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Cockfight in Istanbul

Article from the poultry stock 5 / 91

by Werner Lamkemeyer

In March 1990 I went on a trip to Istanbul to my good friend, which I planned since eight years. This Turkish Cockfight breeding specialist, was breeding the so-called "hints" (from Hindustan = India), that means Turkish fighting cocks as he worked in Germany as a guest worker. The Turks breed their chickens not according to a standard, but after a selection process, where things like stamina and pugnacity are important. Therefore, all Primary colours and colour variations in their divisions can be found. Almost all the fighting cocks belong to the "Oriental Game fowl", the oriental kind of fighting cocks, as Finster Busch called them, in his book "Fighting Cock alls over the World". Its features are:  red earlobes, bright orange eye, upright posture, hard plumage, yellow running pigment, leathery skin (not as soft as those of the Mediterranean breeds).

After a quiet night flight, my host and his brother-in the airport arrival hall happily awaited me. After driving 45 minutes through the large and empty streets of the western part of the city, we reached at clock in the morning a six-family house. There in the 4th Floor he lived with his wife and a small grandchild. His wife was awake to offer me some Èay, the Turkish tea. Not until five o clock in the morning, we went to sleep after long talks on the fighting cocks and abundantly admiring the gifts.

After an extensive Turkish breakfast I visited the vast fighting cock breeding, which was, as usual in major Turkish cities, on the flat roof of the house. They Hint, who were ready for battle lived there in spacious, wooden timbered houses. (In Germany in stables of such type there would be rabbits.) But the space is large enough that the cock can beat with his wings. In some proper chicken houses there were about 30 young hens, of which the most aggressive were selected for further growth. My host likes strong looking cocks, which have as much black pigment as possible. Turks prefer to bet on dark animals, preferably in black (Turkish: siyah), because you can not any bloodstains on the plumage. Hens that are not required, are usually slaughtered or are sold or exchanged. Young cocks are locked in single boxes before sexual maturity, at the age of about five.

Turkish fight chicken breeders use a lot of time to take care of each cock. The rooster is let out in the sunshine. Within the next ten minutes, the cock is massaged, used to snapping fingers, so that pays attention, and his feet are cleaned. Depending on the age of the rooster, fitness training is undertaken by throwing him about 60 centimetres high up to 50 times. So the jump- and flight muscles are trained. The aggression of the rooster is promoted by pushing the cock with the hand. At Last, a young cock is carefully examined: The wings are spread, the feathering is observed, the head is washed with clean water, etc.

Then the next one is ready for the whole procedure. This will be conducted with a great love for animals and that daily! So the animals will be very tame. After a few days I noticed that the taps almost waited to get in contact with their owners. I watched the attention of the rooster on the finger snapping, and how he loved, to lower the left or right wing to show the so called scrape to the alleged Partner. The respective cock also loved to attack the hand, but without wanting to bite. Oriental cocks, generally do not fight the hand that feeds them. On the other hand there are the cocks of the Bankiva type which, which bite their owners, as I saw this in Europe during the training (almost all).

In the 14 days of my vacation with my Turkish friends we visited about 20 cock breeders on both sides of Istanbul. That means a lot, because Istanbul, which is named after King Constantine, Constantinople, has a diameter of 100 km with a population of eight million inhabitants (excluding the surrounding villages and municipalities). In Istanbul, thousands are associated with the cockfight, in Izmir, Ankara and Antalya even more.

On the Asian side of Istanbul, we visited the owner of a textile company with 500 workers, who operates a huge fight chicken farm. Constantly there are about 100 top-kept cocks in boxes, they drink clear water and eat best grains, and they are always ready to fight. Approx. 20 hens breed about twelve eggs at a time. Furthermore, in a hall there were ten boxes with breeding pairs, in another hall there were young cocks (50-60), in another there were young hens (40-50 pieces), of which nearly all were slaughtered (just the most aggressive were selected).

The company manager employed two workers to breed his fighting cocks: One of them engraved aluminium strips with a letter and code and applied the foot ring carefully. When the animals were growing, he relaxed ring, so it does not stuck. In addition, he had the task to take care of the animals health to take care of wounds after cockfights, he hat to give antibiotics against emerging fever to and to monitor the brooding hens, to take them off the nest daily and to observe eating and excrements, to screen eggs, to mark chicks, to move the hen with the rearing chicks in a stable implement (backer crate through which the chicks can escape, but the hen remains locked up, because the hens would fight each other). Then he had another worker who was dark-skinned and came from the Black Sea, he was illiterate and hat to do the hard work: dragging drinking water, cleaning vessels and stalls, dragging feed sacks and fill the fodder in the bowls. A company manager of a machinery factory in the neighbourhood maintained on the same site in another very clean hall about 250 Belgian singing canaries, Water slager (Wasserschläger).

