“I have 40 bulls here this year,” Sait told me as he motioned toward the yellow tent. Inside the tent, two rows of young bulls were lined up on either side while farmhands attended to their needs. “I’ve been coming here every year for 20 years, and I’ve sold out every year. I think this year will be the same.” Sait is one of hundreds of livestock producers who come to Bursa from all over Turkey to this special once-a-year animal bazaar. Here, they sell their technically flawless male sheep, goats, and cattle to locals preparing for Kurban Bayramı, the annual Sacrifice Festival.
On this rainy morning, the mud was thick and the heavy air carried the strong odor of livestock. Hectares of tents and corrals full of animals spread out across the large vacant lot on the edge of the city. A few prospective buyers wandered around the bazaar while smiling farmers welcomed us to take a look at their animals. Signs above each tent indicated where the animals came from. Some were produced locally while others came from the far reaches of the country, as far away as the city of Kars on Turkey’s eastern border. Sait’s bulls came from Kayseri, hundreds of kilometers away in east-central Turkey.
In the week before the festival, locals come to this bazaar to barter and buy a ram or a bull for the annual sacrifice. The sacrifice, known as Kurban in Turkish and al-Adha in Arabic, commemorates the event in which God provided a ram for Abraham at the very moment he was about to obediently sacrifice his son. During the sacrifice, participants are reminded of God’s faithfulness, Abraham’s obedience, and their own submission to God.
Each family that can afford the expense purchases and sacrifices an animal, with multiple families often pooling their funds to buy larger, more expensive animals. “Prices start at 3,500 Turkish liras for a small bull, and as high as 6,000 Turkish liras for a large mixed breed,” Sait explained. Sheep are considerably less expensive at the bazaar, starting at prices between 500 and 900 Turkish liras a head.
Many buyers will take the animals to their homes and perform the sacrifice right in their yards, surrounded by family and friends. Others will hire professional butchers to do the work for them. “Come middle of next week, we’ll be slaughtering animals all day here,” Sait said. For many families, the meat will be divided into three parts, with a third going to the family, a third going to friends and neighbors, and a third going to the poor.
As I wandered around the bazaar snapping photos, chatting with farmers, and watching transactions take place, I was moved by the notion of this festival. I wondered if the animals had any idea what the week ahead held for them. And I found myself reflecting on the ram that God provided to Abraham to take his son’s place on that altar many years ago.