Turkish Traditions


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Traditional Turkish Sports

Yagli Gures - 'Grease Wrestling' is the Turkish national sport and every year, in July, wrestling championships are held in Klrkplnar, outside Edirne. The contest is made more difficult by the fact that the wrestlers smear themselves with oil.

Allah Allah illalah
May we prosper
Our patron is Hamza the wrestler
Our ancestors were wrestlers
Two valiant men take the field
One blond one dark
Both seek the prize
Do not despair when down
Do not boast when uppermost
When above do not let go
Meet leg trip with leg trip
Send a prayer to Muhammed
I hastened to the spring
May God be with both of you

For 630 years the celebrated Kırkpınar oil wrestling tournament has commenced with this chant. The master of the festival, known as the cazgir, recites a prayer for the wrestlers. Then the drums zurna (a wind instrument with a double reed) begin to play, hundreds of wrestlers bow in salute, and the first pairs lock in combat on the green meadow.

There are several versions of the story about how the Kırkpınar wrestling tournament began, the best known relating how Sultan Murad I’s general Suleyman Pasa crossed the Dardanelles with a vanguard of forty warriors on two rafts, and commenced the march through Thrace. At every halt the men engaged in wrestling bouts as a way of forgetting the hardships of the journey. One day when they reached a meadow at Ahırköy near Edirne they began wrestling as usual. As the sun set only two wrestlers remained, neither able to inflict defeat on the other. They continued to wrestle into the night until finally both collapsed and died of exhaustion. They were buried where they fell, and the next day a spring of crystal clear water appeared on the spot.

This meadow was there after known as Kırkpınar or the Forty Springs in memory of the first Turkish warriors to set foot on European soil.
The historian Osman Nuri Peremeci writes in his History of Edirne that a Wrestlers Lodge was established in Edirne soon afterwards, and that here the local wrestlers held matches twice a week during the winter. But in summer, they wrestled outdoors in the flat meadows near the city.
During the spring festival of Hıdırellez a three day tournament was held on the meadow of Kırkpınar, which is situated today near the village of Samona over the frontier in Greece. Famous wrestlers from all over the Ottoman lands would gather here for the event, and the Wrestlers Lodge would provide food and accommodation for the contestants. Today the Kırkpınar Grease Wrestling Tournament is still held annually at Sarayiçi in Edirne.



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Cirit Oyunu - the "javelin game''

Cirit Oyunu - the "javelin game''

Turkey’s Traditional Equestrian Sport Cirit : The javelin game of daredevil horsemanship is a sport where wooden javelins are thrown at horsemen of opposing teams to gain points. The game is played mainly in Eastern (Erzurum) and western (Uşak)Turkey. Cirit, in other words Çavgan, is a traditional game Turkish people played for hundreds of years. Turks brought this game, which is played on horse, with them from Middle Asia to Anatolia. Horses are essential and sacred animals for Turks. Turks was born on horse, grew up on horse, fight on horse and died on horse. The horse milk, koumiss, was the unique drink of Turks.The game Cirit was the biggest sporting and ceremonial game of Turks. Later, it was excepted as a war game by Ottoman Turks in 16th century. In 19th century, it became the biggest show sport and game in all Ottoman countries and Ottoman palaces. The game jerid was forbidden by II. Mahmoud as it was a dangerous game. But then it spread out all around as the most popular war and arena game of Ottoman country.

When the Turkish people poured westwards from their Central Asian homelands in the 11th century, they came on horseback into Anatolia, the land which the poet NazIm Hikmet described as ‘stretching like a mare’s head into the Mediterranean’. The horse, which played a central role in Turkish life in the Central Asian steppes, was probably first ridden and harnessed to vehicles in the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea northeast of Anatolia. The Turks brought not only their horses to Anatolia but many related aspects of their culture, one being the equestrian sport known as cirit or jereed. Cirit is a means of improving equestrian skills, and involves two teams of horsemen, each armed with a dried date, oak or poplar stick. These sticks are 70-100 cm in length and 2-3 cm in diameter, with blunt ends.

They were originally heavier and thicker, but to reduce the risk of injury players came to prefer sticks made of poplar wood, which become lighter when dried. The players ride horses specially trained for the sport. The teams line up facing one another on the field, each player at a distance of about 100 metres from the next. The person who signals the start of the game is known as the çavuþ, and before the game he introduces each of the players to the spectators with words of praise. Meanwhile drums and reed pipes play military marches and Köroðlu folk airs. At the beginning of the game it is traditional for the youngest rider to trot towards the opposing team, and at a distance of 10-15 metres toss his cirit stick at one of the players. Simultaneously he turns his horse back and tries to reach the safety of his own side, pursued by the other player with a stick in his hand.

