The sky at Edirne was in an uncommonly bad mood this season. Friday, 25th of June in 2004, at ten minutes past three pm, the 643rd world championships of Turkish traditional oil wrestling were declared open. They were delayed ten minutes because the chilly stadium was covered with thick clouds, and sometimes beating rain.
Wild weather in Edirne, on and off the field!
  Kenan Simsek, the winner in 2003, made an oath while the national anthem was played by the 'Edirne City Fife and Drum Corps'. The national flag was hoisted, and fluttered in the strong winds.
  Tens of thousands of spectators, who crammed the stadium, had already begun to notice something unusual by this time.

  The number of participating wrestlers in 2004 was 1,319 in all. In the opening ceremony, it customary that all wrestlers gather in the field, and stand according to the 12 event classes, to march in the stadium.

  However, the march was done only by the boy wrestlers of the lower rank class, and ended within only several minutes. This was because the wrestlers of the higher ranking classes boycotted the opening ceremony, in protest of a new rule ( following ), which was adopted this year.
  The rally returned nearly to normal by the 2nd day, because of the encouragement of the fans gathered from all over the world, and the hard persuasion, and leadership of the higher ranking wrestlers. Nonetheless, the forecast of "Wild weather in Edirne, on and off the field!",  seemed to estimate the trouble of the rally.
The Turkish national sport, oil wrestling
  So-called modern wrestling, which is an Olympic event, is extensively practiced in Turkey. The existence of oil wrestling as the Turkish national sport, will always be related to Turkey. Because of it's traditional wrestling, Turkey will always win a lot of medals in modern wrestling events. To distinguish between modern wrestling, and tradition wrestling, oil wrestling has the adjective "historical" added.
  There is not a ring, or framed area in oil wrestling. The stadium was originally a pasture, and is now surrounded with spectator seating. The area is a bit smaller than a football field. The wrestlers may fight anywhere in the field, so spectator seats may not have the best view of the wide ranging battles at all times. The wrestlers are returned to the center of the field by the judge if they move too far toward one of the ends.
  All matches of a competition class are done at the same time. During the premiere of the rally, the field is crowded by the wrestlers, and the judges. It can be difficult for families to cheer for their sons, if they cannot find them on the crowded field. In the final game, it is just the opposite, and the eyes of all the spectators are concentrated on just two wrestlers fighting in the vast field.

  A wrestler wears black, tight trousers, called "Kispet", which are made of buffalo skin. All wrestlers are bathed in a great deal of olive oil. These are the biggest characteristics of this combative sport. A wide range of skills and tactics, must overcome in the slippery oil, to catch hold of the opponent's body.
  The grappling, and timing resembles the Greco Roman style of modern wrestling. For example, a match is won, if an opponent's back is forced to the ground. But, if an opponent's whole body is lifted from the ground for few steps, this is also a win.
  The competition classes are separated into 12 classes, and the wrestlers in them are matched by their heights, excluding the most advanced classes of Bas Pehlivan, and Bas Alti. These are some of the reasons that sport is so attractive.
  The sport may seem to be classic and old-fashioned, but doping inspections are commonly done. If a test is positive in the preliminary inspection, an athlete cannot participate in the rally. If he is judged to be positive in the inspection after the game, his wins are canceled. Indeed, it is not uncommon that doping doubts are whispered around the best placers.
  Partners are decided by drawing lots in the same class, and these opponents help each other pour the olive oil over their whole bodies. Next, they wait for the announcement calling their names. They then stand next to each other, crossing their arms in front of one another, and clasping hands. Then, the master of ceremonies, "Cazgir", appears.
  The Cazgir has an extremely important role, moderating the progress of the event. He is dressed up in the finest clothes in Ottoman era. He praises and encourages the wrestlers in the name of god, using a peculiar melody of speech, which was strongly in rooted in Islam. Moreover he is the teacher who helps the mental growth of the wrestlers.
  When Cazgir calls for the event to begin, the wrestlers strides together, to the accompaniment of the magnificent drums and pipes, similar to the traditional tsuzumi drum and pipe corps. This is the ritual for the entering the field, which is called "Pesrev". The men slap their thighs with the palms, as they swing both arms up and down. They also squat and pray to god on occasion, and then praise and embraces each other. It is the dance of brave men, filled with forceful confidence. The best pesrev prize is given, irrespective of the victory, or defeat to the wrestler, who has shown the most solemn dance. This is an extreme honor.
The most expensive ram in the world
  Just before the semifinal, in the last day of the 3 day rally schedule, there is an event which throws the venue into a state of feverish excitement. This is the entrance, to the field, of the most expensive ram in the world. The entire place was filled with expectations, when the showy ram, which wore a beautiful turquoise necklace, appeared. This ram is put up for auction, and once sold, is probably knocked down at the highest contract price in the world.

