The world was stuffed with raucous spectators who, in tiered seating, surrounded the wrestling pit under. Camels had been paraded out and in of the ring, dolled up of their greatest regalia, their elaborate saddles noting their names, origins and their trainers or house owners.
Held in mid-January on Turkey’s Aegean coast, the annual camel-wrestling pageant close to the city of Selcuk virtually overpowers the senses. After I attended the occasion in 2017, sausages sizzled on stalls surrounding the sector; previous males chain-smoked cigarettes whereas sipping down beer or raki, a conventional Turkish drink made with aniseed. There was the low din of chitchat, the occasional collective gasp and, after all, the odor of damp camel’s hair and excrement. (The pageant was canceled this 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
Camels naturally wrestle within the wild, and staged matches aren’t allowed to get too boisterous. A camel wins by making its opponent scream, fall or retreat, and trainers stay shut at hand to make sure neither occasion is injured. Winners are rewarded with a mass-produced Turkish carpet, and, regardless of betting being unlawful, low-level wagers usually happen between followers, both within the type of some drinks or a number of Turkish lira.
Nicely suited to abandon situations, camels had been utilized in medieval instances as pack animals alongside the Silk Highway. They’re nonetheless utilized by nomadic tribes in a lot of Central and South Asia — in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Sometimes they’re nonetheless utilized in Turkey.
With a legacy rooted in historic Turkic tribes, the group of Turkish camel house owners, trainers and dromedary lovers continues to be vibrant and aggressive. However the pageant has change into one thing of a distinct segment expression in fashionable Turkey. As of late, it appears to be as a lot about socializing, gossiping and ingesting as it’s in regards to the camels battling it out within the sand.
As a former camel proprietor myself (extra on that later), I used to be notably desperate to attend the pageant since shifting to Turkey virtually a decade in the past. Hip younger Istanbul associates moaned that the follow was an obscure and mawkish occasion, just like Turkish oil wrestling, one thing that solely vacationers know or care of. To my shock, although, the spectators had been virtually all Turks.
The camel males are a energetic bunch and care deeply about their animals. A number of trainers, equivalent to Yilmaz Bicak, slept with the camels in a single day in a barn on the outskirts of city, to make sure their well-being and deter thieves.
The animals utilized in wrestling occasions are often known as Tulu camels — a breed that outcomes from mating a Bactrian (two-humped) camel with a dromedary (one-humped) camel — and are bred particularly for the competitions.
The camels wrestle as soon as a day, and every match lasts round quarter-hour — once more, to guard the animals’ welfare. Earlier than coming into the ring, the male camels are introduced near a feminine camel, however the animals aren’t allowed to the touch, leading to a sexual pressure which the trainers say offers the males with additional energy.
Camel wrestling has fallen out and in of favor over time. Largely discouraged within the Nineteen Twenties, the follow noticed a rebirth within the Nineteen Eighties, as curiosity in Turkey’s conventional cultures grew.
Extra lately, the occasions have come below criticism by animal rights activists, who persistently declare that the occasion will be dangerous to the camels.
As for my camel story: Again in 2007, as a younger and carefree backpacker, I spent a number of months traipsing via Syria, my coronary heart set on exploring the barren lands and historic archaeological websites within the east of the nation. Alongside the way in which, I purchased Alfie, a gracious and good-looking dromedary camel.
I’d initially deliberate to journey to Petra, in southern Jordan, however, shortly after reaching Damascus, I struggled to acquire paperwork for Alfie to cross the Syrian-Jordanian border. Alas, Syrian paperwork prevailed, and, after declining a proposal from a Russian circus visiting Damascus, I used to be pressured to promote Alfie to a Bedouin household. (Alfie has since been renamed Bradley and, final I heard, continues to roam the jap Syrian desert.)
Because the pageant attracts to an in depth, the stall holders promoting images, calendars, videotapes and common camel paraphernalia pack up for the 12 months. The animals are loaded up onto massive vans and pushed again to their nook of the Aegean area, or additional afield, to arrange for the following set of competitions.