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Buzkashi or kokpar (literally "goat bashing" in Turkic, buz is Turkic for "goat" and kashi "means bashing") is the Central Asian sport in which horse-mounted players attempt to drag a goat carcass toward a goal. Traditionally, games could last for several days, but in its more regulated tournament version also has a limited match time.
Buzkashi is played amongst Kyrgyz, Pashtuns, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks, and Turkmens. The Turkic name of the game is Kökbörü; Kök "blue", börü "wolf", denoting the grey wolf – the holy symbol of the Turkic people. Other Turkic names of the game are Ulak Tartish, Kuk Pari, Kök Berü, and Ulak Tyrtysh. In the West, the game is also played by Afghani Turks (ethnic Kyrgyz) who migrated to Ulupamir village in the Van district of Turkey from the Pamir region. In western China, there is not only horse-back buzkashi, but also yak buzkashi among Tajiks of Xinjiang.
From Persian بزکشی (buz-kaš), compound of Persian بز (boz) meaning "goat" and Persian کش (kaš) meaning "dragging, drawing" and suffix ـی (-i). The term "buzkashi" is used in the Persian lingua franca of northern Afghanistan and Kabul, meaning "goat-grabbing" or "goat-dragging" when "buz" ("goat") is used in "buzkashi" to denote either species. The word most likely originated in a Turkic language, literally "goat bashing" in Turkic, buz is Turkic for "goat" and kashi "bashing". The national game of Afghanistan "Buzkashi" may have begun with the nomadic Turkic-Mongol peoples who have come from farther north and east spreading westward from China and Mongolia between the 10th and 15th centuries in a centuries-long series of migrations that ended only in the 1930s. Today buzkashi is indigenously shared by several Central Asian ethnic groups, i.e. Uzbeks, Turkmens, Hazaras, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks and Pashtuns. From Scythian times until recent decades, buzkashi remains as a legacy of that bygone era.
Rules and variations
Competition is typically fierce. Prior to the establishment of official rules by the Afghan Olympic Federation the sport was mainly conducted based upon rules such as not whipping a fellow rider intentionally or deliberately knocking him off his horse. Riders usually wear heavy clothing and head protection to protect themselves against other players' whips and boots. For example, riders in the former Soviet Union often wear salvaged Soviet tank helmets for protection. The boots usually have high heels that lock into the saddle of the horse to help the rider lean on the side of the horse while trying to pick up the goat. Games can last for several days, and the winning team receives a prize, not necessarily money, as a reward for their win. Top players, such as Aziz Ahmad, are often sponsored by wealthy Afghans.
Rules introduced by Afghan Olympic Federation
- The ground has a square layout with each side 400 meters long.
- Each team consists of 10 riders each.
- Only five riders from each team can play in a half.
- The total duration of each half is 45 minutes.
- There is only one 15 minute break between the two halves.
- The game is supervised by a referee.
- Based on the referee's decision a rider can be substituted during the game.
A photograph documents kokboru players in Kyrgyztan around 1870; however, Kyrgyztan's kokboru rules were first officially defined and regulated in 1949. Starting from 1958 kokboru began being held in hippodromes. The size of a kokboru field depends on a number of participants.
Rules of kokboru have undergone several changes throughout history. Modernized rules of kokpar are:
- There are two teams with 10 participants in each
- Only 4 players a team are allowed to play on a field at a given time
- Teams are allowed to substitute players or their horses
- Game is played on a field of 200 meters long and 80 meters wide
- Two kazans – big goals with a diameter of 3.6 meters and 1.5 meter high are placed on opposite sides of a field
- A goal is scored each time a kokpar (goat carcass) is placed in an opponent's kazan.
- A kokboru is brought to the field center after scoring a goal
It is also prohibited to ride towards the spectators and/or receive spectators assistance or to start a kokpar game without giving an oath to play justly.
In Tajikistan, buzkashi is played in a variety of ways. The most common iteration is a free-form game, often played in a mountain valley or other natural arena, in which each player competes individually to seize the buz and carry it to a goal. Forming unofficial teams or alliances does occur, but is discouraged in favor of individual play. Often, dozens of riders will compete against one another simultaneously, making the scrum to retrieve a fallen buz a chaotic affair. Tajik buzkashi games typically consist of many short matches, with a prize being awarded to each player who successfully scores a point. The buzkashi season in Tajikistan generally runs from November through April. High temperatures often prevent matches from taking place outside of this period, though isolated games might be found in some cooler mountain areas.
A buzkashi or kokpar player is called a Chapandaz or Shabandoz, from chapan, a traditional cloak worn by Central Asian men. It is mainly believed in Afghanistan that a skillful Chapandaz is usually in his forties. This is based on the fact that the nature of the game requires its player to undergo severe physical practice and observation. Similarly horses used in buzkashi also undergo severe training and due attention. A player does not necessarily own the horse. Horses are usually owned by landlords and highly rich people wealthy enough to look after and provide for training facilities for such horses. However a master Chapandaz can choose to select any horse and the owner of the horse usually wants his horse to be ridden by a master Chapandaz as a winning horse also brings pride to the owner.
The game consists of two main forms: Tudabarai and Qarajai. Tudabarai is considered to be the simpler form of the game. In this version, the goal is simply to grab the goat and move in any direction until clear of the other players. In Qarajai, players must carry the carcass around a flag or marker at one end of the field, then throw it into a scoring circle (the "Circle of Justice") at the other end. The riders will carry a whip, often in their teeth, to fend off opposing horses and riders.
