While Turkey is wrestling with a coup attempt and the violent events that erupted from it resulting in 161 dead and 1,440 wounded, there is no announcement to postpone the 655th Kırkpınar olive oil wrestling tournament.
The traditional contest is still expected to take place between 18-24 July in Edirne. On the 20th, there will be concerts featuring the famous Turkish singers Sertab Erener and Hüsnü Şenlendirici. In addition to music, there will be a traditional cooking contest, folk dances and an archery festival complementing the wrestling contest.
The municipality of Edirne will award 216,000 Turkish liras, or $71,524 in the U.S. Dollars, which has been on the rise in Turkey since the coup attempt.
Even though there has been no announcement to cancel or postpone the tournament, one cannot help but wonder if it will take place without complications given the current state of the country.
The people of the city of Edirne, which hosts the event, were on the streets protesting last night, expressing their reactions to the ongoing events.
There are more than 50 olive-oil wrestling tournaments held annually around the country, marking a distinct usage of the product. Among the many Turkish wrestling tournaments, Kırkpınar is the most famous with the many myths that surround it.
Last year, Orhan Okulu from Antalya was the last man standing, taking home the coveted gold belt and title of Başpehlivan (head wrestler).
Oil wrestling in Edirne began in the Ottomanic era. According to one legend, when Orhan Ghazi was planning to invade Rumelia, the army stopped near Samona which lies within Greece’s boundaries today. Forty men started wrestling as they usually did in their remissions. After many hours passed, two men remained standing, and went on to continue their duel. Neither of them could beat the other one.
On another occasion, the same couple started wrestling once again, this time on a meadow near Edirne. They wrestled the whole day and continued throughout the night, illuminated by candles and lanterns. They literally fought to their death. Their friends ended up burying them under a fig tree.
When they visited the same place years later, they saw a spring where their friends had perished, flowing abundantly. From that day on, the area was called Kırkpınar, which means “forty springs” in Turkish. In the years following, the oil wrestling tournament turned into an official tradition declared by the sultan.
This year, more than 2,000 oil wrestlers are expected to participate, rubbing some 2,000 kilograms of olive oil prepared for the contest, making their skins slippery to be more difficult to overtake.
They will first submerge their right hands in a vessel full of oil and water, rub it over their left shoulders, chest, arm and kispet, the traditional clothing for the festival. Then they will do the same with their left hands. After the wrestling starts, they will be free to take more oil from an attendant who will walk around the field carrying a pitcher.