  The host organization of the championship is Edirne City, but the expenses which are necessary to host a rally are provided by the sponsor. However, these are not advertisement expenses from the company, but contributions from just one individual.

  The man who wins the bidding on the ram of Kirkpinar at the highest contract price is called "Aga" (the landlord, the boss). He will gain all the honors for the rally hosting in the following year because of the compensation he provides from his monetary contribution at the rams contract price. One of the privileges is obtaining the seat next to the republic president during the games.   This privilege is so attractive, that it would make the president of a major enterprise drool.

  Aga wears luxurious clothing of the Ottoman era, and is in the most conspicuous spectator seat of all. If a foreigner who didn't know the circumstances saw him, they might think that Aga were the King of Turkey.

  The person who won the seat of Aga in 2005 is an industrialist who manages the cigarette and beverage wholesale company, Mr. Aidem Tuysuz from Kelkit. The final price was 300 Billion Turkish liras (approximately 230,000 dollars), which exceeds 3 times the contribution from the previous year!

  The crowd was exultant, because the scale of the festival becomes showier in proportional to the sum of the contribution. To the sound of applause, Aga was paraded around the field, riding on shoulders of local celebrities. Believe it or not, he clenched a wad of money in his hand, and scattered it suddenly! These were the largest denomination in Turkey! Notes of 20 Million Turkish liras danced in the sky, and the spectators were thrown into a commotion, to say the least!
Tasci, the Master of Kirkpinar
  Let's get to know the man who is acknowledged to be the master of traditional wrestling in Turkey. He appears, tossing his arms toward heaven with a roar. With his physical toughness, and a mental prowess, he is a valiant figure, suitable to be call a hero in Turkey.
  One of the reasons for Ahmet Tasci being called a master, is the fact that he is the first man to win two golden belts in traditional wrestling history. The golden belt of traditional wrestling is lent to the champion for one year and he must surrender the belt to the latest winner if he loses in the next year. However, if it is possible to win the championship consecutively for 3 years, then the belt can be forever made the possession of the individual. Tasci has achieved twice of three consecutive championships, the first time since the rule of the golden belt conferment was established. The total number of victories is nine times.
  If you examine the history of traditional wrestling, which spans 650 years, there is said to be a wrestler who won 8 continuous victories, and another wrestler who reigned for 26 years as the champion in the past. But, the modern rules of the event hosting are different from those days, so there is no uncertainty about the achievements of Tasci.
  It would not be too much to say that Tasci deserves the belt, but his last victory was in 2000. At that time, he declared, "I will retire if I won 1 more time, 10 times in all", but he had not achieved his dream readily, although he always earns a place on one of victory stands. It was the rally in 2004, in which he shaved the excellent trademark mustache, where he was defeated by 22 year old Recep Kara. Rumors spread that, "It is retirement at last".
  However, in recognition of his great achievements, a plan to build a bronze statue of Tasci in the open space of stadium in the summer in 2005 was finalized. Tasci, on hearing this news, said with a gleeful smile, "I must be invited to the ceremony if my statue is built. I will fight incidentally once again, if I must go to Kirkpinar after all."
  Ahmet Tasci, the master, is 47 years old. His belief that, "never retire except in the status of champion", must be the standard because he is the master.
Tasci v. Ergin
  Vedat Ergin is one of the wrestlers who are in the higher rankings every year. The battles are strenuous and steady, for a very popular wrestler in Turkey, but he had achieved a desirable first victory in 2001.
  Ergin was defeated by Tasci in the semifinal in 2004, and placed 3rd, but this was a very confused match.
  When a winner isn't decided within 40 minutes from the beginning of a game, the wrestlers walk to the head umpire, then they tie one ribbon to one of their ankles. One wears red, and the other, blue. Now the match is to be decided by points scored. At this time, the head umpire leaves the field, and observes with the field glasses from a high position, and then tells the result of the judgment to the umpire in the field with a transceiver. To sum up, it is difficult for spectators to tell how the match is going.
  The umpire in the field raised his hand, or contacted the head umpire with the transceiver. The timing of this is seemed unrelated to the tense game progress. Then, the whistle was abruptly blown. A third warning against Ergin was presented because he was not battling wasn't actively enough, and Tasci's victory of was announced.
  The spectators were at first stunned into silence, and then the booing became like a storm, shaking the stadium in the following moments.
  Ergin and his trainers protested loudly against this judgment, while spectators threw water bottles into the field one after another. Some of bottles struck and injured the press people who rushed in to report the uproar, and some of them were injured.
The modernization of the rules of game
  A big change was added to the rules from the rally in 2004. This is the one rule which caused the boycotting of the opening ceremony by higher rank wrestlers, as mentioned above. "The modernization of the rules" to put it simply.
  Also, there were modifications of rules for smoother matches, and for the safety of the wrestlers. However, these alterations are the biggest since limiting game time to 40 minutes in 1975.
@Introduction of the seed system

