North Cyprus  

The Hasan Bulliler (Bullis)
  Jesse James of old Cyprus

Bulli brothers

Bulli brothers

Almost a hundred years after his death, there are Cypriots who can still remember snatches of a song about him. His name was Hasan Bulli, and he is a legend now in Cyprus, a Turkish Cypriot "anti-hero" from Paphos whose exploits as an outlaw captured the imagination and often the sympathy of even law-abiding people throughout the island.

He was as famous in Cyprus as the outlaws of the old Wild West whose era overlapped his own -Jesse James, Billy the Kid- and he was nine years old when Turkey handed over the island of Cyprus to Britain. He was 31 when he died at the turn of the century and his life and death have been im- mortalised in folk songs sung and tales told at village fairs down through the decades that followed.

In the minds of many, Hasan Bulli (or Poulis as he was known to the Greek Cypriots) whose nickname bulli (or pouli in Greek) means "bird", was not a real criminal. Given the degree of treachery that the quiet coffee-house keeper often confronted, especially a betrayal by his closest friend, his actions might even be justified, they felt.

Like in the Wild West, his epoch was filled with revenge killings, sheep and cattle rustlings, and "stage coach" raids against passing travellers. Women were either "good" or "bad" in those days, but there seemed to be more good ones than bad ones, and even outlaws had their romances.

Hasan Bulli was no exception, and he was to fall passionately in love with a young Turkish Cypriot girl Emete who was from the same village, Mamonia, in the Paphos district hills. She also happened to be his uncle's wife and Hasan loved her all of his short life.

When Hasan was 20, he was "nice looking, about 5'10" with a slim, strong figure and quiet disposition," according to a former Paphos police comman- dant, M. Ch. Kareklas, MBE, who wrote a book about Hasan Bulli and his era.

One of his friends was a known outlaw called Hayreddin, also a Turkish Cypriot and owner of a large flock of goats which he kept near the village. According to the author, Hayreddin made an indecent proposal to Emete and justice was swift. An enraged Hasan vowed revenge and on three occasions shot at Hayreddin from ambush but in each case missed.

Fearing for his life, Hayreddin found witnesses to "frame" Hasan, who he accused of raiding Hayreddin's goat herd with the help of his uncle. The result was a seven-year prison sentence, although Hasan claimed that he was asleep in the village when the theft occured.

Promptly escaing from the police custody, Hasan headed for the Paphos hills where he spent one and a half years as a fugitive, either camped out in the mountains or in the safe houses. He "never annoyed anybody there, was very honest and protected women," the author relates. When meeting them, he seemed only interested in the latest news and police movements in the area.

Hasan told an ever growing group of supporters that his sole object was to hunt down Hayreddin, who in the meantime had fled to Ktima town, the district capital, for safety. But Hayreddin was uneasy there, especially after hearing that Hasan had "taken revenge" against three villagers who had stolen his father's cattle. Fearing that his turn had come, Hayreddin bribed Hasan's best friend Abdullah [of Yerovasa], to invite the outlaw to his "safe" house for dinner and a rest, then to kill him.

Alert to the plot, Hasan's mother warned her son of the plan, but Hasan went anyway. He kept a loaded gun on his knee throughout dinner, then es- caped before dawn through a window after bolting the bedroom door. Along with Hayreddin, Abdullah was now on Hasan's target list.

Shortly after wards, the outlaw again narrowly missed death after ambush while visiting Emete. She had moved to a nearby village Stavrokonnou, which was friendly to Hasan and their meetings could be better facilitated there. Accompanied by a supporter, Hasan approached Emete as she washed clothes at a spring near the village. When police opened fire they hit the wrong man, however, and Hasan Bulli escaped once again.

While assuring villagers in the district that "no honest person" need fear him, Hasan mounted a series of revenge attacks against his enemies, mur- dering informers as police pursued him through the Paphos hills. His aim had apparently improved considerably since his three previous abortive attempts against old enemy Hayreddin, for his targets "never left the safety of their home villages when news reached them of the outlaw's wrath."

