pigeons fetch high prices at famed Turkish auction
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[January 13, 2017]
By Umit Bektas
SANLIURFA, Turkey (Reuters)
- As night-time approaches in Sanliurfa, southeastern
Turkey, most of the alleyways of the city's old bazaar
are emptying out, except for one.
The bustle of daytime trading has died down, but on this
little street, a stream of men carry cardboard boxes filled with
pigeons to a cluster of three teahouses.
Here, they sell the birds at Sanliurfa's famed auctions to a
dedicated band of pigeon keepers and breeders, a pastime that
has been thriving for hundreds of years across the region and
over the nearby border into war-torn Syria.
In a country where the minimum wage is about 1,400 Liras ($367)
a month, enthusiasts regularly easily spend hundreds of dollars
for one bird.
"I once sold a pair of pigeons for 35,000 Turkish Lira," says
auctioneer İmam Dildas. "This is a passion, a hobby you cannot
quit. I've been known to sell the fridge and my wife's gold
bracelets to pay for pigeons."
Sanliurfa sits just 50km (30 miles) from Syria, in a
southeastern region rocked by its own clashes between government
troops and Kurdish insurgents. But the trade has taken the
turmoil in its stride and carried on.
In the early days of the conflict next door, there was a glut of
birds on the market as enthusiasts from northern Syria fled into
Turkey with their pigeons.
"Prices fell due to oversupply but as the conflict escalated and
there were no more pigeons coming from Syria, prices rose
again," says 23-year-old breeder İsmail Ozbek.
He keeps about 200 pigeons - together worth about 50,000 lira -
in lofts fitted with alarms and closed circuit TV cameras.
At the auction, men sip tea and smoke cigarettes as Dildas picks
up a bird and shows it to the crowd. He gives a starting bid
price and buyers shout out their offers.
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Prices vary from 30 to 3,500 Lira. Some birds wear silver adornments
on their feathers or feet to boost their value.
At the end of the night, Dildas has sold around 13,000 Lira worth of
birds. His commission is 10 percent.
When they are not trading, most of the city's pigeon fanciers head
to the rooftops at sunset and let their birds stretch their wings.
Hundreds fill the sky - a familiar sight in the city - before
following their training and heading home.
"The birds are my friends. They give me peace," says 55-year-old
enthusiast Resit Guzel.
He gives his 70 birds quality feed and regular vitamins.
"Upkeep ... costs 5 Lira a day, which is not much. Even if it cost
me more, I wouldn't mind," he says.
"They have been my hobby for the last 40 years ... You can only
understand if you keep pigeons."
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(Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Andrew Heavens)
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