An Exclusive Interview with Erdem Bozkurt

 (photo credit: ERDEM BOZKURT)
(photo credit: ERDEM BOZKURT)

While scores of people are familiar with Catholic rosaries, they might not be as familiar with the tesbih. These Muslim prayer beads are constant companions to Turkish men, as they have been for eons.  These strands are not jewelry, but deeply personal reflections of their owners. The best tesbih makers become famous for their skill, and Erdem Bozkurt is considered one of Turkey’s master craftsmen.

Born in Ankara on May 24, 1982, Erdem apprenticed to his father, another renowned tesbih artisan. It was during this time that he learned how difficult it was to drill holes in each bead and which materials yielded the best results. While metals like silver and gold could be used, organic materials like semi-precious stones and different types of wood also yield beautiful results.

The tesbih is more than a religious artifact, it can also be a conversation piece and a source of relief from anxiety. Like so many things, the simplest tesbih is often the most stunning. This is thanks to an emphasis on craftsmanship rather than flash, and exemplified by beads crafted strictly for their purpose from high-quality materials. Erdem emphasizes that creating these beads has been elevated to an art form due to the patience and dedication needed to complete the lengthy process.

A tesbih usually has 33 or 99 beads, but some customers request an excess of 1000 for longer prayers. Inspired by his love of the natural world, Erdem usually crafts his beads from materials like amber. He credits his family as a source of inspiration to continuously elevate his artistic abilities. As a tesbih is reflective of its owner, Erdem channels his own emotions into each strand of beads he creates.

To reach the level of a rosary master is considered a great honor due to the importance of the tesbih in Turkish culture. Erdem has been ranked as a master for over 30 years, and thus holds a prominent role in his society. Technology has allowed this artisan to sell his work all over the world as Erdem has run an e-commerce business for over 9 years. His success has prompted others to launch their own online accessory businesses, and social media has resulted in people contacting Erdem for interviews.

This craftsman is not only recognized as a rosary master, but he is also the highest-lauded maker of natural tesbih across Turkey and Europe. With his online presence, Erdem’s work can be described as the old world meets the new. Modern transaction methods simply mean he can sell his beads to more customers without sacrificing the artistry or significance of the tesbih.