x0x Camel wrestling draws crowds in Turkey
For more than 100 years, camel wrestling draws crowds in western Turkey
during the winter months - camel mating season and a time when farmers
have little to do on their fields
By Harmonie Toros
It was the battle of the giants:
Cobra versus Thunder, furry neck to furry neck, using every trick in the
book to wrestle the other to the ground.
Cobra tried to lock Thunder in a scissor move, while Thunder countered by
tying his neck around Cobra.
It took 20 sturdy Turks to divide the two as a crowd of more than 10,000
cheered on a favorite winter pastime: camel wrestling.
The judges ruled Sunday's competition a draw between the two nearly
For more than 100 years, camel wrestling has drawn crowds in western
Turkey during the winter months - camel mating season and a time when
farmers have little to do on their fields.
"I learned to love this from my father, and now I bring my son," Ibrahim
Soysal said at Sunday's match, oblivious to the large white stains of
camel saliva on his jacket.
Male camels naturally fight for their females during mating season - their
readiness to do battle visible in the white froth coming from their
mouths, the tension in their hind legs and their tails whipping at their
"Crazy Camel" from Umurlu won't fight without his scantily clad beloved,
Emine, prodding him on. Emine wears just a carpet covering her hump - in
sharp contrast to the male wresters, bedecked in huge bead-embroidered
saddles, veil-draped headdresses and fluorescent pompoms swaying on the
But, for all the glory, wrestling camels never consummate their lust
during their fighting careers; sexual activity would diminish their
determination to fight.
For a winner to be declared, one of the camels has to run out of the
arena, cry out of frustration after being dominated by the opponent, or
fall to the ground.
Most matches end in ties because their owners fear their prized camels
could be harmed. During matches, the camels' mouths are tied to keep them
from biting each other.
Sunday's gathering in Selcuk, the largest camel-wrestling festival in
Turkey, gathered 96 fighting camels. Smaller festivals are organized
across the Aegean from December to March.
Winners at Sunday's competition received a machine-made carpet and all
participants were given about $30 for transportation - nowhere near the
minimum $1,500 per year it costs to maintain a camel. A good wrestling
camel costs $20,000 on average, with camels from Iran especially valued.
But owning a good fighter is a sign of power, and many village leaders buy
them to emphasize their positions.
"He won!" exclaimed Ahmet Uza, standing by his camel "Master of the
"It's important for the family and the village to win," added Uza, wearing
the eight-cornered flat cap, leather boots and jacket, and tweed trousers
traditionally worn by camel owners.
It's also sheer fun, say camel owners and spectators. The matches are
accompanied by traditional music and entire families set up barbecues on
the hills overlooking the arena, feasting on beef, chicken and camel
sausage washed down by raki, Turkey's strong anisette alcohol.
"This is the best kind of entertainment," said Selami Onder, who grows
apples and peaches in the village of Yapildak.
Residents hope that camel wrestling will increase winter tourism to the
region and officials in Selcuk, a small Aegean town just a few miles from
the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, hope to attract thousands of tourists
to the festivities in the coming years.
George and Andre Maliasinski of Raleigh, North Carolina, were on hand for
the weekend's festivities.
"This is something very traditional," said George Maliasinski, a biology
professor, as he watched camel owners proudly parading their animals
Saturday for judges to elect the "handsomest" camel.
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