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Animal rights activists get the hump over Turkey’s camel wrestling

With recent attempts to "Europeanise" the Turkish Republic, animal rights activists are starting to get the hump over the country's ancient sport of camel wrestling.

SELCUK, Turkey: There are some traditions which appear inscrutable to the foreign eye.

The unusual art of camel wrestling can trace its beginnings to nomadic Turkic culture 800 years ago, and has since become a popular spectator sport beloved of Turkish people everywhere.

But with recent attempts to "Europeanise" the Turkish Republic, animal rights activists are starting to get the hump.

Every winter, tens of thousands gather in Selcuk on Turkey's Aegean Coast to enjoy the ancient sport of camel wrestling.

Beer flows, gypsy minstrels play, and the audience gears up for a fresh round of combat.

Ahmet Sogutcu, one of the locals organising the festival, sees the event as part of a noble and long-standing tradition.

Sogutcu said: "This is part of our way of living, and we grow up with this, and I’m sure we are going to transfer it to the next generations. And this event, rather than putting the country in a rural way, brings colour."

As the owner of two camels, Serdar Sumer has participated in the festival for over ten years. His love of camel wrestling goes back to his childhood.

Sumer said: "When I was little, I got to know these animals. It was a childhood love. In later years, my interest increased, and after I founded my own business, I had two camels wrestling. I had the taste of this and it still lives within me.”

Male camels traditionally fight during the mating season, and camel owners put this rutting to good effect -- the festival is the culmination of a year spent preparing and training for the ultimate victory.

Sumer said: "For a camel to be a champion, he needs a lot of time. It’s like a primary school child going to school and learning the alphabet."

With the cost of caring for the animal throughout the year, camel owners usually lose money.

Even if their camel wins, the prize is just a carpet.

But the competition is about prestige and honour rather than money.

However, not everyone thinks the competition is a beautiful sport.

Animal rights activist Sebnem Aslan believes it is a form of animal cruelty to make camels fight each other for the entertainment of the population.

She said: "People say this is a culture, and camels don’t get hurt. Well, if it is a culture, and if it is okay, then why don’t they have gladiator fighting? I mean, that is a culture isn’t it? But now we are in the beginning of the 21st century, they should stop doing these cruel actions now."

But wrestling enthusiasts disagree. They believe camel wrestling is different from other animal fights because the camels don't inflict injuries on each other.

Sogutcu said: "I have been joining these organisations for more than 25 years, and I have never seen any hurt, any damages on any camel. You see, their mouths are all closed so they have no chance to bite.”

Camel wrestling is the biggest event of the year in Selcuk. The camels are in the champion league, having been specially bred for the wrestling.

While some people are deeply passionate about the tradition, others simply take part for the party. 

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