Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pigeon love, passion and profession in Turkey

Sunday, April 4, 2010
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

For many people, pigeons are ordinary, white and gray birds that swarm public squares or are released as symbols of peace at rallies. But for those who love, raise, race, sell and buy them as a hobby or profession, pigeons can be a life’s passion. Emrah Gürel/ Daily News PHOTO

Halit Eğrekçi, also known as Gebzeli Halit, or Halit of Gebze, is a businessman who raises pigeons as a second business. Eğrekçi told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that he has allocated two floors of his apartment building for pigeons and takes care of them three times a day.

All pigeon lovers agree that their wives are jealous of their passion for birds. “She wants me to spend more time with her. But, actually, when I spend time with my pigeons, all my stress goes away, and I relax. Then, I do whatever my wife wants because I feel guilty for spending more time with my birds,” said Eğrekçi.

Eğrekçi has an interest and love for Öntepe pigeons, which are different from other types because of a bump on the top of their heads. Other types common in Turkey include Şebap, Bango and Hünkarı. It is believed Hünkarı, meaning “royal breed,” pigeons were raised in Ottoman palaces for the sultans and were then captured by locals and raised secretly. Şebap pigeons are known to be particularly fancied, as a man in the western city of Bursa recently bartered his car, worth 30,000 Turkish Liras, for a pair of the breed.

Although these prices seem to be high to outsiders, for pigeon lovers they are normal. Eğrekçi said he once sold a pair of Öntepe pigeons for 60,000 liras to an owner of a jewelry shop in Antalya. These prices change depending on the wealth of the customer and the beauty and uniqueness of each bird. Eğrekçi said it is even possible to make a return on an investment in a beautiful couple because the birds can produce up to 30 eggs in a year and the owners can then raise the baby pigeons for racing.

İlker Şenal, a manager at the Ümraniye Caged, Winged Animals and Pigeon Lovers Association on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, has two cages for pigeons. In one he has Hünkari, Şebap and Öntepe varieties, and in another he has racing pigeons, which he only uses for mothering the other birds’ babies. He said this way he can raise more babies.

Some earn, some lose from pigeons

Although Eğrekçi maintains a balance between his passion and family life and can earn good money from his hobby, other pigeon enthusiasts are not as professional.

Şenal said there are many people who lose their wealth or family due to having a passion for these birds that resembles a gambler’s addiction. “Some people get divorced, or others buy very expensive pigeons on credit. They sometimes pay such high prices for the pigeons that they hide them in their bedrooms so nobody can steal them,” said Şenal.

Eğrekçi said theft is a common problem for the job. “I have security cameras as well as an alarm system for the floors I raise pigeons on. Even the apartment I live in is very protected,” said Eğrekçi, adding that the pigeons are both materially and morally valuable to him.

Pigeon lovers can also suffer by lacking identity cards for their birds since they mate different colors and types of pigeons to breed unique colors and types that are more expensive on the market. “When our birds are stolen, we cannot go to the police since we cannot prove that these birds were ours,” said Bülent Kızıldağ, another pigeon collector. “We also cannot insure our birds without identity cards for them,” he told the Daily News.

Eğrekçi said some racing pigeons in Turkey have identity cards, but there is less interest in those kinds of pigeons. Collectors hold races in Turkey, but they do not earn money from them.

Some pigeon raisers hide their hobby from everyone but friends with the same interest. A man who preferred not to reveal his name who works at a private insurance company in Turkey told the Daily News that his colleagues do not know about his hobby. “They consider raising pigeons as a simple thing that does not suit a man, but they actually know nothing about this activity,” he said.

Although some hide their hobby from outsiders, they can share this passion with many people at festivals around Turkey. For the first time a pigeon festival will be held in Istanbul, said Eğrekçi, adding that he will participate in the competition if he is not elected as a jury member.

Many pigeons of different types will compete for beauty and uniqueness at the festival, which will take place in the Küçükçekmece district of Istanbul on April 11.

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