A History of Falconry
Falconry in Russia
Falconry in Russia has an ancient history, its roots found probably in the 8th and 9th centuries. It came to the Eastern Slavic tribes from their southern neighbours and from the Huns and Khazars, the Turkic speaking nomadic nation who created in the fifth century a country whose boundaries stretched over the modern Dagestan, Cis-Azov Sea area, the Crimea, the Don River region and the Lower Volga River area. At the end of the ninth century, the ancient-Russian knight Oleg built the falcon yard in Kiev. Vladimir, son of Yaroslav Mudryi who ruled between 1019-1054 issued the first legislative acts regulating falconry. Historical chronicle returns many times to the mention of falconry as an important feature of the everyday life of Russian princes. Falconry was loved by Prince Igor, famous for his unsuccessful military trip to Polovets in 1185. Even when in captivity this prince did not change his habits and continued to fly hawks.
An interesting legend exists about Saint Trifon, whose day is celebrated by orthodox Christians on 14th February: the boyar (nobleman) Patrikiev had the bad luck to lose a falcon belonging to Tsar Ivan the Terrible. Fearing the worst, he prayed to a local saint, Trifon (or Triphon), to show him where it was. Sure enough the saint appeared in a dream and showed him where to look. In return the boyar built and dedicated a church. Religious icons of St. Trifon show him in a falconer’s pose with a falcon on his fist.
During the middle ages falconry flourished in Russia, especially in the Moscow Principality. One of the Moscow districts is even now known as “Sokolniki”, which translates “Falconers” or “Site of Falconers”. Falconry had its heyday during the reign of Alexei Mikhailovich Romanov (1626-1676), father of Peter the Great, but, as elsewhere, it had practically died out among the elite of Russian society by the end of 19th – beginning of 20th century. After October 1917 falconry was not officially prohibited but was not supported by government and that in reality meant one and the same thing. However, in two regions where falconers were simple common people it continued to exist: in Transcaucasia and in the republics of the Middle Asia, where falconry was one of several hunting methods for acquiring food or furs.
Falconry in Turkey
Excavations at the ancient Hittite city of Alacahöyük, which was inhabited in 4000BC show various relief sculptures dating back to 1600 – 1200 BC such as a double headed Eagle, a symbol that is very ancient and also present at the Assyrian colony at Kanesch (Kültepe).
Discoveries at the Karatepe (meaning ”black hill” in Turkish) complex date back to 1600 – 1400 BC and was excavated from 1947 to 1957. The excavations revealed the ruins of the walled city of king Azatiwataš, where two city gates have many reliefs covering the lower walls of the gate complex. An image of a god riding a bull, with what looks like a Bird of Prey in one hand and a Hare in another is present.
This symbolic and actual relationship with Birds of Prey extended into the Seljuk period of Turkey and beyond, with the crowning of Tuğrul (which means Falcon) Beg at Mosul in 1058 as “King of the East and the West”. The double-headed Eagle became the standard of the Seljuk Turks and has been much used afterwards right up until today including Government institutions.
During the Ottoman Empire Falconry in Turkey reached its pinnacle at what is seen as the Golden Era, when it was practiced by the elite of the ruling class. Falconry during this period had been responsible for ransoms, bribes as well as the death of intended heirs to the throne.
This love and passion in which the Ottoman court held Falconers and Falconry was recorded by the eyewitness statements of both John Sanderson (1594) and Thomas Dallam (1599). The Turks were responsible for much intercultural exchange with the Europeans, including Falconry during the Crusades.
With the decline of the Ottoman Empire came the decline of Falconry in Turkey, with this decline still continuing today. It is estimated that there are approximately 4000 Falconers currently in modern day Turkey (2012), mainly around the Black Sea region and practiced also around Istanbul. Falconers are only allowed to use Sparrow Hawks (Atmaca), which they trap under licence from the Turkish Government to hunt migrating Quail. This tradition is centuries old which has been passed down orally through generations.
Falconry in Georgia
Falconry is known in Georgia since the 5th century and is most remarkable for its tradition of flying passage sparrowhawks at quail. This was clearly described in literature of the early 19th century and similar living traditions exist today in Tunisia and Turkey.
For many centuries ordinary people in Western Georgia have hunted with sparrowhawks while the more elite of society of Eastern Georgia flew goshawks and falcons. Georgia was the first of the former Soviet states to formally legalize falconry in 1967. In the town of Poti there is monument devoted to bazieri (sparrowhawkers).
There are over 500 registered bazieri at the present time.
Falconry in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan is a country the size of Europe – mountain and steppe, barely touched by modern civilization and whose inhabitants are mostly farmers and part-time farmers. Its falconers continue the Central Asian tradition of flying golden eagles at hare for food and at fox and wolf for furs and flock. Until modern times this was a subsistence necessity for the peoples of Kazakhstan as well as in Kirghizstan, Tajikistanand Uzbekistan and Mongolia and the ethnic minorities in Western China.
Falconry tradition in Turkmenistan differs greatly from the neighbouring traditions of eagles in Kazakhstan and the other central Asian republics to the north and east. It is much more like the traditional falconry of Iran and Afghanistan using sakers and tazy (the Turkmen version of the saluki) at the desert hare. Falconers traditionally spend five months of the year in the desert staying with their hawks, their tazy and their falconry mentors. The Oguz Khan tribes, forefathers of the Turkmen people who lived 5 000 years ago, had falconry symbols on their ancestral emblems, carpets, pottery and other archaeological finds. In literature falconry appears in many Turkmen classics of the 15th –17th centuries, authors such as Sayilly, Makhtumkuli, Seyidi, Mollanepes who were also falconers.
There are more than 60 proverbs and sayings in Turkmen folklore that cite falcons and falconry.Falconry is seen as a sign of equality. You find the falcon carried by he countryman as well as the city-dweller, by worker as well as academic or cultural workers; it is seen as instilling ideals of nature protection.