Ali Gümüş
translated from the Turkish
by Zeynep Hülya Gümüş
and Emily Ondine Wittman
with photographs Yusuf Darıyerli

 

Cazgır: The Poet of Turkish Oil Wrestling

The dough of wrestling is kneaded with bravery, strength, and prayer.

 

The Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Tournament, held annually in Turkey for over six centuries, begins with the recitation of a bold prayer by the cazgır, the tournament announcer: “In Allah’s name! If you fall beneath your opponent, take care! If you climb above your opponent, cling to him!”

All Kırkpınar masters gather yearly in Edirne, in the Sarayiçi region of Turkey. Sarayiçi, one could say, is the “Kaaba” of the pehlivan, the oil wrestler. In the young warriors’ arena, a zurna beats a battle rhythm. The cazgır summons the pehlivanlar to wrestle, shouting: “Allah Allah İllallah!”—“Allah, Allah, the only One!” Following the cazgır’s prayer, the wrestlers take the field and warm up in a physical ceremony known as peşrev. Peşrev is the soul of oil wrestling; the movements of peşrev resemble the flapping of an eagle’s wings as it dives to its prey. Once limber, the burly wrestlers greet the spectators. They first stroke the earth with their right hands before rising to touch both chest and forehead. They then touch the soles of their opponents’ feet before raising their hands over their own heads.

O Pehlivan, so magnificent your skills.
I am less than the earth beneath you.

 
Hamza ibn ‘Abdul Muttalib is the holy patriarch of pehlivanlar. He was a paternal uncle of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was also a martyr of the Battle of Uhud, the second battle between the Meccans and the Muslims on March 19, 625. Renown for his bravery, Holy Hamza’s fellow warriors deemed him “ Lion of Allah” and “Lion of Paradise.” Few among the champions of Islam rival his reputation in battle. Famed as a large man and a great warrior, Hamza was the most celebrated of the earlier martyrs. Indeed his strength was so legendary that upon his death in battle, Hind bint Utbah, the wife of the leader of the Meccan army, gnawed greedily at his liver.

Cazgır Pele Mehmet, 2004.

Cazgır Pele Mehmet, 2004.


The cazgır invites pehlivanlar to the arena with a prayer to Allah, Prophet Muhammad  (peace be upon him) and pehlivan Hamza.

Allah Allah İllallah Allah, Allah, the Only One
Hayırlar gele inşallah May good deeds happen, Allah willing
Pirimiz Hamza pehlivan Our patriarch is Pehlivan Hamza
Aslımız neslimiz pehlivan Our true forefathers are Pehlivan
İki yiğit çıkmış meydane Two brave men in the arena
Birbirinden merdane Each stronger than the other
Biri ak biri kara One light, one dark
İkisinin de zoru para Both bound by money.
Alta geldim diye erinme Lament not that I am underneath
Üste çıktım diye sevinme Cheer not that I climbed above
Alta düşersen apış If you fall beneath, take care
Üste çıkarsan yapış If you climb above, cling
Vur sarmayı kündeden at Wrap your leg around his and hurl him to the ground
Gönder Muhammet’e salavat (sav) Deliver a prayer to Muhammad (p.b.u.h.)
Seyirttim gittim pınara I descended to the spring
Allah, her ikinizin de işini onara. May Allah renew you both, make you capable.

Countless cazgırlar have blessed the Kırkpınar wrestling games. These cazgırlar study each pehlivan prior to the tournament and know well the region, city, special tricks, strengths, and weaknesses of each. In their prayers, the cazgılar introduce these pehlivanlar to the audience. They warn the wrestlers of their opponents’ strength.

Pehlivan Bülent Gürbüz in peşrev, 2002.

Pehlivan Bülent Gürbüz in peşrev, 2002.


In Kırkpınar, and in other wrestling arenas, every cazgır has a specific repertoire of poems. Here is one poem, now a classic. The cazgır is unknown.

