Traditional Turkish Archery is an element of the intangible cultural heritage, which has been shaped as sportive activity by principles, rules, rituals and social practices, the use of equipment made with traditional craftsmanship and archery disciplines and shooting techniques that have been developed over centuries. Bearers and practitioners of the element train individually or collectively to improve their archery skills, carry out individual shootings, and take part in competitions and performances organized partly as festivals. In all events and activities, archers act strictly in accordance with the principles, rules and rituals related to the element.
In Traditional Turkish Archery, there are different types of disciplines practiced on foot and horseback. The archery on foot discipline includes flight shooting, long-distance arrow shooting, darp (pounding) shooting, puta shooting and performance shooting. Horseback archery, on the other hand, includes kıgaç, kabak (gourd) and tabla shooting. Horseback archery requires power, concentration, shooting and riding skills, as well as knowledge of horse care. Archers use traditional shooting techniques and skills learnt from masters, allowing shootings performed on either foot or horseback to be carried out successfully.
Traditional Turkish archers are known as “Okçu” (archers), “Kemankeş”, “Tîrendâz” or “Kavsi”. Those who teach archery are referred to as “masters” and students of archery are called “Tâlip” or “Kepazakeş”. Artisans who make Turkish Composite Bows are called “Kemanger” and those who make standard arrow are known as “Tîrger”.
The artisans who make other specific archery equipment such as zihgîr (thumbrings), wrist shield, tirkeş, kubur (deep holes), sadak (quiver), çile and kandil are called as masters of their particular skills, such as master of zihgîr, master of çile, master of tîrkeş, etc. Artisans who make harnesses for horseback archery are called “saraç” (harness makers).
The equipment used in traditional archery is made by artisans with the requisite knowledge of materials and skills, as well as patience and mastery. Related equipment is decorated by using traditional Turkish ornamental arts, including calligraphy, ornamentation and marquetry. Making the equipment requires such raw materials as trees grown under certain climatic conditions at high altitudes, organic glues, animal horn, tendons, silk, leather, reed and feathers, and so a master should have an advanced knowledge of nature, including plants, animals and climate.
Kemankeş candidates, known as “talip”, learn from teachers who they refer to as “master”. In order for someone to be a talip, she/he must first be accepted by the “master”. In evaluation process masters pay more attention on moral and traditional principles than physical abilities of students. The master and talip train regularly every day, in a certain disciplined way. These training sessions are called “meşk”.
The tradition of acceptance plays an important role in the transmission of the element. The master gives her/his acceptance when the master is sure about the “talip” has acquired necessary qualifications to become a kemankeş. At this point, the “talip” becomes a kemankeş. This tradition of acceptance is called “kabza alma” (taking a handle). The ceremony continues with prayers, a meal and ends with the master whispering some specific advice called “the secret of archery” into the “talip’s” ear.
Although starting out as a hunting skill and as a martial art around the world, archery has in time become a sport. Nature and any living thing are never damaged in the practices or rituals used in Traditional Turkish Archery. The element has been practiced for centuries by people from all segments of the society, regardless of their gender, social, cultural, economic, ethnic or religious background.
Today, traditional archery is safeguarded as disciplines with distinctive techniques, equipment and social practices all around the world. International traditional archery festivals are organized every year at which different disciplines are represented by sportsmen and women from various countries. Those taking part in these events wear traditional clothes from their own cultures and introduce their music, dance, cuisine and other traditional sports branches, sharing their knowledge and experience of traditional archery at an international level.
“Traditional Turkish Archery” was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on behalf of Turkey in 2019.