Ancient art of falconry is reborn in contemporary Turkmenistan
In the VII century, Oghuz-khan, the primogenitor of Turkmen tribes, giving out lands to his grandsons, marked each of 24 clans of his family with a separate sign - tamga - of birds of prey. Five of them were considered to belong to nobility and images of golden eagle, peregrine, gyrfalcon, hawk and saker falcon were pictured on them. The earlier findings connected with falconry can be found nowhere else in the world.
Ata Eyeberdiev, son of the hereditary falconer, devoted almost forty years of his life to falconry. He started with carrying birds of prey on his arm while at school. Although he is a pure city-dweller and a busy person - he is Chief Consultant at the Ministry of Justice of Turkmenistan - he devotes all his free time to the favorite hobby. Though, it is hardly a hobby - it is his life-work.
In the Soviet times, falconry was banned and birds of prey were seized under a far-fetched pretext that hawkers harmed the nature. It is in the years of independence that the real opportunity to establish the National Falconers Society emerged. Today, the National Society is not simply the gathering of amateurs of hunting. It is a scientific institution, dealing with selective research on ornithology, finding nesting places of birds and monitoring them, breeding of falcons and Turkmen hound - tazy, conducting ethnographic activities such as data collection on the role of falconry in the Turkmen and world history. Every person can become a falconer. Engineers, lawyers, doctors, journalists, scientists, people of different trades and age are members of the Society.
In 2002, Turkmen falconers became winners of the international show in Astana. The same year, in Amarillo (Texas, USA) they won the contest held under the slogan "Environment and Man". The victory entitled the Society to join the International World Falconers Association (IWFA) with headquarters in Belgium. 58 countries are members of the IWFA.
- The Charter of the society says: "Every member should know, respect and observe our ancestors' traditions of falconry," says Ata. The world ornithologists acknowledge that falconry came to Europe and USA from Islamic culture. The Muslim law, Sharia, sets necessary conditions for training falcons and dogs, and their setting loose at hunting. The allowed and prohibited methods of hunting wild fowl and animals are regulated in details according to the Islamic norms of existence.
Experienced tutors teach theory and practice to novice falconers during six-seven months. Tutor is the highest title in the Society. They are the most respected people, real masters of hunting. Although all of them are in the seventies, and some of them as Annaaman Movlamov are over eighty, they teach not in the premise but in the field which is not easy for a beginning falconer as well. In addition to rules of falconry, the rules of conduct in the wild are also taught.
Then, there comes the examination time. And only after passing it, a beginner-falconer will get a bird of prey for individual hunting. However, it is not all. Only one year later he will be shown nesting places and given the opportunity to choose a bird. Why not earlier? During the apprenticeship, the Master studies his disciple. He must be convinced in the purity of his thoughts and goodness of intentions that will not let the hunter to turn into a poacher mercilessly destroying nestling places.
Traditionally, Turkmens used saker falcons for hunting. They are bigger than other species of falcons inhabiting this region and therefore more successful in hunting.
Having reached the nest, a falconer should observe two most important rules: if there is only one nestling in the nest, he has no right to take it even if he had to make a long way and ascend the top of the highest rock. The male and female falcon will never come back to the devastated nest again. The preference is given to female saker: she is larger than male one and has stronger clutches. According to the Charter of the Society, every falconer may have no more than two birds of prey. Breeding of a juvenile falcon takes about half a year.
From October to February, at the expense of their vacation in sanatoriums and resorts, the Society's city members travel as far as hundreds of kilometers into the desert, camp their and start hunting, an occupation that they have been waiting for the whole year. All this time they feed on meat of captured animals and bread that they bake right in the sand in old-fashioned way. Water is reserved beforehand.
If days are hot, they go for hunting in the morning and evening: the falcons don't stand the heat. Falconry is not an easy task. The esthetic side of falconry is much more romantic than rifle hunting and is environmentally friendly. Falcons are good at both chasing in the air and on the ground. In the air, falcons easily capture mallards, pheasants, partridges and quail. On the ground, saker hunts squirrels, and sometimes desert cats and foxes. However, the aerobatics, the most difficult and truly masterly work for saker falcons is to capture tolai hare. who runs at a speed of 80 km/h. However, a falcon is an enduring and stubborn bird. Saker will hunt down hare until it measures the distance with a jeweler's precision and chooses the diving moment. If sometimes a hare is lucky to whisk in the form, it will not save the animal. The falcon will land at the hole and wait for its assistant - tazy. Both of them will keep watch over the form waiting for the master.
Tazy is a unique hound bred by ancestors of Turkmens. There is no such breed in the world and there is no similar practice when a falcon and a dog work in close contact. It is not by chance that silhouettes of tazy and falcon are pictured in the patterns of the ancient Turkmen carpets. Almost half of their life, or 8-9 years, tazy works with falcons. Falcons live longer - 35-40 years and they serve humans till their last day.
- Today, falconry is first of all mental intercourse with wild nature, Ata says. What profit can a falconer make if all prey is equally divided among the company of hunters? Though, there is a benefit: the nature gives strength and wisdom, the falcon teaches courage and fearlessness, and the dog - loyalty."
The National Falconers Society of Turkmenistan established close ties with counterparts from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Bulgaria and Japan long ago. The President of Turkmenistan conferred an honorary award on the National Falconers Society of Turkmenistan for the achievements in preservation and development of the Turkmen people's ancient traditions.
In 2005, Ata Eyeberdiev attended the meeting of IWFA members held in Abu Dhabi under the auspices of UNESCO. The meeting discussed the issue of declaring falconry traditions the spiritual heritage of humanity. Recently, he has returned from the United States where he participated at the annual meeting of IWFA held in Kern, Nebraska. This time the participants discussed the intellectual content of falconry. 54 countries participated in the forum. The statement of the head of the National Falconers Society of Turkmenistan was recognized as one of the most interesting ones. The Turkmen Society was admitted to the International Association of Birds of Prey, Bulgaria, as honorary member for the valuable contribution to nature protection, for development and promotion of falconry.