DİKKAAT Dikkat… ATTENTION Attention…
Hepimiz geldik koşa koşa We have come running
Gördüğünüz pehlivanlar güreşecek başa. The pehlivanlar before you will wrestle for the top.
Pehlivanlar çıktı meydana her birisi They enter the arena each one
Birbirinden merdane Stronger than the other
Karşıki dağdan gelir kır at From the mountain abroad comes the white horse
Kanatlar kat kat, With folded wings
Biz de gönderelim Hazreti Muhammed’e Salavat (sav) Let us also send a prayer to Holy Muhammad (p.b.u.h.)
Pehlivanlar çıktı meydana her birisi birbirinden merdane The pehlivanlar enter the arena each one stronger than the other
Biri here biri kara pirimiz üstadımız Hazreti Hamza One light, one dark our spiritual master and patriarch Holy Hamza
Erdi nura Avrupa sarayı yıkıldı oldu rahap The European palace reached the light then fell to ruins
Kaftan kafa hükmetti koca Arap. From Mount Qaf to Mount Qaf the colossal Arab reigned.
Ona bile kalmadı bu meydan But even he did not conquer this arena
Pehlivanlar bize de kalmaz gördüğünüz meydan. Pehlivanlar, nor shall we own eternal this arena
Pirimiz üstadımız Hazreti Hamza, Our spiritual master and patriarch Holy Hamza,
Peygamberimiz Hazreti Muhammed Mustafa (s.a.v) Our prophet Holy Muhammad Mustafa (p.b.u.h)
Biz de burada diyelim Dünyadan göç etmiş pehlivanlara Let us also honor the pehlivanlar already migrated from this mortal world
Cennet mekan ola. Let heaven be home.

Every cazgır utters these prayers in his own dialect and makes use of his own turns of phrase. A former pehlivan, the imam of the Ayşe Kadın mosque in Edirne, Kirişhaneli Sadık Hoca (1852-1942), served as the cazgır in Kırkpınar for many years. Here follows his poem for the heavyweight championship:

Allah Allah İllallah Allah, Allah, the Only One
Erler çıktı meydane Brave men came to the arena
Biri birinden merdane Each is a rolling pin, stronger than the other
Biri ak biri kara One white, one dark
Mevlam her birine kuvvet vere May my Maker give each one strength
Bu meydan er meydanıdır This arena—a brave man’s arena
Kırklar, yediler seyranıdır Serving the forty Saints and seven Prophets
Nice koç yiğitler bu meydandan geçtiler Men, strong as rams, crossed this arena
Acı tatlı suyun içip göçtüler Then departed, their water bitter or sweet
Atlar gibi tepişelim Let us trammel the earth as horses
Arslanlar gibi kapışalım Let us arise as lions
Ya Muhammed, Ya Ali Oh Muhammad, Oh Ali
Pehlivanların piri Hazreti Hamza Veli Holy Hamza Veli, spiritual guide of Pehlivanlar
Dellal çıksın aradan Let the cazgır fall behind
Hepsine kuvvet versin Yaradan May the Creator lend strength to each and all
Hani Ali, Hani Veli Where is Ali, Where is Veli
Pirimiz üstadımız Hazreti Hamza’dır belli. Holy Hamza clearly our master, our guide
Karşıdan gelir kır at, kanatları kat kat A white horse approaches with folded wings
Gönderelim Hazreti Muhammet’e salavat Let us deliver a prayer to Holy Muhammad
Allah Allah İllalah Allah Allah the only One
Hep birlikte pehlivanlarımıza Altogether to our pehlivanlar
Alkışlarla diyelim maşaallah With applause let us praise those wonders Allah willed

Sadık Hoca was followed by one of the most famous cazgırlar, the late Mustafa Şirin. After Mustafa Şirin’s death, their apprentice Şükrü Kayabaş took his place, assisted by Osman Filiz from Adapazarı.

Oilwrestlers in peşrev before a game, 2002.

Oilwrestlers in peşrev before a game, 2002.


The wrestle of the Başpehlivanlar, the heavy-weight champions, is the long-awaited finale of the game. During this peak of excitement, Kayabaş entertained thousands of cheering spectators with stanzas celebrating pehlivan bravery.

