Asian Geographic - - West Asia -

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

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