Turkey FESTIVAL MUST-SEE: CAMEL WRESTLING FESTIVALS
In the western part of Turkey in the winter, a series of camel wrestling (yes – as in the creatures with two humps!) matches are held, culminating in a series of major festivals, drawing in crowds of locals and foreigners. Unique to the Aegean region, the wrestling camels are elaborately dressed in bells and frills. The camel’s name is embroidered on a cloth called a peş, which is hung behind the havut (saddle). Below the camel’s name is the inscription Maşallah (“May God protect him”).
Camels are charged with wrestling their opponent with the aim of making him retreat, fall, or scream. There are different wrestling categories, but each match is limited to 10 minutes to protect the camels from injury in what is a pretty fierce fight. Camel wrestling does abide by certain rules, but these vary from district to district. Only male camels can compete.
The wrestling males are called tülü camels, and they are bred and groomed specifically for the purpose of a wrestling career. The winning camel earns his owner a cash prize and great honour. The matches are voiced over by an energetic commentator called a cazgır.
Camel wrestling goes back hundreds of years in the Middle East; in the Aegean region, the festivals have been run for over 200 years. Camel wrestling – along with the equally bizarre oil wrestling, a national sport in Turkey – is a long- standing sporting tradition in Turkish culture, derived from the nomadic Turkmen culture of Anatolia, where camel caravans were the preferred mode of transport until the arrival of the railway in the 19th century. Camel wrestling matches became a form of entertainment for the travelling merchants in the rural bazaars.
If the camel wrestling matches are not your cup of tea, there are plenty other activities surrounding the festival to keep you entertained: Stalls are set up in the festival grounds selling a range of local food and souvenirs, and there are various local dance and folk music performances.
Unique to the Aegean region, the wrestling camels are elaborately dressed in bells and frills