This process of chasing and fleeing, while trying to hit an opponent with a stick, is the essence of the game, which requires skill and sportsmanship. To hit the horse instead of the rider, which is regarded as the sign of an inexperienced player, is against the rules, and the offender is sent off the field.
The referees, who are former cirit players with standing in the community, count the number of hits and at the end of the game announce the winning team. Experienced cirit players rarely miss hitting an opponent, and are skilled at avoiding hits themselves by bending low, hanging down from one side of the horse, and other feats of acrobacy. Part of the skill lies in training the horses so that they play a significant role in the outcome of the game. The formation of the two teams has its traditional etiquette. Care is taken not to put players who are on bad terms in opposing teams, and players who display deliberately hostile behaviour during a match are blacklisted.

Cirit was particularly widespread in the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century onwards, becoming the foremost martial sport. In peace time it was played to improve the cavalry’s attack and defence skills, and during campaigns to whip up their enthusiasm for battle. Some of the sultans are known to have been cirit players, and early Ottoman sultans like Yıldırım Bayezıd (1389-1402) and Çelebi Mehmed (1413-1421) attached importance to cirit in the training of their armies. A superior class of cavalrymen known as cündi was formed from those skilled at cirit. However, the game was not without its dangers, and injuries and even death from falls in the attempt to catch the flying cirit sticks prompted Mahmud II (1808-1839) to ban the sport altogether after he dissolved the Janissary Corps. Although playing cirit resumed before long, particularly in the provinces, it never recovered the importance of former times

Today cirit is not as widespread as it once was, but is still played as a spectator sport, primarily in Erzurum, but also in the provinces of Artvin, Kars, Bayburt, Diyarbakır, Siirt and Konya. Folklore societies are also attempting to keep this traditional sport alive by organising tournaments.


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Camel Wrestling

Deve Güreşi - Camel Wrestling

The camel wrestling organised traditionally in our country was firstly made in Hıdırbeyi village, İncirliova, Aydın. Although starting date of camel wrestling is not known, it is predicted that the wrestling organisations have been made since caravan and nomading period. Based on the information obtained from camel owners and wrestling fans, nomads and caravan owners had a competition and they had camel wrestling.
Camel wrestling has been seen more in Aydın as well as Aegean region (İzmir, Manisa, Muğla, Denizli) also many cities, districts, towns and villages, also in Marmara region (Balıkesir, Çanakkale), Mediterranean Region (Burdur Isparta) and some other provinces.

Although there are traditional rules of camel wrestling, they differ from region to region. However, camel wrestling does not have a unique field and spectators. The organisations for camel wrestling are usually held by associations dealing with activities in education, culture, health, sports and social fields for making profits. In some regions municipalities take part in organisations in order to discipline the wrestling and provide a certain order.
The incomes from wrestling organisation are used, after deduction of expenses, for specified purposes. Betting and other kind of organisations are made for camel wrestlings Camel wrestling is made between male camels delivered upon mating of female camel with single hump called "yoz" and male camels with double humps called "buhur".

The camels are for wrestling. They are born for wrestling that is their descendants were also wrestler camels.
Wrestler camels are grown up with special care and prepared for wrestling. The wrestling is organised during winter months when "Tülü"s are angry, namely in December, January, February and March.
Wrestling camel has a name. The names are given by their owners as well as by spectators because of the actions the camels make during wrestling. It is also seen that the names are chosen from the names of heroes of TV serials. It will be better if some names are given. Some of the names are Kolombo, Dozer, Şahintepesi, Gezer, Sarızeybek, Yörükali, Almanyalı, Ceylan, Flek, Ali Tülü, Talancı, Karka kartalı, Suat, Zümrüt, Menderes, Fırat, Takmakol, Şoför, Civan, Karamurat, Yarımdünya and so on.
The names of the camels are transcribed on the cloth put on back of the pack-saddle. This cloth is called Peş. "Maşallah" is written under the name.

