Izzet and Asya Aran have known each other since they were babies, as black and white photographs of them as chubby-cheeked toddlers will attest. They played together back when Kisas was a mud brick village with no electricity or running water. Today, Izzet and Asya are married with two children, daughter Sevcen (16) and son Ümut (8), and Kisas is a thriving town of 7,000 replete with shops, post office, and internet café. Izzet remembers his childhood fondly and pours over his collection of historic photographs of that time period, documenting traditional clothing and rituals from the era before modernization.
Perhaps this fondness for traditional life is what inspires Izzet’s love of photography. “I was always drawing pictures of people when I was a child,” he recounts. “After I got my first job I immediately began saving up for a camera.” Izzet’s extensive collection of photographs demonstrates his eye for evocative portraits of his people, capturing the depth of experience in the folds of an elder’s face and the twinkle of mirth in a child’s bright eyes. His photos document rituals in his community, from weekly religious meetings to holidays and cultural events.
Kisas villagers practice Alevism, a form of Islam which draws from Shia and Sufi influences and is practiced by many Turkish people. The name comes from Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammed, whom the Alevi hold in very high esteem. Alevi women and men pray and worship together, and women are highly respected and encouraged to pursue education. Alevi meet on Thursday evenings for a ritual ceremony known as a cem, which incorporates traditional songs, dances, and representational actions. Many of the songs are hundreds of years old and are accompanied by traditional instruments such as the saz or baglama, a seven-stringed instrument similar to a sitar.
Entering the Aran family home in Kisas is like entering a gentle oasis of peace. Step from the dusty streets into the softly carpeted hallway and strains of Mozart caress your ears. “Music is very important to our family and our community,” said Izzet. He plays the baglama and guitar, and his daughter has a lovely, clear singing voice; she feels as comfortable singing traditional Alevi hymns as she does singing Greenday and Pink songs.
One traditional Alevi nafe or “hymn” says:
“Look at 73 different people in the same way,
God loves and created them all, so don’t say anything against them.”
Another Alevi saying states that “the greatest holy book to be read is a human being.” The Aran family embodies these values with their open hospitality and their acceptance of and curiosity about the diverse visitors who stay in their home. Izzet says that his work with historical sites reminds him constantly that “nothing lasts forever, that riches and belongings are only temporal.” For Izzet and his family, the most important parts of life are the intangible and spiritual aspects, like friendship, community, music, and sharing their way of life with others.