The Ahi Brotherhood of tradesmen and craftsmen guilds where religious values were merged with honesty and ethics may not resonate with today's cutthroat business world, but in Kırşehir, a small city in central Turkey, they seek to remember the medieval fraternity that left its mark in Anatolia's business world of yesteryear with a series of events this week. The city is where Ahi Evran, founder of the centuries-old network of guilds settled for a while and died.
Events organized by local authorities, the Commerce Ministry and national chambers of commerce and craftsmen will pay tribute from Sept. 16-22 to the culture of the Ahis, supposedly derived from Arabic word for "my brother." The events include a shopping festival, a photo exhibit, a book fair and a cooking contest, along with concerts and folk dance performances. The events will culminate with awards for "ahi of the year" for an exemplary tradesman.
Ahi Evran founded the brotherhood in the 1200s in Anatolia where he arrived from a town in today's Iran. A leatherworker, Evran was also a well-versed scholar thanks to his education with great Muslim scholars of his time in Khorasan and Baghdad. As Anatolia was flooded with Turkmens fleeing from the Mongolian invasion, Evran decided to organize tradesmen scattered across the country. The Ahi Brotherhood was the fruit of his efforts and was more than a simple network of guilds by prioritizing a string of values, from fraternity to generosity, from bravery to honesty, quality and morals. It helped displaced Turkmens settling in Anatolia, giving them food and a job, while teaching them religious values as well.
Evran himself set up a tannery in Kayseri, a city neighboring Kırşehir today. He was also instrumental in organizing Ahis as a fighting force against the impending Mongolian incursion into Anatolia. The Brotherhood soon spread in the country while Evran's wife Fatma set up a similar network for women, entitled Bacıyanı Rum or Sisters of Rum, then the name of Anatolia. The Brotherhood thrived for centuries to come before disappearing toward the end of Ottoman rule. Evran did not live to see the Ottoman Empire as he is believed to have died fighting the Mongols in 1261, at the age of 93, but Şeyh Edebali, one of his proteges and a prominent Sufi mystic, would go on to inspire the empire with his moral tenets in the founding of the empire by his son-in-law Osman.
Evran, who also penned some 20 books in his lifetime, is credited with organizing guilds for 32 different professions and establishing a system that shaped social and economic life for Seljuks and Ottomans.
The Ahi Brotherhood system was entirely based on Turkish-Islamic culture and valued a hierarchy of progress for craftsmen who started out as assistants or yamaks, before being promoted to apprentice (çırak), qualified workman (kalfa) and finally to master or usta. Ahi was the highest level in the brotherhood, and they were required to follow more than 700 commandments to be eligible for the title.
Brotherhood members varied in professions, from tinsmiths to butchers from saddlers to tanners, tailors and bakers, but the rules to abide by were the same for everyone. They were required to value the customer by offering the highest-quality product, being honest with them, to be charitable at the utmost level, giving free accommodation to poor travelers, to feeding the poor.