In the meantime, Hasan steadily depleted their sheep and goat herds during nightime raids. "Six weeks before his arrest, Hasan fell ill with malaria and stayed in an abandoned house at Mamonia village to recuperate. Although nobody had informed against him, or for reasons which are still unknown, the outlaw gave himself up to the police without a fight. Perhaps he was too weakened by malaria to run anymore, perhaps he saw no further point in outlawry.

Hasan Bulli was convicted of murder and gaoled in the Nicosia Central Prison where he was well-liked by other prisoners, learned to read and write, said his prayers five times a day and was so cooperative that prison warders per- mitted him to work alongside other trustees in the grounds just outside the prison gates.

A few years later, word reached him of the arrest of two brothers, Mehmet Kaymakam and Hasan Kavuni, also outlaws who were known as "Hasan Bullis" (or Hasan birds). They had been betrayed by certain villagers from Kydassi and Hasan made plans to escape from the prison and burn down the village. His chance came while working outside the prison's East gate. His attempt ended abruptly, however, when an alert prison warder "cut him across the neck with a sword after he refused to stop when called upon."

Together with another escaping prisoner, Hasan Bulli was shot dead. But he still lives in the hills of Paphos, his exploit immortalised through folk tales, songs and chant, 95 years after his death.

Hasan Bulliler (Bullis) - The Folk Tale
It has been noted by many in the Turkish-Cypriot literature that the Hasan Bulliler folk tale (or "Destani" in Turkish) passed on from genera- tion to generation through a famous Turkish-Cypriot folk tale teller Aynali (Serdar, 1986; Yorgancioglu, 1980; and Gelen, 1973).

Aynali was a Cypriot folk-tale teller of the British Colonial era, during 1925-1955. He was first introduced in the Kibris-Devrim newspaper in his days as a poet. But this definition was later challenged by Ozker Yasin in his Anthology of Turkish-Cypriot Poetry (Kibris Turk Siir Antolojisi) who described Aynali a folk-tale teller. On the other hand, Hasan Sinasi Altay's anthology book considers Aynali as a poet, but overall the debate over Aynali's literary status is still a subject of debate among the Turkish-Cypriot literary critics.

In Gulgun Serdar's (1986) analytic study of the Turkish Cypriot Literature of the period between 1571-1964, Aynali was discovered to be a certain Hasan Babacan, who was a prison warden during the Hasan Bulli era, and died in Istanbul in 1915. He heard of the tale of Hasan Bullis while working at the Prison Service, and wrote a folk tale and gave these to Aynali, then a local Turkish Cypriot folk tale teller, from whom the tale spread to the whole island to become legendary.

Written wholly in a local dialect and in a language of an ordinary village folks, the Hasan Bulliler folk tale repeats some famous sayings such as: "Yapma etme dunyasidir bu dunya, Her safanin sonunda, vardir bir cefa" (This is a world of contradictions, at the end of every good time, comes a not-so good time.) or "Yalancinin mumu az vakit yanar." (The candlestick of the liar burns until the daylight.)

Ethnic Perspective in Epics: The Case of Hasan Bulliler
  • N. Gelen, "Bir Devrin Efsane Kahramanlari: Hasan Bulliler", Halkin Sesi Matbaasi, Nicosia, 1973. 
  • B. Lyssarides, "Hassan Poulis, the Jesse James of old Cyprus", Cyprus Weekly, No.815, p.11. 
  • G. Serdar, "1571'den 1964'e Kibris Turk Edebiyatinda Gazavetname, Destan, Efsane, Kahramanlik Siiri: Arastirma-Inceleme", Ulus Ofset, Nicosia, 1986.
  • O.Yorgancioglu, "Kibris Turk Folkloru", Famagusta, 1980; pp.91-107 (on Aynali).

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