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For the 1975 film, see Köçek (film). Not to be confused with Čoček.
"Köçek with a tambourine", Photograph late 19th century.

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


  • Roots 1
  • Culture 2
  • Modern offshoots 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The Turkish word is derived from the Persian word kuchak, meaning "little", "small", or "young", which itself is the Persian pronunciation of the Turkish word küçük, "little".[2]

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.[1]

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.[3] From there the practice dispersed throughout the Empire by means of independent troupes.[1]


"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.

A köçek would begin training around the age of seven or eight and would be considered accomplished after about six years of study and practice. A dancer's career would last as long as he was beardless and retained his youthful appearance.[3]

They were recruited from among the ranks of the non-Muslim subject nations of the empire, such as Romani, Greeks, Armenians and others. They were boys taken violently from their homes through the practice of the devşirme system. The dances, collectively known as köçek oyunu, blended Arab, Greek, Assyrian and Kurdish elements.[4] They were 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.[1] The dancers were accompanied by an orchestra, featuring four to five each kaba kemençe and laouto as principal instruments, used exclusively for köçek suites.[5] There were also two singers. A köçek dance in the Ottoman seraglio (palace harem) involved one or two dozen köçeks and many musicians.[1] The occasions of their performances were wedding or circumcision celebrations, feasts and festivals, as well as the pleasure of the sultans and the aristocracy.[6]

Postcard photograph of a köçek posing in costume, late 19th-century.

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, shalvars (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 available sexually, often to the highest bidder, in the passive role.[4][7]

The names and backgrounds of köçeks in Istanbul in the 18th century are well documented.[8][9] Among the more celebrated köçeks from the end of the 18th century are the Romani Benli Ali of Croatian origin, Küçük (little) Afet (born Kaspar) of Armenian origin, and Pandeli from the Greek island of Chios. There were at least 50 köçeks of star stature at the time. The famous ones, like the Romani köçek Ismail, would have to be booked weeks or months in advance, at a very high cost.[9]

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 köçekces for celebrated köçeks. Many Istanbul meyhanes (nighttime taverns serving meze, raki 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 go wild, breaking their glasses, shouting themselves voiceless, or fighting and sometimes killing each other vying for the boys' sexual favors.[8] This resulted in suppression of the practice under Sultan Abd-ul-Mejid I.[1]

As of 1805, there were approximately 600 Köçek dancers working in the taverns of Turkey's capital. They were outlawed in 1837 due to fighting among audience members over the dancers.[10] With the suppression of harem culture under Sultan `Abdu'l-`Aziz (1861–1876) and Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876–1908), köçek dance and music lost the support of its imperial patrons and gradually disappeared.[11]

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.[8][12]

Modern offshoots

A modern interpretation is the movie Köçek (1975) by director Nejat Saydam. The movie follows the life of Caniko, a feminine boy, who struggles with his gender identity.[13][14]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Prof. Ş. Şehvar BEŞİROĞLU. "Music, Identity, Gender: Çengis, Köçeks, Çöçeks" (PDF).  
  2. ^ "köçek". Retrieved 2011-12-05. 
  3. ^ a b Stephen O. Murray, Will Roscoe (1997). Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature. NYU Press.  
  4. ^ a b "Ελευθεροτυπία - Το ελληνικό γιουσουφάκι!". Retrieved 2011-12-05. 
  5. ^ "The Classical Turkish Music: Köçekçe". Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  6. ^ Jasmin Jahal (February 2002). "Male Belly Dance in Turkey". 
  7. ^ Danielle J. van Dobben (2008). Dancing Modernity: Gender, sexuality and the state in the late Ottoman Empire and early Turkish Republic. The University of Arizona, Near Eastern Studies.  
  8. ^ a b c Stavros Stavrou Karayanni (2006). Dancing Fear & Desire: Race, Sexuality and Imperial Politics in Middle Eastern Dance. WLU Press.  
  9. ^ a b Tullia Magrini (2003). Music and Gender: Perspectives from the Mediterranean. University of Chicago Press. p. 96.  
  10. ^ Judith Lynne Hanna (1988). Dance, sex, and gender: signs of identity, dominance, defiance, and desire. p. 57. 
  11. ^ Arno Schmitt (1992). Sexuality and eroticism among males in Moslem societies. Routledge.  
  12. ^ Tazz Richards (2000). The Belly Dance Book: Rediscovering the Oldest Dance. pp. 11, 27, 28, 29–37, 32. 
  13. ^ Aziza Sa'id (31 August 2008). "A Question of Köçek – Men in Skirts". 
  14. ^ "KÖÇEK". Pink Life QueerFest. 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
  • 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

External links

  • Turkish Cultural Foundation: Court dance in the Ottoman Empire
  • Köçek (Dancing Boy) – Homosexual Art of Turkey
  • A Question of Köçek – Men in Skirts
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