  Grouping the top 16 wrestlers into "A" group, the next 16 wrestlers into "B" group (the showing order of each group) in each class, makes it impossible to be confronted in the same group. On the other hand, the golden belt holder, and the champions within three years will be seeded in another frame.
  It was not so unusual that the higher rank wrestlers would defeat each other in the early stages, or the favorite was defeated by an unknown wrestler because an opponent was decided by drawn lot under the previous rule. This rule change seems to be rational if seen from that viewpoint, but it made it very difficult to attain a higher place by outnumbered unknown wrestlers.

@Reinforcement of the point system

  The idea of a point system existed in the old rule system, but points were not deducted, there was no way of deciding a win except basically throwing an opponent onto their back so they did not get up. From now on, when a winner isn't decided within 40 minutes, the fight switches to the point system, and a victory or defeat is decided by the difference in points scored within 5 minutes.
  This creates anxiety because the results are not immediately apparent to the wrestlers, because both scored points and deducted points are decided subjectively by the head umpire, who observes with field glasses from a separate, elevated position. If the battle is judged to not be active, points will be deducted, so there is a fear that a defeat will be declared while a game still in progress. This is sadly, unlike the time-honored style of traditional wrestling, in which fights can be long, herculean efforts of stamina, and a "throw down" win is achieved by watching for a slip on the part of a tired opponent.

  In addition, a third place match was abolished. The 3rd place position will be shared by the two wrestlers from when they were defeated in the semifinals.
Does the statue of Venus need arms?
  Recep Kara was only 22 years old when he won the victory in the rally of 2004, which was decided by the new rules.
  Kara, who belongs to the National team of modern wrestling, got special permission from the league chairman in Turkey, so that he could participate in this rally. Normally, it's not possible to be promoted to the higher rank classes without winning victories continuously in 3 of the 40 of main tournaments hosted throughout the year in Turkey. Even then, a confrontation qualification can't be gotten.
  The rule changes at this time, and the controversial win, enhance the viewpoint that this is an expression of the intention to usher in a new phase in traditional wrestling on the part of the wrestling league, and such supposition seems not to be a big mistake.
  The young wrestler who participated for the first time in a rally of Turkish traditional wrestling, won because the slight inattention of Ahmet Tasci, in only a 17 minute final. However, any of the tens of thousands of spectators watching the game in progress, or even the fans who were watching the close-up images of the game on TV outside, could not be convinced of the moment of victory.
  Finally, the decision of victory or defeat was fixed by a video judgment on the part of the head umpire. This was based on the claim of Kara, that the back of Tasci, who lost his balance, touched the ground for an instant.
  One could not hesitate to say that the facts were ambiguous in the semifinals, and the finals that were won by a decision.
  A wrestler is sure he has won, when his opponent realizes he has lost. It is the pursuit of this moment that drives the wrestlers. As is the legend of the men who tested each other until they died, seeking that moment of realization. The tradition of Kirkpinar originates in that moment. And the quest for that moment is what attracts fans of the sport.
  Many fans welcome the birth of the young champion, who appeared like a comet, upon the rise of the curtain of new traditional wrestling history. On the other hand, some persons criticize the modernization of the traditional event, as being like installing new arms to statue of Venus. The incomplete thing is a part of the tradition.
  The national sport of Turkey, the martial art which has the longest history in the world, stands at the big crossroads now. Where will they try to go?
  The Turkish traditional oil wrestling rally in 2005, is held for 3 days, from June 24th to the 26th.
  If this article has interested in this sport, I strongly recommend that you visit Edirne, and watch the game in person!
The previous report is here.
June 2005