The Turkish hospitality includes that a German guest is shown another cock fight at each visit breeders. Not a serious fight for wagering, but only for fun and for the aesthetic of the two cocks fighting with each other. These fights were harmless five minutes long and are only meant as sparring fights for training and for recognition of the pugnacity and the quality of the animals.

No Turk thinks that the colour of a fighting cock is crucial for the quality. The colour does not matter. The main thing is that a cock fights! However, there is a preference for black and wheat coloured ones. As mentioned above, you can see blood of the fight on the white plumage, and therefore nobody likes to bet on bright animals, but if they fight as well as dark ones, the Turks are very happy. The following colours, appear: white, yellow, red, red-black, black, red, blue, red, brown, pheasant brown, partridge coloured, Geiger coloured (white with black dashes as pigeons) , wheat colour, cinnamon colour, white with brown wing triangle (very nicely) and birch colour.

Now we come to the real cockfight. I was shown six cockfight places, which were hidden, usually in a basement or in or near an industrial hall and the visitors regularly visit this places Most of the guests come Saturday and Sunday evening, the least Monday. On Thursdays the places are usually closed. Only the evening such a place is accessible, it is open from 7.00 – 12.00 pm.

The place for the cockfight is a 2.50 x 2.50 m, measured area of 60 square centimetres high walls, which consist from solid, smooth and padded elements.

In principle, in Turkey the cocks are set against each other in weight classes, they are weighted in old-fashioned cast-iron scales, the weight difference between the two may be in the range of ± 100 grams. The spores of the animals are investigated and, if necessary are made blunt. Even the absolute sharpness of the beak is cautiously smoothed with emery paper.

An older experienced man is appointed as an arbitrator he has to regard the time. A wall clock is set on one minute to midnight, the two cock owners agree on the amount they want to bet (usually about 25 DM). This is about half-month earnings, if the man should work at all.

Even in Turkey cockfight is prohibited under the coat of animal abuse. But the real reason is rather that there are mad bets by the men. The politicians know that monthly earnings go on for this. Nevertheless, it is considered as an honorary offence and is hardly controlled. In every second dramatic film in Turkey, the Turkish television shows the film star with a monumental fighting cock and demonstrates his strength and masculinity. However, I noticed that only people betted that it also can afford, or even with their neighbours for example that one of the cocks would only hold out 20 minutes. The sums are between one and two DM converted.

At the beginning of the first quarter of an hour the fighting cocks fight with a lot of footwork and beat with blunt spores. After about ten minutes they begin to bite and pick each other on the head and throat. After 15 minutes, the battle is interrupted for the two-minute water break. At first the head of the cocks is washed with clean cold water and the blood from the eyes will be removed. Barrels and the rear part (abdomen) are cooled with Water because the animals are heated by the fight. A spring will put out blood and mucus which were swallowed and inhaled throughout the fight. (At the end of each quarter of an hour you can hear the quiet rattle of the cocks.)

After the break you put the cocks together, and the struggle goes on with fresh forces. At the second water break (after 30 minutes) the cock owners, or a confident person will do the same procedure with the difference that now the additional attention is given to stability of the beak, because by the frequent pecking the beak sometimes loosens the connective tissue between the upper beak and the lower jaw bone of the upper beak. If it is relaxed, it will be fixed with cotton twice the upper beak and are facing up behind the tip of the crest knots. Thus, the cock can continue without problems. After the fight, the thread link is removed, the connective tissue compacts within the next two days, and the cock can fight again soon.

The struggle goes over seven water breaks, to a maximum of two hours, if not one of the cocks is defeated because of fear, weakness, lack of training or poor quality breeding . The combat-end is there, if a cock runs away two minutes before the other, or he lies down for two minutes or he does not react to the attacks of the other.

The reader has noticed that cockfight in Turkey is a natural thing: breaks with care, weight classes, no artificial sharp or sharp steel spurs, but the goal is to win the fight only through perseverance and good constitution, but at least to lose honestly by steadfastness up to two hours. I saw battles, where the outcome was undecided, than those who betted used get their money back from the trust man.

