Archers drew their bows and released their arrows as they rode down the hill called Hafızın Düzü like raindrops. The hum of arrows overlapped with the noise of horses. A forgotten Turkish traditional sport is
being revived at events like this one in Biga, and it was heartily enjoyed by all.
The competition was organized by the Biga district governors’ office. Hundreds of foreign and domestic archers and archery fans flocked to Biga to participate in the event, which was held near Dikmen village. Watching the competition was like watching a battlefield, in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and
excitement. Imagine sixty-two archers dressed as janissaries, Mohican warriors and samurai, from seven different countries, pointing to their
targets and releasing their bows. They are not soldiers; actually they are all employed in very different fields. Some are doctors and engineers.
Turkish traditional archery, which had been on the verge of being buried in the annals of history, is being revived by this event and others like it. Historically, Turkey’s archery tradition faded away after the period of Ottoman Sultan Mahmut II (lived 1785-1839), who was the world champion in archery. The sport became unpopular over time, although it is always mentioned as a staple part of Turkish culture. Turkey is now so distant from archery that the world master of Turkish-style bow and arrow-making is a Hungarian, named Csaba Grozer. Grozer was at the Biga event, exhibiting his high-quality handmade products. We Turks may be ignorant of our culture’s traditional sport, but the world knows all about it. Competing in Biga were archers from Japan, England and South Africa, in short from all over the world.
Biga District Governor Fatih Genel, who oversaw the organization of the event, is personally fond of horseback riding and archery. He has been riding horses since childhood and picked up archery four years ago. Genel’s interest in archery was first sparked when he saw a painting of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. At first Genel thought the protective band that archers generally wear on their guide finger, appearing on the sultan’s finger in the painting, was a ring. He then began researching what it was and became interested in archery in the course of his research. Genel first learned archery and later began teaching it.
The first archery competition Genel organized was in the Havran district of Balıkesir, where he was working at the time. Now he is in Biga, organizing the Biga Sanjak District Governor’s Osman Bey Traditional Archery Competition. It is hoped that the competition will continue as an annual event. The number of participants was quite satisfactory for the competition’s debut. Sportsmen from South Africa, Hungary, Iran, Japan, Germany, England and Ireland were in attendance. As for Turkey, it was represented by archers from the Kayseri Mounted Archery Sports Club, the Kemankeş Archery Group, the Talimhane Archery Club, the Biga Archery Sports Club and various horseback-riding and “cirit” (a traditional Turkish horseback javelin game) clubs from Uşak, Sivas, Ankara, Tokat and Amasya.
Genel says his passion for archery will always be with him. He did not participate in the competitions, since he is the organizer of the event, but he was always on horseback. He believes that archery and horseback riding should be taught to every Turkish person as part of their cultural heritage. Genel wishes that traditional archery competitions were held under the auspices of the Turkish Federation of Archery. He believes this event will pave the way toward making this wish come true. “Each and every Turk has a penchant for horseback riding and archery in their soul. What we should do is to trigger this hidden yearning,” Genel says.
The competition fell into two different categories: archery on foot and archery mounted on horseback. The contests were interesting to watch, especially “kabak” shooting (a style of Turkish archery requiring the archer to strike a target while riding a horse). The winner of the mounted archery competition was Ahmet Kazemi of Iran. Kazemi said he really enjoyed the Turkish style of archery, although this was the first time he had tried it. Kazemi added that he found the competition challenging and felt the event was very successful. Another participant, Tanaka, from Japan, noted that Turkish archery is very well known around the world. “Japanese arrows are very large, but Turkish arrows are small in size and more practical. The rules of competition are the same as those for Japanese archery, so this was a nice experience for us,” he said.
Women also competed, including Nurdan Cingöz, a member of the Kayseri Mounted Archery Club. Cingöz, who works in the private sector as civil engineer, said she devotes her spare time to archery. She mentions that archery enables people to experience an aspect of a traditional way of life. “Using the arrows in the same way that the janissaries did invokes different feelings. Of course we do not think of ourselves as janissaries, but we emulate them with our arrows and by wearing traditional clothes,” she added.
Renowned actor Cüneyt Arkın, who inspired an interest in horseback riding and archery among the audiences of his films, was the guest of honor at the event. Arkın did not participate in the competition, preferring to watch. Another actor, Cemal Hünal, who became popular due to his starring role in the film “Issız Adam” (“Lonely Man”), was also in attendance. Hünal said he has been riding horses since childhood and began learning archery at the same time. Noting the place of mounted archery among Turkish traditional sports, Hünal wishes that youngsters were more involved with them. Unlike Arkın, Hünal did participate in the competition, competing successfully against Japanese “samurai.” Hünal hit his target in every lap of the competition, but unfortunately he was disqualified when his peep sight came off the bow in his final lap.