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The Kirkpinar Story

 It all began when Reuters picked up a piece in one of Turkey's papers:

Friday April 7 7:52 AM ET
'Oil Wrestlers' Do Not Want Gays Watching

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's oil wrestlers -- burly men who cover themselves in olive oil and grapple with each other wearing leather trousers -- are trying to stop a group of homosexuals coming to watch.
A group calling themselves Bears of Turkey is advertising on the Internet for a tour to watch the 639th Kirkpinar oil wrestling championships to be held on July 1 and 2 near Turkey's northwestern city of Edirne.
"It's immoral,'' Anatolian news agency quoted Traditional Sports Federation Chairman Alper Yazoglu as saying. "`We are trying every way to have this stopped. We shall pass this matter on to the interior, foreign and other ministries to ask for this disgusting business to be stopped.''
The sport of oil wrestling dates back to the Turks' exodus from Central Asia in the middle ages.  The wrestlers, their muscles rippling in olive oil under the hot sun, try to pin each other to the ground. Putting a hand down the opponent's trousers to get a better grip is a common tactic.
Homosexuality is not banned in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey. Several big cities have thriving gay scenes, but police harassment is frequent and the issue is generally considered a taboo.

International attention was raised, but apparently the national media doesn't seem to know how they should deal with this subject. A brief summary of how the story developed can be seen in the article of the journal "Aktuel" of 20 April 2000.

The "Bears" who want to come to Kirkpinar is actually a name of a homosexual movement
Tom, the father of the bears!

The discussions that started when the news was spread that the homosexuals are being organized to watch the wrestling at Kirkpinar ended friendly, but it did not become apparent what the meaning of "bear" is. "AktŁel" researched why some homosexuals find the adjective "bear" suitable for themselves. Here is the "bears" literature.
News that were reported in the papers of 8 April seemed to hint that yet another element was added to our national problems. A group of gays from Turkey invited via the Internet gays of the world to watch traditional oiled wrestling championship which will be held in Kirkpinar for the 639th time this year. A website at "ayilar.net" also presented photographs taken by the Japanese photographer Yokohama during the competitions last year and an illustration by Go Fujimoto that carried some sexual content.

As expected, the wrestlers reacted promptly. The President of Tradtional Sports, Alper Yazoglu called it an insult "to Kirkpinar, that is a deep-rooted legend for how the great Turkish nation left Central Asia and took Anatolia and Rumelia as the homeland." Emin Dogansoy, chief of Kirkpinar said "gay people are human beings, as well, I cannot say
anything about that. But they should not use Kirkpinar for a provocation. They should look for other places of entertainment. They should not spoil our Kirkpinar and history."

When the first anger was over and the scene calmed down a bit, radical voices could be heard. Main wrestler Ahmet Tasci who twice won the golden belt said that he was not opposed to gays and their coming to watch, but objected to the illustration. The Mayor of Edirne (the town where the wrestling events take place), Hamdi Sedefci, said that "gays could sit down and watch the wrestling as any (other) human being." Naim Bildik, the President of Edirne Bar Association added that it was against legislation to say, "You may not watch". Nezih Atsiz, the President of the Association of Volunteers for the Environment, pointed to the fact that "gay people are known for spending a lot of money and, should they find the atmosphere for enjoying themselves in Edirne, that would contribute much to destroy the image of the barbarian Turks in Europe. "

When the illustration was removed from the website the course was settled friendly. The people of Edirne did no longer fall into the trap of TV reporters trying to heat up the debate again. On the question of a Turkish reporter for CNN "they call you bears. What do you feel about that?" one person from Edirne answered: "It would have been nice to called lions, but since they said bear, is that so bad? In Russia, for instance, the bear is a beloved animal."

The rest of this story is a well-formulated introduction into the bears' cult started by the cartoons of "Tom of Finland" (see the title)

A good example of how little is known in Turkey on the bears' cult shows up in a female journalist's questions to "Bears of Turkey" (well, at least she tried to get their view on the matter! /well, at least she was being objective!). Here is a selection of questions and answers that appeared in the daily Milliyet (reported in parts on 17 April 2000)

1- What's behind the address "ayilar.net" ('ayż' meaning bear and 'ayżlar'=bears)?

The www-address ayilar.net is not owned by a club, an assoication, we are not a foundation or an illegal organization or a commercial institution either. We don't have an office or permanent meeting places. We are a group of people that own nothing but a presence on the Internet, but who are also trying to create something, inspite of the fact that we all come from different provinces of Turkey with different professions and ages. The common ground is that we are either bears or bear-lovers. The 'bears' cult' is a part of the gay culture, but with some pecularities... (described here for the Turkish audience). ... even though we have always met in public places we never disturbed anybody by our behaviour (except when we laughed out-loud). As far as statistics are concerned all age groups (20+) and income levels are represented; 90% of us have a job, 85% have a university degree and 70% speak at least one foreign language.

2- Why are you interested in the wrestling competition of Kirkpinar? Has it a special meaning for bears and gays?

There are many reasons why we organized a tour to Kirkpinar. For once, there was a strong interest from abroad. Many bear-friends asked us to assist them in coming. We ourselves felt it to be a good chance to get together. The wrestling itself has no specific meaning for bears and gays compared to other sports events. If you are insistingly looking for a sexual meaning we can say that it hasn't any more appeal to us than ice-skating, swimming or gymnastics would have for heterosexual men.

3 - What made the wrestlers angry at you? What do you say about their  reaction?

We assume, that none of the wrestlers saw our web-pages. They commented on what was told to them. There is (was) only one element that could disturb them and that was shaped into a sensation. The cartoon of a wrestler who lifted his opponent by his sexual organ was interpreted by some as "wrestlers are characterized as gays", others found it "immoral" and yet others just said "it's funny". The wrestler may have been disturbed by the characterization as being gay. Because of the reaction we have removed the cartoon and want to apologize for the misunderstanding.

4- Does "Woof" contain any meaning aimed at the wrestlers? Might they have the impression that you have bad thoughts when looking at them?

"Woof" does not mean much more than "HEY!" amongst bears. If you talk about "bad thoughts / sexual intentions" we can only ask back whether heterosexual men have no bad thoughts when they see women in a bikini or "why are there about 438 beauty contests in our country, almost exclusively visited by men?"

5- Might the wrestlers have the impression they could be seen as bears?

According to the definition of a bear the wrestlers physically correspond to it. But we are all old enough to know that physically being a bear does not mean to be a gay bear.

6- Do you have contacts to bears and gay groups abroad? What do they say? How do you evaluate the development among yourselves?

We have close contacts to bears' groups abroad. The same can, unfortunately, not be said for gay groups and organization in general. Likewise we are lacking a close contact to groups and organizations in Turkey. We did not receive the same level of support nationally as we received from abroad upon Reuters broadcast. One of the reasons is that the gays here need to stay anonymous and that gay organizations are insufficient (or rather non-existent). We received quite an attention by the media. Among ourselves we started to joke that we could soon release a CD. Some frightened friends left us, others who did not know of us before contacted us. There were many messages cursing and swearing at us and the number of journalist who asked for our opinion was well below those who condemned us as immoral.

7- Do you carry out wrestling with oiled bodies among yourselves?

Most certainly, 9 days a week and 30 hours in 3 shifts. Besides making us laugh a lot, this question can only be compared to the assumption that a heterosexual man who goes to watch a fashion show comes home to put on a bikini. So far we have not carried out contests during our meetings. Should we, one day, consider to do so, it would rather be teams' sports that have more of a social form.

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