Amid Turmoil, Edirne Readies for 655th Kirkpinar

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.

Jul. 16, 2016
By Yasemin Orhun

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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.

Update 18 July, 2016: Organizers announced today that the fes­ti­val sur­round­ing the wrestling event will be can­celed. The tour­na­ment will take place as planned.


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