If you are planing to spend your Turkey trip in the western part of the country in winter months, you can attend a camel wrestling match, one of the traditional entertainment events in the region. Today, camel wrestling is practiced through major festivals and tournaments, attracting attention of both tourists and local people and drawing thousands of spectators.
Camel wrestling tournaments are organized in open fields or stadiums by many associations located in the Aegean region, especially in Aydın city. Competitions are also held in Selçuk district of İzmir, in Muğla, which is famous for its tourist destinations like Bodrum and in Denizli. In the Marmara region; Çanakkale and Balıkesir, in the Mediterranean region; Antalya, Burdur and Isparta are other cities where you can watch camel wrestling.
Camel wrestling competitions turn the region into a festival ground and attract many visitors from the nearby settlements. Traditionally, wrestling camels are decorated and draped with bells and zills before the fight in order to heighten the excitement. On the way to the tournament area, a large crowd of spectators parade through the city in a festive mood with camels. In the morning, the square is filled with stalls selling all kinds of foods, beverages and gifts; while waiting the games to start, people play local dances to folk music played by drum and zurna (shrill pipe) Competition organizing associations designate regulating committees and referee boards for camel wrestling tournaments to transform these big events into great organizations.
Competitions are narrated to the spectators in a very colourful language by a host called, “Cazgır.” Cazgır narrates the fights like a sports announcer, recites poems and praises the camels; thus, with his peculiar style, he is in reality the most important individual in the tournament. Before the fight, Cazgır announces the names of the camels and introduces them to the spectators and in turn camels salute the spectators. When the fight starts, camels begin to wrestle with different games to defeat the opponent. There are different wrestling categories and a camel can win a wrestling match either by forcing the opponent to flee, by making him scream or by pushing the opponent to the ground. Wrestling matches are restricted to about 10 minutes in order to make this traditional culture sustainable and to protect camels from injury in what sometimes become a quite harsh fight. The camel that wins a match puts his feet one next to the other and salutes the spectators, and the prize is presented to the camel and the owner.
According to some research, the roots of camel wrestling go back to thousands of years in the Middle East and Central Asia; in the Aegean region, it is known to be organized at least for two hundred years. Camel wrestling, one of the important entertainment elements of traditional Turkish culture, is based on hundreds of years old nomadic Turkmen culture of Anatolia, or what is locally known as Yörük culture. In Anatolia, the most important transportation method had been camel caravans until the first rail lines were constructed in the 19th century, and thus camels constituted an important part of the daily life. The first camel wrestling matches were organized for entertainment by camel caravaneers, who brought goods to the local bazaars. Over time, these wrestling competitions attracted the attention of bazaar-goers and they are gradually transformed into today’s large organizations.