Sounds, noises, voices and other good vibrations from Turkey

Kırkpınar oil-wrestling tournament

In Entertainment on 13/07/2011 at 16:31

Last weekend, I was in Edirne (Eastern Thrace) for the annual oil-wrestling tournament. Kırkpınar, one of the country’s oldest traditions, has been staged there for 650 years. Three days in a row, hundreds of wrestlers pour olive oil onto each other and fight in black pants made of cowhide (named “kispet”). Some are as young as 11 years old. But the dream of every pehlivan (wrestler) is to become a “chief wrestler”, a “başpehlivan”.

This year’s champion is a 24-year-old Goliath from Antalya, Ali Gürbüz. He claimed his first title (and the 14-carat gold belt) against Recep Kara, a four-time winner in the Kırkpınar arena. But there is more to the story: Ali’s father, Recep, won the gold belt in that same arena 23 years ago. He died a few months later, when Ali was a one-year-old kid. Seconds after his victory, Ali Gürbüz toured the grassy field holding his father’s photo.

Kırkpınar entered the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage last November.

Click to learn more about the Kırkpınar legend and wrestling techniques.


Ashura with Turkish Shias

In Religion on 03/07/2011 at 14:29

Ashura takes place on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. It is an ancient observance recognized in different ways among Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Last December, I attended the commemoration with Istanbul’s Shias in the Halkali district. Turkey’s Shia community claims three million followers. For them, Ashura is a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Huseyin, the grandson of the Prophet of Islam, at the Battle of Karbala.

Reenactments and plays attempt to relive the tragedy and keep the lessons of this event alive. Ceremonies are carefully performed, with rehearsals taking place the days before. Believers beat their chest (“deste” in Turkish) as a display of their devotion to Huseyin. Apparently, a popular Shia saying has it that “a single tear shed for Huseyin washes away a hundred sins”.

To learn more about Ashura, see here.

Farming in Küçükkuyu

In Nature on 16/06/2011 at 17:25

Erkan and Tamahine Alemdar used to live in the city. Eight years ago, the couple bought a piece of land in Mıhlı, a few kilometers away from Küçükkuyu, in the Kazdağı region of Turkey where Erkan’s grandmother grew up.

“We wanted to have a self-sustainable lifestyle, grow some vegetables, live in nature, learn about plants and herbs and the olive trees” Tamahine told me when I visited their farm last summer. The Alemdars constantly share their family life with volunteers from all over the world. Every day, except Sunday, they work for five hours with a dozen other volunteers in return for free room and board.

Graham and Scott, two young Canadians, had signed up for three weeks at the Dedetepe farm. When I met them, they were building stonewalls around olive trees.