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Cockfighting in Turkey

Photographer: Sedat Suna


I follow a man inside an old building and up the stairs. As we reach a locked door, he again warns me not to take pictures of his face. He opens the door that leads to the roof, where roosters are running around or sitting in cages. A small circle on the ground built of iron bars, awnings and two old carpets catches my eye. This is a hidden cockfighting arena, which is illegal in Turkey.


Cockfighting is an ancient spectator sport originating in Asia and dating back about 6,000 years. Nobody knows when exactly it came to Turkey but ever since many breeders have chosen to raise fighting roosters. The breeders take very good care of their animals, as they are a valuable source of income. Some fighting roosters can be as expensive as a car. However, cockfights are prohibited by law in Turkey for two main reasons: animal abuse and gambling. The amounts of betting in some fights can reach up to 100,000 Euro.


Breeders value two main criteria for a victorious fighting cock: stamina and pugnacity. The selection process starts as early as choosing the right egg. After hatching, a rooster can be ready to perform after 18 months of steady training to improve its muscles.


On the day of a fight, many breeders attend the event along with spectators who come to place bets. A big old notebook records each bettor's amount with secret codes before the fight begins.


The cock’s aggression is sparked by pushing it with the hand. After checking both cocks' wings and feathers, the owners have to agree to start the fight. The roosters compete in their weight classes after the organizer has weighed each cock. The difference can be no more than 100 grams.


The fights normally consist of four periods of 15 minutes. At the end of each quarter, the breeders have two minutes to wash their rooster’s head with cold water in order to clean the blood from its eyes. If there is no winner after one hour, the fight can be extend to a maximum of two hours. A competing animal is defeated if it shows fear or weakness or is withdrawn by its owner.


The man I followed onto the roof takes his favorite rooster on his lap and pets it. He checks its comb and skin gently and feeds it redcurrants and boiled eggs. 'It is important to give them protein everyday so they become stronger for fighting', he says.