Bull wrestling in Yusufeli

Bull wrestling in Yusufeli

Wilco van Herpen ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Bull wrestling in Yusufeli

Bull wrestling is not as popular as oil wrestling or camel wrestling, but during the bull wrestling festivals 1,000 of people come to the place where bulls await their turn to enter the ‘arena.’ Photo by Wilco van Herpen

I know some of you readers are going to get cross with me, but this time I want to write something about bullfighting in Turkey. Let’s directly take the bull by the horns as a famous Dutch saying says. I went to the Black Sea province of Artvin’s Yusufeli and saw the wrestling and liked it (the bullfighting).

Do not talk to me about the bullfighting that happens in Spain, Portugal (and I hear also in southern France); I hate it… It’s cruel and sadistic. Sorry for saying, but when I read in the newspaper that a toreador was picked up by the horns of the bull and thrown a couple of meters, I admire the bull that was able to do so. How can you fight a bull in an honest way if you first put a number of swords in the bull’s back? Watching footage of these kinds of bullfights makes me want to vomit and I quickly change the channel if I see something like this on my screen.

Two things to tell

Before you start writing e-mails asking how I could like such an old tradition, I want to tell you two things:

1. On Feb. 26, 2013, the foundations for a new dam were laid in a ceremony attended by Minister of Forestry and Waterworks Veysel Eroğlu and Minister of Labor and Social Security Faruk Çelik. When completed, the Yusufeli Dam will be Turkey’s highest and the world’s third-highest ranking dam. Once the dam is finished and filled with water, 1,000 of animals and millions of insects will have lost their lives. This is the first concrete result of the dam, but what will happen to the regional climate? Nobody can predict how it will change the micro (but also possibly the macro) climate of that region and Turkey.

Some ministers have led us to believe that it will be good for the water house holding of Turkey but we already have so many dams and even more are to be built. All those dams will disturb the natural flow of little brooks and streams, which in turn will harm the local nature. On top of that we also disturb the natural water reservoirs that are deep under the ground. In the past to get clean fresh water people used pipes that went as deep as 30 or 50 meters. That was where the clean water was. Nowadays, the factories that need clean water use pipes that go as deep as 300 meters. If we carry on like this, Turkey will slowly turn into a desert. There are many more things to be said about these problems but actually I wanted to write about the bullfighting so I will close this subject and continue with the beautiful bulls.

Soon there will be no bullfights possible in Yusufeli…

2. The farmers who go to that bullfighting view it as a very old tradition that should be kept alive. They take care of their bulls and love them (I sometimes think they love their bulls more than their wives, the way they talk to them and cuddle them). But even more importantly: they do NOT use any knives or swords to hurt or wound their bulls.

3. The bulls often hardly touch each other. Most of the time it is a kind of psychological approach from the bull that decides which bull is going to win. On average a bullfight lasts a maximum of two minutes.

So what is it like to be there among the locals of Yusufeli during their famous Boğa güreşi (literally: bull wrestling)? It is different, it is strange and it is nice. Bull wrestling is not as popular as oil wrestling or camel wrestling, but during the more important bull wrestling festivals 1,000 of people come to the place where as many as a 100 bulls await their turn to enter the “arena.” Before the match, all the bulls are weighed and put in a class according to their kilos.

An old, thin man enters the arena. In his hands he holds a tiny, thin rope. At the end of the rope I see a bull that weighs at least 400 kilos. What if the bull gets upset or does not want to follow this man, I wonder? Before I can even realize, I get an answer to my question. At the entrance people are jumping and running away from something I can’t make out, but then a big bull runs into the arena, his owner running after him and shouting, “make way, make way! Everybody be careful!” One of the referees jumps in front of the bull, grabs the rope and stops the 450 kilos of running meat. He hands the rope back to the owner and walks back to his place.

The second bull enters the arena and is placed in front of the other bull. Quiet, they stand opposite of each other. One of the bulls scrapes its hoof in the dry sand of the arena. Little clouds of dust billow around the bull. He looks up at the opponent and takes a deep breath. Then… before he can even attack, the other bull turns around and runs away. The stronger bull runs after the escaping bull, but quickly his owner grabs the rope and drags the bull away from the other one that by now has already left the arena while his owner is still trying to catch him. The match lasted not more than three or four minutes.

Farmers love animals

Walking around a bit and looking behind the “stage,” I met only farmers who loved their animals. They gave them water, fed them and brushed them. As far as I could see, no harm came to those animals; on the contrary. I thought about all the abandoned street dogs in Istanbul and how they suffer; especially during the wintertime. If something is unfair and cruel then I believe it is the way we people treat those animals.