Oil Warriors: Kirkpinar Wrestling Festival

Festival Essentials

When: Annually, nd of June/early July
Where: Kirkpinar in Erdine, Turkey
What’s it about: Mean and dirty oil wrestling
Remember to bring: Very large bottle of Olive Oil

Kirkpinar is part of Edirne, which was once the capital of Turkey. Edirne is on the border of Greece, a gateway between East and West.


The Turk’s are the world’s toughest wrestlers and they take the art very seriously. In the 14th century when the son of the second Ottoman Sultan was marching to battle with 40 warriors, he would let them test their wrestling skills at rest stops. In Erdine, two wrestled until they both died of exhaustion. This contest has been held in Kirkpinar ever since in their honour.

Wrestling in Turkey

The Turkish respect the Pehlivan (wrestler), his very name means honest, brave and warrior like. Respect to the Pehlivan comes from the warrior spirit and heroic nature of the Turkish people. Wrestling is a serious and well paid art. Each wrestler has their own style and will use an apprentice to carry on their name after their retirement. Unlike the highly regulated Olympic wrestling and highly stylised WWF, Turkish wrestling remains largely unchanged since its establishment over six centuries ago.

What Happens at the Festival

The annual Kirkpinar Wrestling Championship is the domain of warriors who rely on strength, technique and stamina. There are no time limits and few forbidden moves in the wrestling contest. The action continues until one is pinned or submits. Contestants take to the field 20 pairs at a time.

Throughout the 3 day tournament, over a hundred drums of olive oil are smeared over the festival contestants. Fighters as young as four participate in the action before moving up the ranks to “principle”, the adult fighter. The fight begins with Pesrev, the greasing of wrestlers in a ritual combining prayer, chanting and stroking of the calves. The final day of the festival is attended by Turkey’s president, a high honour to bestow on Edirne.

Famous Wrestlers

Koca Yusaf is one of the great Wrestling legends. A preservation order has been made on the 450 Kilo rock found in his garden which he used during training. A modern day wrestling hero is Ahmet Asci who has one the tournament 8 years in a row and won the coveted title of Bas Pehlivan (Top wrestler).

How to Wrestle

The leather belt worn by the wrestlers is called a “Kisbet” which can weigh up to 13 Kg. The Kisbet was originally made of water buffalo. In oil wrestling, most games are made on the kisbet. The wrestlers try to put their hands through the kisbet of their opponents who will try and make it as gap free as possible. The pehlivan that conquers his opponent’s kisbet can control him this way by grabbing the lower end of his pants (‘paca’ ) and this way can beat his opponent with the game called ‘paca kazik‘. Moves can be highly dirty and involve battering your opponent around the head, pulling their ears and even pushing your hand into your opponents shorts and squeezing their testicles!

Forty drummer beat out war like rhythms to build up the testosterone. Until 1975 years ago, there was no time limit to wrestling in Kirkpinar, fights could last more than one day. In 1975, wrestling was limited to 40 minutes in the baspehlivan category. If there is no winner within these limits, the pehlivans wrestle for 15 minutes with scores recorded.

Gold and cash are the prizes awarded, the main winner receives a gold belt made of 14 carat gold worth $25,000.

Festivities in the town of Edirne are lively during the festival until the early hours. Bellydancing, traditional music from the drum and flute and local cuisine provide a wealth of entertainment outside of the arena.

More Information

To Find Out More About This Event:
Tel: 001 212-687-2194

Kirkpinar Net
Official site of the Kirkpinar festival with history, rules and press kit.