Ağustos ayında ekilen darıdan Millet sown in the month of August
Oğul vermeyen arıdan Bee that births no son
Sabahları kocasından sonra kalkan karıdan hayır gelmez, Wife that rises after her husband, brings no good
Her yiğitten de pehlivan olmaz. Nor does every brave man make a pehlivan
Zengin babayı hayırsız evlat batırır The ungrateful son ruins his wealthy father
Fakir kocayı süslü avrat batırır The bejeweled wife impoverishes her husband
Haylaz çiftçiyi kuru inat batırır Dry stubbornness ruins the idle farmer
Pehlivan sen de hazırlanmamışsan Pehlivan, if you are not prepared
Rakibin seni sırt aşağı yatırır. Your opponent will pin you to the earth
Söğüt dalından odun olmaz Willow branch cannot be wood
Her kızdan kadın olmaz Nor every girl a woman
Her ananın doğurduğundan da Not every mother’s offspring
Pehlivan olmaz. A pehlivan
Gurur duyup göğsümüzü kabartan They made us proud and filled our chests
Türk gücünü kıt’alara tanıtan They told the stranger of the Turk’s strength
Marşımızı defalarca dinleten Again our anthem plays
O yiğitler nerde kaldı o güreş? Where are our heros? Where do they wrestle?
Yaşar’lar, Celal’ler, Gazanfer, Ali Yaşar’s, Celal’s, Gazanfer, Ali
Minderde yenemezdi kimse Türkleri On the mat, no one could defeat the Turks.
Yıllarca alkışladı dünya bizleri For years the world applauded us
Neden unutuldu bilmem ki güreş? I cannot understand how we forgot
Şansa kur’aya bırakma işi Do not leave the job to luck or to lottery
Hatır için vermezler, altını gümüşü They will not give you gold or silver for a favor
Hamit Kaplan Dağıstanlı Akbaş’i Hamit Kaplan, Akbaş from Dagestan
Hatırlayıp öyle yapın güreşi… Remember them and wrestle thus

 
Encouragement:

O din ve iman sizde oldukca So long as exist in you this religion, this faith
Antrenman yapın fırsat buldukca Train at any opportunity
Şampiyonluk haberiniz aldıkca Every time your victory is proclaimed
Sevinçten ağlatır bizi bu güreş Wrestling pulls tears from our joy

 
And advice on having mercy:

Rakibin olur belki yabancı Your opponent is perhaps a stranger
Sakatlama onu çektirme acı Do not cripple him, do not cause him pain
Centilmenlik efendilik mizacı Courteous and gentlemanly,
Düsturunu unutmadan sen güreş Wrestle and forget not your code

Start of peşrev before heavy-weight final game in Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Championship, Edirne, 2001. Pehlivan Vedat Ergin (right) beat nine-time champion title holder Ahmet Taşçı (middle). Cazgır Şükrü Kayabaş is on the left.

Start of peşrev before heavy-weight final game in Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Championship, Edirne, 2001. Pehlivan Vedat Ergin (right) beat nine-time champion title holder Ahmet Taşçı (middle). Cazgır Şükrü Kayabaş is on the left.

 

babam_dergi1 Ali Gümüş (1940-2015) was a wrestling journalist and the President of the AIPS (International Sports Press Association) Wrestling Commission from 1999 until the end of his life. He started wrestling in İstanbul Güreş İhtisas Kulübü (Istanbul Wrestling Education Club) in 1954. He represented the Republic of Turkey internationally in weight-lifting in 1959. He worked non-stop at the Tercüman newspaper for 35 years, writing primarily about wrestling and weight-lifting and quickly rose through the ranks to Editor, Editor-in-Chief, and General Manager positions. He is the only journalist in the world to be thrice awarded the “Service to World Wrestling Award” by FILA (United World Wrestling): in Minsk, former USSR in 1975; in Bursa, Turkey in 1977; and in Seoul, Korea in 1988. In 1991, he was awarded the “Best Wrestling Journalist of All Time” by FILA. He received the Journalist Burhan Felek Service to Journalism Award (Basın Hizmet Ödülü) in 2011, for his active role in journalism for more than 50 years. He authored more than 30 books, including “Kahraman Asker Mareşal Fevzi Çakmak” (Hero Soldier Marshal Fevzi Çakmak), which was translated to Chinese, in addition to three forthcoming books.

gumus_quarterly_west Zeynep Hülya Gümüş is an Assistant Professor of Genetics and Genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and an adjunct Assistant Professor at the Department of Medicine at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. She authors the “Bilimum Bilim” (Miscellaneous Science) column for “Bilim ve Gelecek” (Science and the Future), a popular science monthly in Turkey. She has traveled extensively to follow wrestling competitions with her late father, Ali Gümüş.

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Emily O. Wittman, Associate Professor of English at the University of Alabama, has published widely on literary modernism, translation studies, and autobiography. She is co-editor (with Maria DiBattista) of The Cambridge Companion to Autobiography and Modernism and Autobiography (Cambridge University Press, 2014).