One day before the wrestling, the camels taking part in the wrestling are designed in a traditional way. In addition, they are showed up in the streets. This is a worth seeing event. You hear drums and zurna playing zeybek and the bells of the camels. The dressed up camels indicate a different beauty. One is delighted of watching them. The city is too crowded like a festival. The fans of camel wrestling are all there. Discussions about the wrestling go on. You are attracted by the camel owners in their traditional clothes and also some fans dressing in the same way, in caps, poşu, jacket and traditional trousers and boots. It is also possible to see some watching video clips of former wrestling. In the evening a friendship party called "Halı Gecesi" is held in order to provide friendship between camel owners and wrestling lovers. People eat, drink and sing songs of the region, play zeybek and also some auctions are held to sell carpets. This evening party is held one day before wrestling. The people prepare their meals one night prior to organisation date. Everybody is very excited.

Wrestling Day : People start to come to the wrestling field early in the morning. While some try to find a good seat at field, th others arrange the place where they can stay with their families. Grills and meals are prepared. At about 9.00-10.00 the wrestling field is full of wrestling lovers. In addition street hawkers take their places out of the field. Several kinds of foods, drinks, gifts are already placed on the counters. And drum and zurna are played. Some people start to play zeybek.
Then it is anounced from the speakers that the wrestling has started, and the names of the camels announced to come into field for wrestling. The movement out of the field now shifts to the field. Camel owners take the camels into the field. After the camels make a tour in the field the wrestling starts. Cmel wrestling generally starts at 9-00-10.00.
The person announcing the names of the wrestling camels (called by "Cazgır") praises the camels and contributes entertainment to the wrestling through his unique praising, and poems.
Camel wrestling is made in four categories, namely ayak, Orta, Başaltı and baş. The winners are determined by : 1) Making the rival escape, 2) cry 3)fall.
Cazgır is the most important and colourful figure of the camel wrestling as it is in oil wrestling. He tries to narrate the camel wrestling like sports reporters.

In camel wrestling the followings are charged with duties: organisation committees, referee committee(Head referee, mid referee and desk referee), urgancı (rope keeper) in sufficient number, mouth tiers (to tie mouth of the camels) and controller of tying mouth.
In the first one, the camel makes its rival escape from the field with its huge body. In the second, the camel ties its rival with several tricks and games, and the rival cannot stand this force and cries. In the third one, the winner makes its rival fall with tricks and attacks and sits on losing rival. There is also beating called "pes" (accepting defeat) in which the owner of the camel accepts the defeating in order to prevent his camel encounter damage, for this defeating the owner throws the rope into the field which means acceptance of defeating. The camels not beating each others are equal without any winners.
Some of the names given to tricks made by camels during wrestling are: Bağ, Çengel, Çatal, Makas, kol atması, Muşat çengel, Tam bağ, Yarım bağ, Düz çengel, Tekçi, Kol kaldırma.
In order to increase the excitement, great care is paid for matching the camels having different tricks. Each camel wrestles with a tülü in its class. The camels wrestling from right are matched with the ones wrestling from the right, and left ones with left ones, the ones hooking with the ones hooking etc. The winner camel bring its four feet together and salutes the spectator with boasting. As a reward it gets its carpet and leaves the field. Defeated camel shows silence and embarrassment.
Each camel wrestles only once a day. The duration of the wrestling is about 10 to 15 minutes. The rules are set out in order to prevent reduction in number of wrestling camels and damage of them.
All of them are carried out within a disciplinary manner and traditionally. When wrestling is ended, the owners and the winner camels return home with proud and happiness while spectators are delighted of having an exciting day.
The camel wrestling usually held in winter months in Aegean region has become winter festivals of Aegean region.


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Turkish Folk Dance


The lively Turkish folkmusic, which originated on the steppes of Asia, is in complete contrast to the refined Turkish classical music of the Ottoman court. Until recently, folk music was not written down, and the traditions have been kept alive by the aşıklar (troubadours). Distinct from folkmusic is Ottoman military music, now performed by the mehter takımı (Janissary Band) in Istanbul, which originated in Central Asia, and is played with kettle drums, clan-nets, cymbals, and bells. The mystical music of the Whirling Dervishes Mevleviler is dominated by the haunting sound of the reed pipe or ney, and can be heard in Konya during the Mevlana Festival in December. Folk dances have different characteristics based on region and location and are generally engaged in during weddings, journeys to the mountains in the summer, when sending sons off to military service and during religious and national holidays. The best known folk dances are:

  • Kaşık Oyunu: The Spoon Dance is performed from Konya to Silifke and consists of gaily dressed male and female dancers 'clicking' out the dance rhythm with a pair of wooden spoons in each hand.

