Camel wrestling attracts thousands despite criticism
More than 20,000 people came together to watch the 40th Selçuk Camel Wrestling Festival held on Jan. 18 in the eponymous town in Turkey’s Aegean province of İzmir, despite criticism from animal rights activists who claim that the big ruminants were abused and injured during the event.
The festival brought together 162 camels, their owners, handlers and thousands of spectators from the neighboring provinces and towns despite the cold weather, transforming the stadium into a picnic-style party after some of the visitors set up their own barbeques and tables.
Addressing visitors prior to the starting whistle, Selçuk Mayor Filiz Ceritoğlu Sengel said that the event is a 40-year-old pride and a nomadic tradition while greeting camel wrestling fans from the Marmara, the Aegean and the Mediterranean regions of the country.
As the cazgır, an equivalent to a master of traditional ceremonies, builds up excitement with comic commentary while narrating the progress, camels adorned with colorful accessories by their owners to win the hearts of a jury faced off on the fighting arena.
The camels wrestled each other in short duels, trying to butthead or bite one another, but handlers separated them with long sticks each time they came close to physically hurting themselves.
In the meantime, as the wrestling continued with all its excitement, spectators were offered camel meat and handicrafts from local stalls set up at one corner of the arena.
Camels have been of critical importance in Turkey in past centuries, but the animals are now largely consigned to use in wrestling competitions or touristic purposes. Camel wrestling is organized in January and February every year in many Aegean provinces.
Local authorities permit organizations to conduct such events under the conditions that they are organized for folkloric purposes and that the camels are not harmed, however, these assurances do not seem enough for animal rights activists.
Many animal lovers lash out at the festival since camels on the arena fight by smashing their heads and necks together until one is injured or concedes the fight and runs away.
Activists claim that the breeders and owners of camels create an unnatural environment for the animals and accuse the festival of forcing the camels to fight.
“These animals are ensured to become stronger before wrestling, they are separated from female camels so that they hot up and attack,” said Ayşem İzleyiş Oğuz, the Istanbul representative of an animal rights group PADER.
Zülal Kalkanderen, another animal rights activist and a columnist, described camel wrestling as “animal cruelty.”