Looking for some fast paced equine entertainment whilst visiting our beautiful city for your hair loss treatment? Or perhaps you’re just visiting Turkey as a holiday venture. Either way, a game played on horseback called Cirit, or Jereed, could be just the thing.
Like many things in Turkey, Jereed is a pretty old game. It is known to have arrived in Anatolia with a tribe of Turcomans called the Seljuks who migrated there with their ruler Alparslan from Central Asia around 1071*. The tribe, and others that followed them, brought with them many things that are now a part of Turkish culture, including their legendary horsemanship skills.
Jereed, which translates to Javelin, is believed to have originated as a way to hone ones equestrian skills.
It was wholeheartedly adopted by the Ottoman cavalry in the 15th and 16th centuries and used to perfect their attacking and defensive skills. During battle, it was played to drum up the troops’ zeal for war. So adept did some of these Jeered-playing cavalrymen become that they were formed into special troops called cündi **.
And, in much the same way some members of the British Royal family are known for their polo playing skills, various Ottoman sultans are known to have been very fond of the game. By the 1800’s the game had become hugely popular both at court and throughout the Ottoman Empire generally, and not just with the cavalry. It was widely played as a show sport and a game. During the 1600’s Jeered had also spread into neighbouring areas of Europe and Arabia and was particularly popular in French and German speaking territories**.
As you’d expect of a game where ‘javelins’ are tossed at people by other people whilst charging about on horseback, Jeered caused more than a few serious injuries. Interestingly though it appears that many of the injuries, and even deaths, were caused by falling off the horses rather than from being hit by flying jereeds! For this reason Jereed was banned in 1826 by the then Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II after he disbanded the royal household troops, an elite group of militiamen called the Janissary Troops. Not surprisingly the ban didn’t last all that long but it did put a big dent in the game because Jereed never regained the popularity it had once enjoyed.
Today Jereed is mainly played in several eastern and south eastern provinces, notably Erzurum, Bayburt, Artvin, Erzincan, Kars, Diyarbakir and Siirt as well as in Usak, Balikesir and Sögüt in the west and Konya in Central Anatolia. There are around 50 Jereed clubs across these provinces that arrange regular Jereed tournaments in an attempt to keep the game alive and kicking.
How To Play The Game Of Jereed
Jereed is a game played by two opposing teams of 6, 8 or 10 people mounted on carefully trained horses. The preferred height for the horses is between 14 and 15 hands as they manoeuvre better whilst still being big enough to take adult male players. The playing field is a square of anywhere between 70 and 130 metres and there are 3 neutral zones of around 6 metres deep at each end. These neutral zones are where the team members wait for their turn.
After all the pomp and ceremony that traditionally precedes a Jereed match, the players shake hands in the centre of the field before riding to their respective ends and waiting in their neutral zones. They carry one Jereed in their right hand and another 2 or 3 in their left hand. If you’ve ever ridden a horse you’ll understand that that right there takes a degree of skill because somehow you also need to hold the reins so you can steer the horse! A jereed is a metre long round wooden stick about 2 or 3 centimetres in diameter with a blunt end covered by a protective rubber tip on the end. They’re usually made from lightweight wood like poplar or beech.
The game starts when a rider from one team, usually the youngest player in the game, breaks ranks and trots towards the opposing team. About 30 to 40 metres out he calls out the name of an opposing player before tossing his jereed at the player to challenge him to enter the game. He then turns and heads back to his neutral zone whilst the player he just challenged gives chase, throwing a jereed at him with the intent of hitting him. When the first player reaches the safety of his neutral zone another player from his team rides out to chase the player from the opposing team who then turns and begins to retreat back to his own neutral zone. The player chasing him throws a jereed at him with intent to hit. That player in turn is then chased back to his side by a player from the opposing team and so the game continues back and forth like this.
Each game is generally played in 2 45 minute sessions. Points are scored when jereeds hit an opposing player, when a player catches a jereed mid-air or outrides his fleeing opponent. There are referees posted at each end of the field and at the centre line who note points won with a wave of a flag. At the end of the game the team with the most points wins the game.
There are also no noes in the game. Hitting a horse instead of a player is forbidden and doing so will get a player sent off the field as well as earn his side a negative point. Riding out of bounds, falling off the horse, throwing a jereed from a distance of less than 5 metres whilst pursuing an opponent or from within a neutral zone also score negative points. As with positive points, negative points are signalled by the referees’ flags. The jereeds are retrieved and returned to the respective teams by jereed boys in much the same fashion as tennis ball boys dart across the court to retrieve tennis balls during a tennis match.
The top jereed players are amazingly skilful riders. To avoid being hit by an opponent’s jereed they can take all manner of evasive actions, including leaning to one side of the horse or even upon occasion dropping underneath the horse or under its neck. They also rarely miss hitting an opponent. The horses are also highly trained. The best ones would know that the minute the jereed leaves their rider’s hands they have to spin around and head back in the opposite direction.
Today the Jereed Tournament is held annually with teams from around the country competing. Spectators likewise come from all over Turkey to help celebrate the playing of this ancient equestrian game which is as much a part of Turkish culture as coffee and hummus! Jereed is also played at the World Nomad Games.