The woman making waves in Turkey’s camel wrestling arenas
By Sedat Suna
Bayramiç, Turkey, Feb 1 (EFE).- For Habibe Yüksel, camel wrestling is much more than just a sport – it is her family’s legacy.
Continuing what her grandfather started 70 years ago, Yüksel’s passion for the sport has carved out a unique position as western Turkey’s only woman in a traditionally male-dominated arena.
“Camel wrestling is something that takes courage. People think that courage is only for men,” Yüksel tells epa-efe.
“I wanted to try my luck and it worked,” she says, adding that “it was difficult, of course – not easy.”
PASSION BREEDS SUCCESS
Not only has she made a name for herself as the only woman on Turkey’s Aegean coast officially involved in camel wrestling, she has won several titles with her competitive dromedaries, Efecan and Mega, over the past decade.
Away from the fighting arenas where she has achieved her fame, the 55-year-old works as an accountant, which helps pay the bills and support her family, especially her elderly mother.
In 2009, she bought her two young calves when they were three years old, and decided to take up the sport that her grandfather had been forced to abandon in the 1970s as he could not keep up with the financial demands of breeding and feeding camels for competition.
It costs the Yüksel family between 75,000 and 100,000 lira (approximately $5,300) per year to take care of the camels, funds that come straight out of their pocket since they do not make any money from the festivals.
Today, a fighting camel can go for anywhere between 100,000 and 2 million lira.
But Yüksel feels the costs are more than a fair price to follow their dreams and keep part of their family’s history and their local culture alive.
“We have had this enthusiasm and love since we were very young,” she says, describing it as “an indispensable passion.”
“You can’t give up on it. This is a culture for me that came from my grandfather and grandmother. Somehow we are trying to continue this culture,” she adds.
Like a prized racing colt, the camels are fed and looked after with care throughout the spring and summer as they gear up for the season.
The camels, which are kept indoors in stables for extended periods during the off-season, are given a specific, nutrient-rich diet of barley, vetch, grapes and oats, and are not used for load-bearing or any other kind of labor.
“This job demands dedication. You and your camel need to be in good health,” Yüksel says.
CULTURE OR ABUSE?
The camels used in wrestling events are from the Tulu breed, which are bred specifically for competition.
While camel wrestling’s popularity has mostly developed and grown in Turkey – especially its Western coast – the majority of the camels are imported from Iran and Afghanistan.