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KIRKPINAR, TRADITIONAL OIL WRESTLING

The former Ottoman capital of Edirne hosts a wrestling festival early 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 1,450 gr of gold by Edirne Municipality. For the losers there is one consolation, the chance to try again at next year's tournament.

Ref: Ali GUMUS / Tufan KARTAL / Skylife

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