  • Horon : Horon comes from the word “horom” which refers to a line of six or seven corn stalks tied together to form a lattice. From a distance it appears like a line of people joining hands with their arms raised. The most renowned dance style of the Black Sea region, the Horon suggests the action of fishermen as well as the movements of the fish and the sea of this ancient fishing district. It is characterized by alert and tense shivering movements and sudden squatting. The Horon is generally danced by a chain of either men or women who form a line or semi-circle. The few Horons in which women and men dance together are called “rahat horon” or “comfortable horon”; the music is slower and the figures are simpler. Horons are often danced to the music of these instruments: Cura zurna, cura davul, tulum, kemence, koltuk davulu and more recently, accordian. This Black Sea dance is performed usually by men only, dressed in black with silver trimmings. The dancers link arms and quiver to the vibrations of the kemençe (a primitive kind of violin).

  • Kılıç Kalkan : The Sword and Shield Dance of Bursa represents the Ottoman conquest of the city. It is performed by men only, dressed in early Ottoman battle dress, who dance to the sound of clashing swords and shields, without music.

  • Zeybek: In this Aegean dance, colourfully dressed male dancers, called Efe, symbolise courage and heroism.Zeybek dances vary. However, they can be gathered into two main classifications.
    1) Slow Zeybek and 2) Yörük Zeybek (Fast Zeybek)
    In Izmir Zeybek Dances that are to be danced whether single or with a group, display the efe’s and Zeybek’s self-assurances, mainly braveness and their challenges. The Zeybek’s who show breveness and honestly with all their excitementare a symbol of dignity and valor.

There are six varieties of traditional Turkish performing arts:
  • Village Plays:
    Plays are put on in accordance with rural traditions on special days, weddings and holidays.

  • Meddah:
    A kind of one-act dramatic play where the narrator also imitates the various characters in the play.

  • Karagoz:
    Traditional show theatre, where the shadows of human and animal figures, cut out of leather and colored, are thrown onto a white curtain using a light source behind it.

  • Orta Oyun:
    In style and theme resembles Karagoz, but is performed by real actors.

  • Tuluat Theater:
    A mixture of Orta Oyun and western theater.


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Mevlevi Dervishes

A beam of purplish light plays on the spinning figures in their white long-skirted robes. Their faces look up to heaven as they turn to the moving strains of the ney in the half-darkness beneath the turquoise dome.The semazen are followers of the 13th century Turkish mystic, Mevlana, and their dance is a search for communion with God who is reality, and His love. The sound of the ney, a kind of ancient reed flute, is the weeping of joy at knowledge of the divine secret whispered into a well by Ali. The rhythm of its cry accompanies the dervishes in their reaching out to God.The night of 17 December is the holiest in the Mevlevî calendar, a night of union, a wedding night (Şeb-i Arus), when Mevlana departed the mortal world to become one with He who loves and is loved. It is not a time to mourn but to rejoice: At my death do not lament our separation...As the sun and moon but seem to set,In reality this is a rebirth.

Each year thousands of people from the far corners of the world, travel to Konya in response to Mevlana’s call of 725 years ago:
Come, whoever you might be, come Infidel, idolator, magian, let all come This is not the lodge of despair If thou hast broken the oath a hundred times, come"
Pilgrims begin their stay in Konya with a visit to Mevlana’s tomb, which is set amidst trees next to the Mevlana Museum. Nearby is Alâaddin Mosque and its şadırvan (
fountain for ablutions).

According to Mevlevî belief a person is born twice, once from his mother and secondly from his own body. The latter, the birth of enlightenment, is the real birth marking the beginning of a journey to the discovery of truth. The dervishes of a Mevlevî lodge undergo a long novitiate involving trials of patience and submission.
Mevlana encouraged his followers to search for the truth themselves rather than blindly believe in others. "To question is half of knowledge," he declared. Tolerance of human failing was another important part of his teaching: When wrongful deeds are related to you, interpret them seventy times with good will and good faith. When you are helpless tell yourself that the perpetrator of wrongdoing must surely know the secret and forget it. If you seek a friend without fault, you will be friendless. The ancient soil of Anatolia has always been fertile ground for philosophy, meditation and thought. Life is like a river which flows on without ever stopping,’ said Mevlana, expressing the unity and continuity of man’s attempts to reach God. Separate ways are in reality but one, and awareness of God’s love is what we all seek. In Mevlana’s mystic philosophy lies a message of universal peace which has drawn so many to Konya over the centuries.

If the heart of lovers had not burned and shed tears There would be neither water nor fire in the world".

