At a time of rising interest in Turkic and Ottoman history, an Istanbul festival seeks to revive a number of ancient and cherished sports, games and traditions.
Ethnosports Culture Festival the brainchild of the World Ethnosports Confederation led by Bilal Erdoğan, an archery enthusiast and son of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan taps into a renewed passion for history among younger generations.
The four-day festival is scheduled to start on May 11 in Istanbul's Yenikapı Square, a vast space befitting the occasion since it also hosted the large crowd that convened after the July 15 coup attempt in 2016 in a sign of unity against the putschists. Here are some of the games that will be featured at the festival:
Gökbörü, or kökbörü, is a traditional equestrian sport of Central Asia. Traditionally, the game was played during wedding ceremonies and local festivals, and has managed to survive under the name "catching the prize" in certain regions of Anatolia. The goal of this game is to catch a runaway goat on horseback. The riders take their positions in a defined circular play area and ride their horses towards the goat, called a "şikar," and try to catch the goat by sliding on their saddles. The rider that catches the goat flees from the other riders as they try to snatch the goat from him. If the rider manages to ride a full circle around the play area with the goat, he scores and puts down the goat. Another rider catches the goat and the game goes on. The rider who scores the most points wins.
Belt wrestling is a popular game among Crimean Turks and is performed on soft soil or in a green field accompanied by drums and a clarion similar to other types of wrestling. Belt wrestling matches take place for entertainment, and the wrestlers are categorized in three groups according to their height and weight. Each wrestler tries to put his opponent's shoulders on the ground by pulling him by the belt that is wrapped around his opponent's waist.
Aba wrestling is one of the oldest wrestling types in Central Asia. The wrestlers wear an "aba," a coarse woolen cloth, and wrap special belts around their waist before they wrestle. This ancient sport is still practiced in Turkey's southeastern provinces of Gaziantep and Hatay, however, it technically varies from region to region. Aba wrestling is believed to be the first example of judo and pants wrestling in Sweden as aba wrestling is the world's first known wrestling type performed with clothes.
Mounted javelin is an ancestral Turkish sport, originating in Central Asia, and has been played for centuries. The game was created for mounted warfare practice, but nowadays is mostly played for show. The javelin thrower throws the javelin at his opponent, while the mounted opponent makes precise moves on horseback to avoid the javelin. Some sportsmen follow their opponents until they get a good line of sight and then throw their javelin. If they hit their target, they score. The scoring is determined by the sportsmen prior to the game.
The history of mounted archery goes back centuries among the Turks. Throughout history, Turkish mounted archers were known for their ability to turn and shoot their arrows while riding. In the past, hunting was the main source of income and livelihood for many, and warfare helped Turkish mounted archery improve. Aside from its importance in warfare and hunting, archery was also significant in Turkish society. For instance, archery competitions often took place during national holidays, religious ceremonies and weddings.
Mangala is a mind and strategy game that influenced a large region, from the tribes in Central Asia to the Ottomans. The most important feature of the game is that it can be played by people of every age, and that the players are not restricted by place or materials. The game is played by two players with 48 stones on a 2-by-6 or 2-by-7 mangala board or in small pits. For setup, five pieces are placed in each pit. On a turn, the player takes all the pieces from one of his or her pits and drops them one at a time into the following pits counterclockwise. The game ends when all the pits are empty. The player who captures at least 25 pieces wins the game. Vision, patience, planning and a cunning mind are required to win this game of strategy.
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