Ask Mehmet: Who is Hodja?

  • Published
  • By Mehmet Birbiri
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Editor's Note: Ask Mehmet is a forum for people to ask questions of the local area, as well as the outer confines of the region and the country as a whole. To submit a question, send an e-mail with the subject "Ask Mehmet" to

Question: I know the 39th Air Base Wing has the Hodja as a mascot, but I'm not sure exactly what or who Hodja really is. Can you shed some light on this?

Answer: I have been asked many times, "Who is Hodja?" or "Who is the man riding his donkey backwards?"

Hodja is one of Turkey's most endearing figures, usually shown as an overweight, bearded man riding a donkey backwards - as portrayed by the statue in front of Incirlik Air Base's Hodja Inn.

His full name is Nasreddin Hodja, and he is the symbol of Turkish humor. His stories have passed from one century into the next. As time has gone by, thousands of stories have been attributed to Hodja. The majority of the Hodja stories are about his donkey or his wife and they typically start with "One day the Hodja..."

Hodja's place and date of birth are unknown, but it is believed he lived in the 13th century near Aksehir Township in the Konya Province of Turkey. After finishing school, he studied under famous scholars and philosophers and worked for a local judge. Not long after, he became a famous figure and people went to him for justice advice and to listen to his amusing stories.

The name Hodja literally means "instructor" or "teacher," In his stories, Hodja is often a teacher and moralist - a witty and wise man marked by clear-cut logic and sheer genius. Sometimes his life is portrayed as more colorful, as he can be a comical trickster or delightful eccentric. Nasreddin Hodja could be easily called a folk philosopher.

Hodja is buried in Aksehir. His tomb design reflects his humorous lifestyle. Three sides of the tomb are open and the front wall has a gate secured by a huge lock. Every year in July, a one-week long International Nasreddin Hodja Festival is held in Aksehir.

Probably the most noteworthy example of Hodja's humor is in the pictures, illustrations and monuments of him riding a donkey backwards. One such story of why he chose to ride that way goes like this:

One day the Hodja was riding on his donkey backwards. "Hodja," the people said, "you are sitting on your donkey backwards!"

"No," he replied. "It is not that I am sitting on my donkey backwards, my donkey is facing the wrong way."

Another version of why Hodja rode his donkey backwards is as follows:

One day the Hodja was traveling with his students. He wanted to lecture his students along the way. First he let his students walk in front of him, but the backs of his students were facing him. That was not good. Then, he rode in front of his students. Now his back was facing his students. That was not good either. Finally, he decided to ride backwards. Thus, he would be able to see his students and lecture to them.

Regardless of the fact we don't know all there is to know about Hodja, his spirit lives on in our stories, art and other ways of remembering him. The 39th Air Base Wing has had Hodja as their mascot for many years as evidence the spirit of Hodja crosses borders and inspires people from all over the world.

Col. Craig Wills, 39th ABW commander, feels the legends of Hodja's teaching abilities and concern for the wellbeing of his students reflects the spirit of the wing.

"To me, Hodja represents someone who knew the importance of effective communication" said Wills. "He used humor, wit and wisdom to leave a positive legacy that's lasted for centuries. Hodja's emphasis on effectively communicating with his people is a great example for our supervisors and Airmen alike. Hopefully, our wing will leave a lasting legacy of effective communication with our Airmen and families, and will have a positive impact on our Air Force and community."