Featured image: A Birdman of Edirnekapi. (photo by Liz Coughland – http://geriatricgapper.blogspot.com.tr)
Some are ‘homing’ and quite a few of them are aerial acrobats but the majority are kept only to please the beholder. They are the pigeons that go on weekly display at Istanbul’s bizarre ‘Pigeon (or Bird) Bazaar’. The keepers and aficionados adamantly emphasize that the birds at the bazaar are domesticated and are not ‘wild’ as the thousands you see prancing around in city squares. Some of them can and do fetch considerable prices, upwards of one thousand US dollars, and sometimes even higher.
The place is the Edirnekapi Kus Pazari (Edirnekapi Bird Bazaar) and the bazaar is set up on the weekends at, yes you guessed it, the Edirnekapi area. The land it occupies is an earth-surfaced soccer field that belongs to a local sports club (Altinay). Actually, there are two adjacent areas fenced apart from each other. One is dedicated to what may roughly be classified as the ‘ornamental species’ (pigeons, canaries, parakeets, parrots, partridges, etc.) and the other features domestic fowl only (chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, etc.). However, as a whole, pigeons make up about 95% of the birds showcased at the bazaar.
The bazaar is at 500 meters distance from the nearby Edirnekapi bus stop. Once debarked from the bus, you stroll north-west along the side of the ancient walls of Constantinople to reach this interesting place. By the way, these walls date back to Theodosius II, the Byzantine emperor who ruled the empire in the 5th century. They are actually built upon an earlier wall which was built by an even earlier ruler, ‘Constantine the Great’. The walls standing to this day protected the city until Sultan Mehmet II captured and made it the capital of the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
Once at the bazaar, most first time visitors will readily note that the event is a very male oriented affair. I understand that a few female tourists check the place out from time to time, but it is extremely rare to see a Turkish woman among the regulars.
The whole phenomenon of raising, trading, collecting, showing and racing of pigeons in Turkey is not quite at par with what is currently going on in the pigeon-fancying circles elsewhere in the world such as Belgium, Brasil and China, yet. However, it is gaining popularity and the prices fetched by outstanding Turkish specimens are constantly increasing.
As I strolled around the bazaar, snapping photographs here and there, I sensed somewhat of an uneasiness about those attendees that I pointed my camera at. Later, I discovered the reason. The bazaar has long been the target for animal rights activists. The critics of the activities at the event usually cite the conditions under which the birds are kept, the way some of them are handled by some of the keepers and the fact that they are often forced to fly while tethered at the end of a short string. I also understood that the bazaar is frequently raided by officials in charge of wildlife to combat illicit trade of protected species. I learned that the bazaar had been forced to change its location several times in the recent years due to complaints lodged with the local government concerning illicit trade of and cruelty to animals. No wonder that a stranger walking around taking pictures is met with a certain level of uneasiness among the regulars being photographed.