Archery was for centuries Turkey’s traditional sport, and also played a central role in Islamic culture. The use of the bow and arrow as a weapon by the Turkish horsemen of Central Asia goes back far into the mists of time. Only after the invention of firearms did the bow and arrow gradually lose its importance as a weapon, instead of being practiced increasingly as a sport. Research suggests that archery among the Turks goes back to 5000 BC, but the first written rules for archery date from the Oguz Turks around the 7th century. After the conversion of the Oguz to Islam archery developed still further, reaching its zenith under the Ottoman Empire. The importance of archery in early warfare is reflected in the Traditions of the Prophet Muhammed, who was himself an archer. Among the references to archery in the Traditions are, ‘Teach even the slave in your house to shoot arrows,’ and, ‘Just as they are our rights, so it is the right of our children that we teach them to write and to shoot arrows, and leave them their rightful inheritance.’ Although archery competitions were held under earlier Ottoman rulers, it was Sultan Mehmet II (1451-1481) who set up detailed rules for archery as a competitive sport and established special archery fields. Immediately after the conquest of Istanbul the Ok Meydani (Archery Field), of which only a small part remains today, was set up in the district of Kasimpasa on the north shore of the Golden Horn. Mehmet’s successors enlarged this field and added new facilities, as well as establishing similar archery fields in other cities. Mehmet’s son Sultan Bayezit II (1481-1512) granted special privileges to archers and to the artisans who produced archery equipment. He arranged for most of these craftsmen to settle in Istanbul and gave them workshops in the Archers Bazaar built behind Bayezit Mosque. In the 15th and 16th centuries, there were an estimated 500 makers of bows and arrows in Istanbul and schools specifically for training archers. Most of the Ottoman sultans and grand vezirs were noted archers, and grand vizier Kemankes Kara Mustafa Pasa (1592-1644) was a bow maker by trade, as the cognomen Kemankes indicates. When he became grand vizier he issued an imperial edict (ferman) on the subject of archery, which is the first known law concerning a sport. This document has been preserved and is in the archive of Topkapi Palace Museum. Historical documents record the names of many famous archers, such as Tozkoparan Ismail and Bursali Suca.
Traditional Turkish bows were crossbows of the type known as composite, made of layers of horn, sinew, and wood, which enabled them to shoot arrows at extraordinary distances. Even today authorities on archery around the world are astonished by the distances shot using the old Turkish bows, whose records of 800 to 900 meters are still beyond the reach of modern crossbows. On the foundation laid by Mehmet II and Bayezıt II, archery developed apace during the 16th century under Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566) and his son Selim II (1566-1574). Although archery continued to be practiced as a sport through the 17th and 18th centuries, it enjoyed a brilliant revival during the reigns of Selim III (1789-1807) and his nephew Mahmut II (1808-1839). With the death of Mahmut II, however, archery went into decline, and during the last years of the Ottoman Empire, most of the bowyers and other craftsmen were forced to abandon their traditional trades for lack of custom. Only four or five craftsmen continued to make bows and arrows.
After the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, a handful of archers tried to keep the sport alive, encouraging young people to join them and holding practice sessions in various districts of Istanbul. Ibrahim and Bekir Ozok – descendants of the legendary Turkish archer Tozkoparan, Vakkas Okatan – grandson of Mustafa Kani, writer of the first book on Turkish archery during the reign of Mahmut II, Prof Necmettin Okyay – who again came a family of archers, Hafiz Kemal Gurses, and Baki Kunter – chairman of the National Sports Federation, founded an archery club in 1937 with the object of reviving this national sport. Ataturk had been an enthusiastic supporter of the project, and after watching a display by the country’s first woman archer Betul Diker (Or) at the 19 May celebrations that year had asked Halim Baki Kunter to train her himself. But after Ataturk’s death in 1938 the club found itself without resources and closed down. Archery in Turkey nearly died out completely over the next 15 years, until Fazil Ozak son of former archer Bahir Ozok, approached President Celal Bayar in 1953 about official recognition for the sport by the Directorate of Physical Training and the sport was attached to the Federation of Marksmanship. In 1955 Turkey became the 16th member of the International Archery Federation, which today has 121 members altogether. After archery was organized as a separate federation in 1961, Turkish archers began to participate for the first time in international competitions, although unfortunately with little success due to financial and organizational difficulties. But today the sport is thriving, and from just 35 licensed archers on 1 January 1982, the number has grown to nearly three thousand. What is more, the quality of their performance has risen rapidly.