Russia’s Putin takes Epiphany’s icy plunge with Orthodox pilgrims

Russian President Vladimir Putin braves the minus 5 degrees C water to take the annual traditional ritual marking the baptism of Jesus.(Reuters)
Updated 19 January 2018
0

Russia’s Putin takes Epiphany’s icy plunge with Orthodox pilgrims

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and many Orthodox pilgrims braved a bitter winter snap overnight to take the annual plunge into icy water in a traditional ritual marking the baptism of Jesus.
In some areas, the extreme temperatures — which in parts of Siberia dropped to minus 68 degrees Celsius (minus 90 Fahrenheit) — the local authorities canceled the rite which marks Epiphany.
Surrounded by Orthodox priests and glittering religious icons, and with the temperature hovering around minus 5 degrees C, Putin lowered himself into the freezing waters of Lake Seliger some 350 kilometers northwest of Moscow.
Many other Russians followed suit, submerging themselves in the freezing waters in a widely-observed ritual normally observed on 18-19 of January and which last year saw two million people take the plunge.
In Norilsk, a city beyond the Arctic Circle, local authorities on Thursday banned the extreme bathing rite “for security reasons” as temperatures hit minus 52 Celsius and strong winds whipped up a blizzard, RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Many faithful also marked the date in neighboring Ukraine and Belarus, both of which are also predominantly Orthodox, local media said.
According to Orthodox tradition, worshippers are supposed to immerse themselves three times — in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — to remember the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.
To mark the occasion, Orthodox priests also go out to bless rivers and reservoirs, and even bodies of water like the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.


Into the arena for camel wrestling in Turkey

Updated 24 January 2019
0

Into the arena for camel wrestling in Turkey

  • Camel culture in Turkey dates back to the Yoruks, a nomadic people whose ancestors were the ancient warrior Selcuks
  • Animal rights groups often call for the fights to end, denouncing them as cruel

SELCUK, Turkey: Erol Bilgin has high hopes. His camel, Kara Elmas (Black Diamond), might not have won the beauty contest the day before, but it might well fare better in the main event, the wrestling competition.
The two large camels stand face to face, sizing each other up, before throwing themselves head-first at one another.
Each animal struggles to bite its adversary’s feet to topple them, their long necks interlocking as the crowd cheers.
More than 2,000 people, many settled around little tables for picnics, spur on their favorite to win.
There are boos too, for those owners down in the arena who intervene too much in the matches.
The contests take place in the western Turkish town of Selcuk, at a site just a few minutes from the Aegean coast.
In the fighting arena that day, 124 camels wrestled each other in short duels — part of a centuries-old Turkish tradition.
Camel culture in Turkey dates back to the Yoruks, a nomadic people whose ancestors were the ancient warrior Selcuks, who arrived in Anatolia during the 11th century.
The first camel fight was formally organized in the region around the 1830s, says Devrim Erturk, an academic at Dokuz Eylul University in Selcuk.
As the nomads settled, the camels were used for the transport of goods, mainly toward the western ports of Turkey.
“And the cameleers started to make their camels fight” in the places they stopped at in the region, Erturk said.
He himself owns several camels, including a two year-old male that he wants to see wrestle in the arena.
Nearly 90 such events have been organized to take place in the region from Canakkale in the northwest to Antalya in the southwest between December and March.
This is the reproductive season for camels — when the males who fight are naturally more aggressive — and a quieter period for residents, as agricultural activity slows in the winter.
<b>“Cruel culture”</b>
Animal rights groups often call for the fights to end, denouncing them as cruel.
But everyone at the arena insisted that all necessary measures are taken to protect the camels, including tying a cord around their mouth to limit the opening and biting.
“For a cameleer, their camel is very precious... so the owners do all they can to ensure no harm comes to (their animal),” said Erturk.
“Many carry the name of the cameleer’s children. My father gave my name, Devrim, to one of his camels.”
The Selcuk festival, one of the most important, is held every year on the third weekend of January.
One of those in the audience is Abdullah Altintas, who has come to watch with his wife, Nilgun.
“My father and grandfather had camels, it’s an ancestral tradition. Alas, I don’t have any but I go to see all the duels,” he told AFP.
<b>Beauty contest and wrestling</b>
On the first day, there was the beauty contest, on the second, the main event — the wrestling.
That first day, owners paraded their champions through the town for local people to see.
The camels crossed the market dressed in colorful fabrics with their names embroidered on, garlands of bells and the Turkish flag.
Bilgin, from the nearby Mugla province, caressed his nine year-old camel Kara Elmas, whom the jury had not favored this time in the beauty contest.
“Obviously each person believes their camel is the most beautiful,” he says.
The two spend around 10 hours a day together, adds Bilgin, picking a straw from the thick fur of his camel, who he describes as “calm, respectful and sensitive.”
Selcuk mayor Dahi Zeynel Bakici is a champion of the festival. “Camel culture has declined, but we want to keep it going,” he told AFP.
To this end, in addition to the fights, an international symposium had been organized in Selcuk for the third year in a row, with around 100 participants.
The aim, said Bakici, is to continue the traditions in order to eventually secure a coveted place on the UNESCO list recognizing intangible cultural heritage.
<b>Camel meat</b>
The next morning, in the dark warehouse where Kara Elmas has spent the night, Bilgin makes sure everything is fine.
Because of the long distance they traveled the day before, his camel was “a little agitated but here he was able to relax before the fight,” he says.
“He knows what happens next.”
Around the arena, people stroll between the camels and the grilled sausage stands — all certified “100-percent camel meat.”
From early on in the day, the mostly-male audience enjoys their picnic with a glass of raki, a strong anizeed-flavored liquor.
But this does not prevent them from reciting verses from the Qur’an before the festivities begin.
The fights, for which there are no prizes, last a few minutes. They end after one camel manages to topple the other, or forces them to run away.
Many of the duels end in a tie, with neither camel able to make the other submit.
Down in the wrestling arena with their camels, the owners urge their charges on, trying to push their sometimes uninterested proteges into combat.
On occasion, security guards even have to step in to separate owners who themselves have come to blows.
When the name of his camel is announced, Bilgin leads Kara Elmas into the arena, parading the animal in front of the spectators before lining him up with his adversary.
The two camels throw themselves at each other, each repeatedly brought to their knees as they try to throw each other off balance.
But neither falls, the judges declare a tie and the camels are separated.
Bilgin is ecstatic.
“I am so emotional. He fought very well, beyond my expectations. I am really proud,” he says, stroking the imperturbable camel’s neck.