The Woman Making Waves in Turkey’s Camel Wrestling Arenas

Habibe Yüksel (50), who lives in the village of Kutluoba in the Bayramic district of Çanakkale, has been challenging in camel wrestling arenas dominated by men for 20 years. The reason why Habibe Yüksel has been interested in camel wrestling since her childhood began when her grandfather stepped into the camel wrestling arenas. Habibe Yüksel, the last member of her family, continues her family’s 70-year camel wrestling journey in the arenas on the west coast of Turkey. Yuksel, who lives with his mother and older brother, makes a name for himself in the camel wrestling arenas held between January and March every year. Having won many championships with the wrestling camels Efecan and Mega, Yüksel is participating in the 41st International Efes Selçuk Camel Wrestling Festival, Turkey’s biggest camel wrestling festival this year. Habibe Yüksel said, “Camel wrestling is not a hobby. It is a great passion for me, I want to continue my family’s legacy.”

“Men think they only have the courage”

The camel wrestling culture, which began in the 19th century, continued on the west coast, and over the years it was dominated by men. Habibe Yüksel, the only female camel wrestler on the west side. Yuksel said, “People think that courage is only for men. Yes, this job requires courage. I said I’m in. I wanted to try my luck. It was difficult, but it happened.”

Preparation for wrestling

In summer and autumn, they are fed with nutrients such as barley, vetch, grapes and oats, and they begin to get heat towards the winter months. This is because they are jealous of their females from other male camels. These camels cannot be used to carry loads and are left indoors for a long time. When female camels are in heat during mating season, male camels wrestle each other for mating rights with the females. The animals used in wrestling events are known as Tulu camels — a breed that results from mating a Bactrian (two-humped) camel with a dromedary (one-humped) camel — and are bred specifically for the competitions. Camel wrestling developed into an organized festival in Turkey, with most of the camels specially bred and imported from Iran and Afghanistan. Camel wrestling festivals will continue through March. During the festival in Selcuk, thousands of people gathered to watch 160 camel wrestling matches. A camel can lose the match in one of three ways: by screaming, by running away from its opponent, or by being pinned on the ground. Sometimes there is no winner. Camel Wrestling is most common in the Aegean region of Turkey but can also be found in the Marmara and Mediterranean regions of the country.


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