, the story begins with a shah who does not have an heir for his wealth. The shah asks for help from a monk, also childless. The monk plants one apple tree for his wife and one for the shah’s wife. The tree planted for the shah’s wife blossoms and gives an apple, but other does not. The two women share the only apple and promise that their children will marry each other if the magic of the tree works. Indeed, it works and the shah becomes a father of a son, Kerem, and the monk, a daughter, Aslı. However, the monk does not want his daughter to marry a Muslim, so he finds another man to marry his daughter. When Kerem learns this, he quickly finds Aslı and marries her straightaway. Upon this, the monk curses a shirt and gives it to Kerem as a gift. After the wedding, when the two are alone, Kerem unbuttons the shirt, but it buttons back up immediately. After many unsuccessful attempts, Kerem cries out, a cry so sorrowful that he bursts into flames. Aslı tries to help him by bringing water, but it is of no use. The flames get bigger. Kerem dies in agony and, while mourning his loss, Aslı’s hair catches fire. She joins her lover in death.

Forbidden love: Bihter and Behlül

Written in 1899, Aşk-ı Memnu (“Forbidden Love” in Ottoman Turkish) is a classic novel, twice adapted into Turkish TV series. The story centers around a woman named Firdevs and her daughter Bihter. Firdevs’s husband dies because of the shock her infidelity causes him. She wants to marry the wealthy and powerful Adnan Ziyagil, but instead her daughter marries him despite their age difference. Firdevs moves in with the newlyweds. Adnan has two children, Nihal and Bülent, and a nephew named Behlül. A few years into their marriage, Bihter gets bored with Adnan and the age difference, and she starts to sneak in Behlül’s room every night. To stop this forbidden love, Firdevs makes Nihal and Behlül see each other in a different way. The two decide to get married, and Bihter grows extremely jealous. One of the servants working at Ziyagil Yalısı (Ziyagil’s Bosphorus mansion) tells everyone about the relationship between Bihter and Behlül. On the day of Nihal and Behlül’s wedding, Bihter kills herself and Behlül runs away.  

Drowned lover: Hasan Boğuldu

Set a long time ago around Mount Ida, this is the story of two lovers whose suffering was so great that there is now a pond and a tree bearing their names. Emine and Hasan meet at a village market. In time, they become lovers. They can only see each other once a week, so they decide to get married. However, Emine’s mother does not think Hasan is suitable for her daughter, so she gives a task to Hasan according to tora (a set of unwritten social rules). He has to carry a 50-kilogram bag of salt on his back from one village to another. Because Hasan loves Emine so much, he accepts the task. The two start the way together but after a few kilometers the salt starts to burn Hasan’s back. He cannot stand the pain and drowns in the pond quietly. Without realizing Hasan’s death, Emine walks all the way to the village. When she realizes Hasan is not with her, she panics and starts looking for him. She finds Hasan’s shirt floating in the pond. She cannot bear the fact that Hasan is dead, so she hangs herself from a plane tree near the pond with his shirt. Since then, the plane tree has been called Emine and the pond called Hasan Boğuldu (Hasan drowned). For curious tourists, you can visit the site in Edremit, Balıkesir where the story is set.