From November to April, every year, the sky above the city of Urfa becomes a battleground for the pigeons.
Urfa is a city on the southeast corner of Turkey. It is home to around 500 lofts and over 12,000 pigeons.This ancient city's mystical old streets, specially around Haşimiye, Eyyubiye and Süleymaniye neighborhoods start to get ready for the night as the sun fades away and disappear under the smokes of şiş-kebabs and coal.
As the city starts to move slower, the rooftops become alive.
Silence is disturbed by the sounds of tiny jewelry of the pigeons.
It is the time for the fanciers to get together with their beloved pigeons.
Same time every day, 500 man goes up to their roof-tops to give short training flights, cleaning each wing and tail feather of each bird and feed them with their own special mixes of vitamins and seeds.The goal is to have the best looking and the strongest team of pigeons. Better team means a well-known name for the owner and a better place in the ranks of the fanciers.
And when the day of war comes, it is the time to separate the kings and the no ones.Well, this is short of life in Urfa.
Şemsettin Aybar, one of the prominent fanciers of the city, tells the story:"My grandfather and father also raised pigeons. Pigeon fancy is not a hobby. It requires you to care for them as they were your children and I do just that. I keep a team of 250 cocks and 6 hens. The most valuable are Zeytuni, Takla, İspir, Bağdad and Nakışlı. Their prices range between nothing and the sky.Every fancier's team has a leader bird, which is called 'Peşenk'. If for some reason, your Peşenk lands on another fancier's rooftop during the war, it is the most humiliating for the owner. Regardless of the size of your team, you must pull out of the war and start re-building a new team for next year's war again.
The thing we call 'War" starts in November and ends in April. This time is selected specially to test the birds, as it is the most difficult weather for flight.During this time, everyone's teams get airborne at 4:30PM every day with no exception.
Suddenly, the sky gets covered with thousands of pigeons. Every fancier's eye glued to the sky. The purpose is to have your birds fly without getting tired and trick other's birds to bring back with them. These birds become yours. Regardless of who owns them! It just might be your best friend. It does not matter. With the wind, rain and storms, each team is diving behind their leader towards the other team to disperse it; it is a death or life battle up there. Some birds get so tired; they just fall dead from the sky. They are the Kamikazes, the suicide commandos of the pigeon world.
These war games have been taking place since 2000 B.C. Time of the king Nemrud. This tradition is continued today.Fanciers of the city keep hundreds of birds each. Most of these birds are cocks. Each fancier keeps 4-6 hens only for breeding purposes and to get other's birds used to the loft. Every day the fanciers of the city get together in the historical Çardaklı coffee shop. Shop has small cages covering all the walls with many kinds of birds in them. The score is kept here by fanciers bringing in the previous day’s captures. If the capturing fancier is willing, these birds go for sale. Price of these birds is determined by all the fanciers in the coffee shop that day.
During this sale, original owner of the bird has the first right to buy it, unless the bird is a 'Peşenk', the leader of the team. These birds are not sold and become a stock bird for the capturer. After the presentation of the leader bird, the original owner pulls out of the war and looses his claim for the prize. He must also get rid of his birds in way of sale or trade and re-build his team. The prize is a pool of money collected by all fanciers and kept by the Coffee house owner. At the end of the war season the fancier with the most captures gets the prize. Price of his birds also becomes the highest in the city.
Birds used in this event are very similar to dewlaps but, as mentioned bred and perform in a very different way. They only dive with their leader ahead of them to charge another team of birds in severe weather conditions.The tumblers are not part of these squadrons. However, there might be a few Şirazi or as we know Shaksharli included in each team to utilize their tumbling during the landing phase of the daily battle to attract prisoners.