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850x0x BEAT THE DRUMS

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  • Turkish Radio Hour
    Apr 1 8:42 AM
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      x0x BEAT THE DRUMS

      By ALI GUMUS*

      The former Ottoman capital of Edirne is hosting a wrestling festival
      between 29 June and 1 July. The Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Tournament, which
      has been held annually for over 630 years, begins with a prayer for the
      wrestlers recited by the cazgir, or tournament announcer, who then shouts
      out, 'In God's name! If you fall below give up, if you get on top hang
      on!' to the rhythmic music of drums and zurnas, the contestants are roused
      to exert themselves to the utmost. The historic atmosphere pervading this
      event adds to the audiencred enjoyment.

      Following the prayer, the wrestlers come out onto the field and perform
      the warming up movements known as pesrev which resemble the way an eagle
      flaps its wings when about to swoop onto its prey. They then make the
      traditional gesture of greeting, which involves rapping their right hand
      on the ground and touching it to their breast and forehead.

      This conveys the following message to their rival, 'You are such a great
      wrestler that I am unworthy to be a part of the earth you walk upon.'

      In Ottoman times this three-day tournament was held every year in the
      village of Kirkpinar near Edirne. Today this village is part of Greece and
      called Samona, so the Kirkpinar Wrestling Tournament is held at Sarayici
      in Edirne instead. As in the past, wrestlers from all over Turkey prepare
      for this tournament throughout the previous year.

      Restaurants, tea houses and side shows turn the field into a colourful and
      animated fair ground.

      The wrestlers wear breeches known as kispet made of cow or goat leather,
      and oil their bodies with olive oil before each bout. The tournament is
      opened by the aga (master), who is the person who bids the largest sum for
      the tournament ram. Over the three days the wrestling field is never empty
      for a moment.

      The wrestlers are divided into ten categories depending on their previous
      experience and track record in competition. These categories are known as
      tesvik, deste kucuk boy, deste orta boy, deste buyuk boy, orta kucuk boy,
      kucuk orta, buyuk boy, buyuk orta, bas alti and bas gures. The contests in
      the highest bas gures category are held on the last day, and the two
      wrestlers who get through to the final wrestle for the Gold Belt. This
      final match can sometimes last for several hours. Those wrestlers who win
      the title at Kirkpinar three years in a row are presented with a belt made
      from 1450 g of gold by Edirne Municipality. For the losers there is one
      consolation, the chance to try again at next year's tournament.

      * Ali Gumus is chairman of the Wrestling Committee of the Federation of
      World Sports Writers