Ismail Balaban Wins 656th Kirkpinar

Balaban narrowly missed out on the title in 2013, when he was beaten by Ali Gürbüz, who was later stripped of the title when he was exposed as one of 16 oil wrestlers who had tested positive for banned substances.

Ismail Balaban, winner of the 656th Kirkpinar
Jul. 16, 2017
By Julie Al-Zoubi
Ismail Balaban, winner of the 656th Kirkpinar

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Thirty-year-old Ismail Balaban, a farmer’s son from the Akmay vil­lage of Elmali beat Orhan Okulu to take the title of Turkey’s 2017 Kirkpinar olive oil wrestling cham­pion today. Balaban fought hard for the title and was treated by medics dur­ing the match, before gain­ing vic­tory over Antalya’s Okulu, the 2015 win­ner, and tak­ing home 50,000 Turkish Lira ($14,132) in prize money.
See Also: More Kirkpinar Coverage
Balaban nar­rowly missed out on the title in 2013, when he was beaten by Ali Gürbüz. Gürbüz was later stripped of the title when he was exposed as one of 16 pehli­van,” (oil wrestlers) who had tested pos­i­tive for banned sub­stances.






A record num­ber of olive oil wrestlers total­ing over 2,200 took part in Turkey’s 2017 Kirkpinar fes­ti­val, held in the city of Edirne in north­ern Turkey.

2017 was not a Golden Belt year, as the sport’s rules state that a wrestler has to win the title of Kırkpınar Chief Wrestler” for three suc­ces­sive years to be awarded the Golden Belt,” a sym­bolic award that the win­ner holds for the fol­low­ing year. 62 başpehli­van” (chief wrestlers) com­peted for the title; up from 56 in 2016.

The Kirkpinar fes­ti­val took its name from the tra­di­tional short, leather pants kıspet,” worn by the wrestlers, whose bod­ies are slathered with olive oil before they grap­ple for the cov­eted title on a grassy field.

Two tons of olive oil used to coat the wrestlers dur­ing the fes­ti­val was sup­plied by Trakya Birlik, a local coop­er­a­tive of oil seed grow­ers. Dilşen Oktay, a fifth gen­er­a­tion olive oil pro­ducer from Karaağaç told Olive Oil Times.

Oktay recalled that in the past, it had been sug­gested that sun­flower oil could replace the tra­di­tional olive oil. This caused out­rage among the wrestlers who insisted on using olive oil; believ­ing that as well as being good for their skin, olive oil reduces the amount of pain caused by injuries and helps wounds to heal quicker.

Wresters enter the arena ready for battle at the Kirkpinar Turkish Oi Wrestling Festival, Edirne, Turkey.

Kirkpinar is believed to be the old­est sport­ing event in the world with a 650-year his­tory. It was inscribed on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage’s in 2010 and has been described as the world’s top oil wrestling event by Musa Aydın, head of the Turkish Wrestling Federation.

In 2016 Recep Kara beat Mehmet Y. Yeşil and earned the title of the 655th başpehli­van,” (head of the pehli­vans). Kara has held the title four times since his first vic­tory in 2004.

Turkeys olive grow­ers and olive oil pro­duc­ers fought their own bat­tle ear­lier this year, to save the country’s olive trees from pro­posed changes to The Olive Law,” which threat­ened smaller olive groves and would have left them vul­ner­a­ble to being ousted by mines, indus­trial projects and hous­ing schemes.


After wide­spread out­rage, a heated debate and 32,000 peo­ple pledg­ing sup­port for the Don’t touch my olive tree” cam­paign, the con­tro­ver­sial arti­cle was removed, although indus­try insid­ers fear the gov­ern­ment will attempt to rein­tro­duce it at a later date.

The 2017 Kirkpinar fes­ti­val coin­cided with the com­mem­o­ra­tion of a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. In a speech made in Istanbul to cel­e­brate the failed plot, President Erdogan vowed to rip the heads off” trai­tors behind the coup.



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