Iron masters keep their fires burning

Iron masters keep their fires burning

BURSA - Anatolia News Agency
Iron masters keep their fires burning

AA photo

A handful of iron masters, in the 600-year-old Kayhan bazaar in the northwestern province of Bursa, fire up their furnaces in the early morning hours, despite their old age, in a battle to keep the ironworking business alive in today’s modern world.

Ironworking, a craft which for centuries made Turks superior fighters on battlefields due to the significant role it played in the production of sturdy and effective weapons, is struggling to stand against its greatest enemy; time.

The last representatives of the ironworking business in the Kayhan bazaar are on their last legs amongst second-hand shops.

During the Ottoman Empire Bursa was one of the most important sword centers of Anatolia. Ironworking held a very significant role in daily life, especially during the Ottoman period, because of the demand for weapons of war. Ironworkers, historically known as “men making a rose from fire,” produced swords for the Ottoman army and became known as the secret heroes behind the army’s success.

Halit Çıkrıkçı, one of the oldest iron masters in the bazaar, is still shaping irons in his 150-year-old shop, which he inherited from his father. The business or ironworking is about to die, Çıkrıkçı said.

“In the past, this business was made according to its principles. If you love this job while doing it, your labor would have a value. My father’s master was an important Armenian iron master. Iron making is a branch of art more than it is a business. It requires talent. Now everything is changing,” he said.

A popular trade in the past

Although a popular trade in the past, modern times have made people forget about the business according to Çıkrıkçı. “This business was created in the past and has ended. There are no new masters. It cannot be kept alive. I think that it will remain in photos only. But no matter what happens, we will continue burning the furnace until the end of our life,” Çıkrıkçı said.

Ali Ömer Yavuz got involved in iron making business at the age of 16 and has been working in his Kayhan bazaar shop since 1965.

“Our furnace burned all day in the past. We were melting 15 to 20 kilograms of iron a day like water. We were sending 25 ploughs to Anatolian cities every week. Of course we are sorry that this business is going down in history. We want to train people [in the trade,] but nobody comes,” Yavuz said.

When he was younger and first began to work in ironworking there was no source of electricity, making the business easier. “[Now] nobody is doing it. There is stoning now. There was rasp in the past,” he said. Another iron master Kemal Meriçlioğlu, who has been continuing the business since 1960 when the mentor system began, said that they were the last iron masters in the bazaar making the iron work of many Ottoman structures in Bursa.

Recently respect for the master iron worker in the mentor system has suffered, Meriçlioğlu said. “This place is a very active one. This is why sometimes people in the next shop will ask [for] my hammer. Actually, I am offended by this, because the hammer was not taken from the hand of a master in the past.”