Hundreds of people came to pay their respects to Özkan Hasan at Palmers Green Mosque, North London, on Sunday, 5 February, ahead of his body being repatriated to North Cyprus where he will be buried.
The iconic guitarist, who was a central figure in the entertainment scene of Turkish London in the 1970s and 80s before a spiritual experience led him to become a strong advocate of Islam, was found dead at his home by neighbours on 20 January after suffering a fatal heart attack.
His son Kerem Haser led the tributes to Özkan Hasan with a moving eulogy that spanned his father’s entire life.
The 73-year-old had been “a musician, a jeweller, an estate agent and an antiques shop owner”, and was also spiritual healer and man of faith, who was close to the late Sheikh Nazım Kıbrısi.
Özkan Hasan was known as a spiritual healer and a man of faith whose life spanner a career as a musician, jeweller, estate agent (Cable Estates in Islington), and an antiques shop owner.
He was originally from the village of Anglisia, in Larnaca district, eastern Cyprus, where he was born in June 1949. He was the eldest of four sons, and the family moved to Britain when he was aged four.
The four brothers each had nicknames for each other: Ali amca (uncle), Kerem explained, was “Alibaba, while Özgür amca was known as “Coal Face”, and Özer amca was called “Delboy”. The brothers dubbed Kerem’s father “Pancake”, the names drawing laughter from the congregation.
Kerem said his father was drawn to music at a young age and that he “played the guitar as if he was born with it, not just with his hands, but with his heart and soul.”
The Turkish Cypriot musician quickly carved out a strong reputation for his ability performing with many famous Turkish singers, such as Ferdi Özbeğen and İbrahım Tatlıses, when they gave concerts in London.
Barış Manço was so taken with Özkan’s talents after meeting him in London in the late 1970s, that he asked Özkan to join his band.
He played in several Turkish music groups, including Kıvılcımlar, and in the 1980s he was part of the house band at the legendary Crazy Horse restaurant and music bar in Dalston, East London, The Crazy Horse trio comprised of Özkan Hasan, keyboard player Süleyman Gülferi and the late singer Mustafa Başkal.
Kerem described his father as the “original hippy”, who was “proud” of being involved in the start-up of the Glastonbury festival. He was also “the first Turk to regularly attend Top of the Pops – before it was even known to our [Turkish] community.”
The star qualities of Özkan Hasan made quite an impression on Husayn Hoca too. Today, the leading pastor for Turkish Cypriots in London, Husayn told the congregation on Sunday that he had known and looked up to Özkan Hasan since first meeting him as a teenager at Peckham Mosque in South London. Husayn said he would regularly see his idol at the mosque, always sporting a white scarf, like he was “a Hollywood star”. As Husayn grew older, he would not only bear witness to, but be part of Özkan’s missions to help those in need.
Not content to play music, Özkan wanted to get more “unity among the Turkish community in the UK”, so he started his own radio station called “Ispanah Radyosu” [Spinach Radio], which acquired a large and loyal following.
Özkan had a passion for motor cars and plane spotting. His son explained how he and his dad would regularly head down to Heathrow Airport, parking their car outside the perimeter of the airport, “right at the beginning of the runway, so that we could see airplanes and concords just metres above as they landed.”
Another anecdote was about the time Özkan invited Jehovah’s Witnesses into his home to discuss God and their beliefs after they had knocked on his door. His passionately challenged them on why they viewed Jesus as a God and why Islam, and not Christianity, was the true faith. The discussion must have made a big impact on the followers, as the Hasan family “never had a Jehovah’s Witness knock on our door again”, said Kerem.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Özkan was his sincerely held belief that he was the “Chosen One” after a spiritual experience as he walked down Green Lanes, North London, with his friend Türker. Kerem spoke about this aspect of his father.
“My dad saw Nur, golden light, and spoke of how he saw the stars, the Divine Kingdom, where he was taken on a miraculous journey through space and time that lasted for minutes. He spoke of seeing planet earth, and how we are all actors playing our own distinct role.
“In many of our talks, my dad would say, “I do not believe, I KNOW Allah exists. We have the proof. We are the luckiest people on earth to know this.” My dad always spoke about the coming of Mehdi-i-selam and the second coming of Jesus.”
This spiritual experience and his meeting with Sheikh Efendi years later, led Özkan to join the Naqshbandi Sect of Islam. For years, Kerem recalled attending teravih prayers during Ramazan with his father at Peckham Mosque, where Sheikh Efendi would give sermons. These Özkan would describe to his son as “the golden years”.
Yet despite being around religious people, many in robes and wearing long beards, Özkan never changed his appearance, preferring jeans and western clothes to the traditional garb favoured by the conservative members of the Naqshbandi.
One of Özkan’s most enduring qualities was the help he gave to those around him, travelling to remote places if required to help a friend in need. He was a passionate advocate of the need to do good deeds, a point underlined by all who spoke about extraordinary manat Palmers Green Mosque.
His charitable ways not only left an indelible mark on the likes of Imam Muhittin Aydın, who led the prayers, but also Özkan’s neighbour, who said he was not only welcomed into the neighbourhood when he and his family first moved there, but whose family became regular visitors to the Hasan home, with Özkan always stocking his son Mohammed’s favourite apple juice drink for when he came round.
Kerem, who is the foreign press officer for Ersin Tatar, the president of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), said he could never have a ‘simple conversation about nothing’ with his dad. Kerem was always expected “to be ready, up to date and answer questions related to religion, politics world affairs.”
Indeed, for those in the community who are active on Turkish Cypriot community and political groups on Facebook, a debate with Özkan abi was usually a fiery affair, as he stood his ground determinedly and passionately, even if a little too hard-line for some.
He was a man who combined his intense religious beliefs with a deep sense of patriotism for his Turkish roots. He had planned to move to North Cyprus to be close to his son, but it was not to be.
Speaking to friends and family after the service, it was clear Özkan had made a deep impression on many. His younger sibling Özgur said, “I owe my brother everything. He was the one who encouraged me to play music, to join a band, to be the best person I could be. I would not be here without him.”
Özkan Hasan will be laid to rest at Lapta Cemetery in the TRNC on Tuesday, 7 February.
All at T-VINE extend our deepest condolences to Kerem and his family. May Özkan Hasan rest in eternal peace.