I should point out that this breeding selection has formed the cock fight races and provides the cause for their vitality, longevity, resistance against infections caused by wounds and not least the colourfulness with extremely bright colour games, which are in Europe of racial poultry farmers has taken advantage of all races with red earlobes (Asian descent). We breed poultry farmers have to owe everything to the cockfighting breeders. In economic poultry farming the result is the winter laying activities and the mast with greater ability meat body. Therefore I will strike a blow for the cockfight, which is proscribed under German breeders. If it happens in Asia since 4000-5000 years and is thus a part of the culture of nations, in addition to more than 10 million people is a hobby, sometimes even the livelihood, we should not allow prejudice about it. Nevertheless, it remains in our eyes naturally cruel! This report was also written to our breeders or even laymen to draw the attention to a myriad of poultry friends in the Asian continent. In addition, there are the chicken fight friends in Central and South America with bankivoid fighters as well as in Belgium, our neighbouring country, where the whole family takes part at the cockfight.

In Turkey, women or girls at the cockfight can not be seen because of the by men dominated society. However they are (as I listened to my question) interested, and watching the training cock-fights at home in a small circle. Female European tourists are accepted at the cockfight place because of the oriental hospitality and the well-known equality in the home country.

After the fight is carried out by, the sneaky cock owner or a friend will sub serve the wounds. Open skin on the head or the throat is stitched with sewing silk and sprayed with antibiotics spray. The cock gets fresh water, corn, barley, wheat or cooked rice. If the animal is not yet recovered, it will be erected if necessary and fed, or he gets whisked raw egg with a disposable syringe (without needle) in the beak or throat. In fever, felt especially at the very warm runs, the cock gets a subcutaneously single intramuscular injection (needle) containing an antibiotic drug injection. In obvious pain he gets a bit of a pain tablet trying to ease the pain.

Almost all cocks are recovering rapidly. After a week my friend begins to clean the head of the cock with clean water and to carefully soften the crusts, which weaken by the water and dissolve. From the second or third week after the fight the training already described starts again. The winner of the fight is, anyway, is not hardly injured, after three to four weeks' time he can fight again. The defeated Hahn may, depending on the severity of his injuries, fight again after four, six or eight months, because the molt has to be taken into account.

Under fighters specialists the one is highly esteemed, who can sew his cock the wings again if broken. For this purpose, my Turkish host gathered a spring collection in various colours. Guinea fowls have the best feathers with the greatest flexibility and strength, so they are also used by connoisseurs. The quill is abandoned five to seven centimetres and angled with a sharp knife. The additional spring will also be angled at the bottom. With a cotton thread in a thin thewing needle, the keel will be pierced as well as below the new keel. The thread connects both. Without cutting the thread off, then three centimetres or more times the keels from above will be pierced with a thread through and knots. Without the thread off, the pulling is made again through the first hole of the opposite side and also the second hole. Finally, on the bottom of the two sides the last node is made. This will be made with all broken springs. The cock now has to fight again and he has the opportunity to keep his balance.

The cock cleans the repaired feathers as if nothing had happened and therefore can fight again, without having to wait for the next molt, where the broken feathers are replaced by new feathers.

In Istanbul I saw Hints as a medium high Asil, with bright eyes brighter colour and weight from 2.5 to 3.5 kilograms. The brooding of the eggs is done by hens, which often also had layed the eggs. So the control of the descent of the chicks is much easier.

On mosque sites fighting cocks are haggled. There is Always group of 30 to 50 partly bold-looking men around them, because prior to a purchase a trial fight is made of course.

Within 14 days of my stay in Istanbul I also saw the other attractions and sights such as the famous mosques, parks, the Golden Horn on the Bosporus, the Featured Europe's huge bridge over the Bosporus linking two continents, the bustle of the millions of people to the Roads, the vintage cars, the Botanical Garden on the Asian side of Istanbul and the small zoo.

The time of departure came nearer, after two weeks oriental hospitality and great harmony under the nice Turkish friends. Three weeks later I phoned my friend in Istanbul and heard that he went to Antalya, on the south-eastern coast, 600 kilometres by bus to the Turkish cockfight Festival. There, he won the second place with his 3.5-kilogram cock with the Cup and silver medal!

translated by Regine Diesch