Camel Wrestling Festival in Western Turkey

Turkey's Yoruk culture lays claim to the entertaining and unique tradition of Came Wrestling, a sport they inherited from their ancestors.

Turkey's beloved Camel Wrestling tradition. (Image Credits: Daily Sabah)
Turkey's beloved Camel Wrestling tradition. (Image Credits: Daily Sabah)

Turkey’s Yoruk culture, is a nomadic culture that has some long-standing traditions which stand apart from most other cultures in the world. A unique event that takes place in Western Turkey is the Camel Wrestling Festival.

This festival draws thousands of spectators and enthusiasts who come to watch camels test their strength against each other by non-violent means. Camels have been an important part of the Yoruk culture.

Another interesting fact is that the camels used in turkey are far from what an average camel is. The Yoruk culture has bred strong and sturdy specimens which look very different from the average camel.

This allows them to be better suited for the kind of challenge that the festival presents.

Locally, the festival is called the Selçuk Efes Camel Wrestling Festival, held in the western province of Izmir. The 40th edition of the festival saw 20,000 spectators visit the site over the span of a weekend.

Similar events are also organized in the western and southern regions of Turkey, specifically around Çanakkale and Antalya. The tradition of camel wrestling can be traced all the way back to the 19th century. In those times Incirliova, a town in the Aydın province neighboring Izmir, was the most popular site for these events.

Over the years though, the Selçuk Efes Camel Wrestling Festival managed to trump the older version, becoming the most popular option for spectators. Today, this event is regarded as the pinnacle of camel wrestling in the world.

The Pamucak Arena has seen multiple attendance records broken by the event in the past and is flush with enthusiasts, over the span of a whole weekend, as owners present their camels for wrestling.

In fact, the event is so popular that most people come form all over the country and brave the cold harsh weather, just to bear witness to the camels parading around with colourful saddles and watch the main event.

There is an element of old-world traditions which draws people to the event as well. Most people come to enjoy the folk-dance performances, bonfires and feasts that are an integral part of the entire experience.

An awe-inspiring sight that intrigues spectators at every edition of the event, is the entry of the 162 competing camels, who walk in to the sound of loud drums, cheers, applause and a traditional Turkish wind instrument.

The breed used for these events is a hybrid of Dromedary and Bacterian camels, called “Tülü” camels. The males compete in four distinct categories and are especially trained to use certain skills and techniques to beat their opponents.

They are paired on the basis of two criteria, their weight and their skill set. Certain camels use footwork to trip their opponents while others might put pressure on the neck to topple their opponents and sit on them.

Some camels simply push their opponents until one of them gives up and steps away from the match. The camel that walks away, is pushed away or collapses, loses the bout. Having said that, the matches aren’t devoid of precautionary measure as both camels are fitted with muzzles to keep them from biting each other and their handlers remain on stand by to separate them with ropes and sticks if the contest becomes too heated.

Owning a camel and having it compete is a matter of great pride in Turkey. Considering the fact that one camel consumes roughly 5 tons of feed annually and additional expenses might also be incurred on top of that, being an owner is not a cheap proposition.

It might eventually be worth it though as a single camel can be sold for $74,000 on average, depending upon his pedigree and wrestling prowess. The Head of the Camel Wrestling Association, Bilgehan Oğuz, stated that the tradition is “a sports of ancestors” which is why the people of Turkey are so passionate about it.

“Life comes to a halt in villages and towns when the camel wrestling starts. Everyone rushes to see the festival. We even cancel our wedding plans. This is more a place for socialization for our people, where they eat, drink and form friendships” he added.