The calf in a buzkashi game is normally beheaded and disemboweled and has its limbs cut off at the knees. It is then soaked in cold water for 24 hours before play to toughen it. Occasionally sand is packed into the carcass to give it extra weight. Players may not strap the calf to their bodies or saddles. Though a goat is used when no calf is available, a calf is less likely to disintegrate during the game.
Kazakhstan Kokpar Association
Kazakhstan's first National Kokpar Association was registered in 2000. Association has been holding annual kokpar championships among adults since 2001 and youth kokpar championships since 2005. All of 14 regions of Kazakhstan have their professional kokpar teams. The regions with the biggest number of professional kokpar teams are Southern Kazakhstan with 32 professional teams, Jambyl region with 27 teams and Akmola region with 18 teams. Kazakhstan's national kokpar team currently holds a title of Eurasian kokpar champions. 
Ban in Afghanistan
Buzkashi is the national sport and a "passion" in Afghanistan where it is often played on Fridays and matches draw thousands of fans. Whitney Azoy notes in his book Buzkashi: Game and Power in Afghanistan: " ... (that) leaders are men who can seize control by means foul and fair and then fight off their rivals. The Buzkashi rider does the same". During the rule of the Taliban regime, buzkashi was banned in Afghanistan, as the Taliban considered the game immoral. Since the Taliban regime was ousted, the game is now being played again.
A mounted version of the game has also been played in the United States. In the 1940s young men in Cleveland, Ohio played a game they called Kav Kaz. The men – five to a team – played on horseback with a sheepskin-covered ball. The Greater Cleveland area had six or seven teams. The game was divided into three chukkers, somewhat like polo. The field was about the size of a football field and had goals at each end: large wooden frameworks standing on tripods, with holes about two feet square. The players carried the ball in their hands, holding it by the long-fleeced sheepskin. A team had to pass the ball three times before throwing it into the goal. If the ball fell to the ground, the player had to reach down from his horse to pick it up. One player recalls, "Others would try to unseat the rider as he leaned over. They would grab you by the shoulder to shove you off. There weren't many rules."
In popular culture
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (July 2012)|
Buzkashi is portrayed in several books, both fiction and non-fiction. It is shown in Steve Berry's book The Venetian Betrayal, and it is briefly mentioned in the Khaled Hosseini book The Kite Runner. Buzkashi was the subject of a book called Horsemen of Afghanistan by French photojournalists Roland and Sabrina Michaud. Gino Strada wrote a book named after the sport (with the spelling Buskashì) in which he tells about his life as surgeon in Kabul in the days after the 9-11 strikes. P.J. O'Rourke also mentions the game in discussions about Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Foreign Policy section of Parliament of Whores, and Rory Stewart devotes a few sentences to it in "The Places in Between".
Two books have been written about buzkashi which were later turned into films. The game is the core and subject of a novel by French novelist Joseph Kessel titled Les Cavaliers (aka Horsemen) as well as of the film The Horsemen (1971), which was directed by John Frankenheimer with Omar Sharif in the lead role. This film shows Afghanistan and its people the way they were before the wars that wracked the country, particularly their love for the sport of buzkashi.
The game is also a key element in the book Caravans by James Michener and the film of the same name (1978) starring Anthony Quinn. A scene from the film featuring the king of Afghanistan watching a game included the real-life king at the time, Mohammed Zahir Shah. The whole sequence of the game being witnessed by the king was filmed on the Kabul Golf Course, where the national championships were played at the time the film was made.
A number of films also reference the game. In Rambo III (1988), directed by Peter MacDonald, John Rambo (played by Sylvester Stallone) was shown in a sequence playing buzkashi with his mujahideen friends when suddenly they were attacked by Russians. The Tom Selleck film High Road to China (1983) features a spirited game of buzkashi. Buzkashi is described at length in Episode 2, "The Harvest of the Seasons", of the documentary The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski. It is put in the context of the development, by the Mongols, of warfare using the horse and its effect on agricultural settlements. The film includes several scenes from a game in Afghanistan. The opening scenes of the Indian film Khuda Gawah (1992), which was filmed in Afghanistan and India, show actors Amitabh Bachchan and Sridevi engaged in the game. The game is mentioned briefly in John Huston's film The Man Who Would Be King (1975), the movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) during advertisements for the fictional ESPN 8 (El Ocho) television channel, and the Bollywood movie Kabul Express (2006). Composer Scott Fields recorded a track called Buzkashi on the Clean Feed Records guitar compilation "I Never Meta Guitar" (2010).
The 2012 joint international-Afghan short film Buzkashi Boys depicts a fictional story centered around the game, and has won awards at several international film festivals. On January 10, 2013, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated Buzkashi Boys for an Oscar in the category of Short Film (Live Action) for the 85th Academy Awards.
- Pato, a similar horseback Argentine sport
- Horseball, another game played on horseback
- Yak racing
- Rugby union in Afghanistan
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- Zhiger sport club – history and development of kokpar
- Tony Perry Afghans love to get their goat in rough national sport January 3, 2010 page A20 LA Times
- Ban on Buzkashi
- Buzkashi played again
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- What is the biggest Kazakh sport?
- Kokpar Kazakhs
- Photo-essay on Buzkashi in Tajikistan
- Afghanistan Buzkashi Pictures
- Afghanistan Online: Afghan National Sport (Buzkashi)
- Afghan Sport: Buzkashi
- The Fierce Afghani Game of Buzkashi
- Buzkashi in Mazar-e-Sharif
- Buzkashi – Afghanistan's Lovable National Sport
- Kok boru video on YouTube (Turkish)
- Kok boru video (Turkish)
- Mark Seager's Buzkashi Documentary
- Afghan Embassy in Australia
- Pictures of buzkashi in Afghan Pamirs