Every year there is a well known event near Selcuk / Izmir when the camel fighting championships take place. There is a two-day carnival in the town during which many male camels fight for trophies, money and the honour of being the best in the competition.
Camel fighting (deve guresi in the Turkish language) is a very famous sport on the Aegean Coast of Turkey, developed from the natural instinct of camels to fight for the leadership of the herd and to get the most females.
The camel fighting championships.
Camels have a long tradition in Turkey: A long time before lorries, railways and planes the most important means of transportation in Turkey and the Near East have been camels. They transported goods and passengers from town to town through the desserts and over the steppes. Because of its ability to face extremely hot temperatures, hunger and thirst for a long time, and also because of its soft swinging way of walking, this animal was called the ship of the desert.
Only the Yörük, a group of nomads living on the high plateaus along the coast, now use the camel as a vehicle for transportation and from time to time the traveller can meet one of the caravans of the Yörük. In countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Yemen people enjoy camel racing. There is nothing like that in Turkey. Here the camels are only prepared and trained for fights.
In the villages near Izmir, like Aydin, Denizli and Mugla, there are camel competitions nearly every weekend between January and March. Thousands of farmers go to town to bet on their favourites and at the same time to sell their products or carpets or just to exhibit their home made crafts. During the winter period, while the females are ?hot?, male camels may fight as many as thirty times. For the rest of the year they can rest with good food while being well looked after. To own these animals is really expensive but it can give a lot of honour to the mainly young owners once they win a competition. It is comparable to the prestige a new sports car can give to a young Turk around town.
Not all camel are suitable for fighting.
Big fighters are born, not made, is the opinion of Hulusi Kanat, who has been breeding camels for 30 years and organising camel fights as his main business. He says that the best fighting camels mainly have an Iranian mother. At the age of six male camels start fighting, but they will reach a suitable level of experience and will be able to win fights from 15 onwards. Some camels are more than 25 years old.
The best 250 camels of Turkey are called tülüs. They are quite famous and earn a lot of money for their owners from these competitions and from betting. With their weight of more than one ton and a height of up to 2.30 meters a tülü is quite an impressive animal. These camels are famous and are almost like superstars. They have well known names or even names showing what they are able to do, like Bulldog, Murderer, Deli tülü (stupid camel), The Fighter, The Commander, The Conqueror, or other horrible names.
The top camels fight once a year near Selcuk, about two hours away from Izmir, at a championship involving more than 120 competitors. At the beginning of the event the road to Bodrum is closed for more than an hour so the owners can bring the camels into town in a parade. All the animals are nicely decorated with colourful blankets, golden curls and jewels. Some wear huge cow bells so there is a lot of noise when they are passing. The male camels, quite often foaming at the mouth, wear muzzles to protect the other camels and also, of course the visitors, from being bitten.
After the opening ceremony, when the speeches of the local landlord, the Mayor and some other famous politicians have finished, the camels march to Ephesus. All the fights take place in Ephesus in the old antique Roman arena. That is the reason why a famous author once compared the camel fight with the old gladiators of the arena. Thousands of visitors, including many females, fill the stadium to the last seat watching the fights while using drums and whistles to create a strange, noisy atmosphere.
During the competition, lasting eight hours, salesmen offer pop corn, potato chips, nuts and simits, a Turkish bread made from sesame. Two loudly barking and snorting camels are brought to the opposite ends of the arena. A female camel is led between them and once both males ones want to get to her, the fight can start. Each of the fighters starts trying to push the other so that it will fall. Sometimes their necks and legs get really tangled with each other. Each fight lasts ten minutes and then two teams of nine men, all dressed in red and blue leather, try to pull the fighting camels away from each other. No animal will be injured badly, maybe just some scratches or a bleeding nose.
The most exciting are the fights of the heavy-weight male camels. To gain a victory the camel needs to pull down its opponent, force the other one to leave the stadium or force it to start crying, the signal that it wants to give up. If this does not happen, the battle ends without winner.
Apart from the money from betting and the honour of being champion, the owner of the camel will get a trophy, a medal and a very special hand-woven carpet.
Enjoy this special event.