**you may have seen the Merlevi dervishes when Turkey Hosted the Eurovision & on The adverts advertising Turkey on TV (which here in England is on about 6 times a day!!)**
**claire** said:

**you may have seen the Merlevi dervishes when Turkey Hosted the Eurovision & on The adverts advertising Turkey on TV (which here in England is on about 6 times a day!!)**
They've been guests here in Belgrade 3 weeks ago. I've missed it unfortunately :cry: due to the fact that I was in another city at that time, so I hope I'll have an opportunity to see them again soon.

Anyway, thatk you both for this interesting and very useful info!

xxx S.


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Janissary Band

Ottoman mehter music, which for centuries accompanied the marching Ottoman army into battle, still echoes in that of drum and zurna - an oboe-like woodwind instrument with seven holes above and one below - which are a part of folk culture all over Turkey. Mehter music was a symbol of sovereignty and independence, and its ardent sounds instilled the soldiers with strength and courage. The rousing songs and crashing sound of the great kös drums were at the same time capable of unnerving the enemy on the brink of battle, and the mehter music composers took pains to create works that produced this effect.The mehter band was established in 1299 when Osman Gazi was made bey or liege lord by the Seljuk sultan Keykubat III, who sent him a tabl (kettledrum) and finial as symbols of rank. However, with the dissolution of the Janissary Corps by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826, the mehter bands were also dispersed, and not until Ferik Ahmed Muhtar Paşa founded the Imperial Military Museum in 1908 was it decided to revive the tradition. In 1914 it was reestablished as the Mehterhane-i Hakani - Royal Mehter Band - attached to the museum.

The band was again abolished in 1935 by then minister of defence Zekai Apaydın Bey, only to be reformed in 1952 as an institution of historical interest attached to Istanbul Military Museum. Today the band performs several times a week at the museum, and at certain official ceremonies, and is a reminder of former Ottoman glory.The band has its own distinctive marching step, whose rhythm is that of the words, "Gracious God is good. God is compassionate". The mehter band marches behind the commander of the band or çorbacıbaşı, who wears a headdress known as üsküf. After him to his left and right respectively march the bearers of the white and red standards, the latter with an armed guard. Behind these march nine plume bearers three by three, the ‘plume of attack’ positioned behind the red standard. Then comes the band master in the centre, and behind him the çevgâns (jingling instruments in the form of a crescent), zurnas, trumpets, nakkares (small kettledrums beaten with the hands or two sticks), cymbals, davuls (bass drums) and finally the kös drums (giant kettledrums) played on horseback.

The mehter band members form a crescent to perform, and play standing except for the nakkare players, who sit crosslegged at the righthand tip of the crescent, followed anticlockwise by the zurnas, bass drums, cymbals and trumpets. When they march, the band members pause every three steps and turn to right and left in salutation, in a rhythm set by the drums, chanting "Rahim Allah, Kerim Allah" (Merciful God, Gracious God). In former centuries the mehter band used to play even at night on the battlefield to prevent the camp guards from falling asleep.
As well as the instruments already mentioned, a full mehter band could also include two types of zurna (cura and kaba), kurrenay (a kind of horn with a curved end), mehter whistle, clarinet-type wind instruments, tabl, tambourine and other percussion instruments.

The mehter bands were primarily military bands, and those under the command of generals included war drums over one metre in height known as harbî kûs or kös. These were carried on camels, and playing them with sticks demanded great skill. The 17th century writer Evliya Çelebi wrote, ‘Each kûs is the size of a bathhouse dome. They are played on feastday nights and days and their sound is like thunder.
During performances the kös drums were placed in a line on the ground in the centre of the circle of musicians, and when marching they were loaded in pairs onto camels. The drummer rode and struck the drums to his right and left by turn. The kös was only ever played by royal mehter bands, or in that of the commander-in-chief leading the army in lieu of the sultan when on campaign.

Each set of players had a leader known as ağa. The leader of the bass drum players was called the başmehter ağa, and the master of the entire band was called the mehterbaşı ağa. All the ağas and the çevgân players wore white turbans wound around a kavuk (cap), a red coat over a yellow robe and red trousers, a shawl wound around the waist and yellow leather shoes. The other musicians were similarly dressed, except that their kavuks and coats were dark blue.
As the Ottomans advanced westwards into Europe, many elements of mehter music influenced western composers, particularly in the 17th century. Later Mozart and Haydn composed music inspired by mehter music, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony’s use of the kös, bass drum and zurna in the last movement is another striking example. Mozart, Bizet and many other composers produced "alla Turca" pieces. The military mehter bands symbolised the sovereignty of the Ottoman state, and their powerful stirring music had a spirit which we can still appreciate today when listening to the museusin mehter band playing this sound out of the past.