In Pictures

In pictures: Prize pigeons

Pigeons are seen in a cage before the start of a pigeon auction in Sanliurfa, Turkey Image copyright Umit Bektas / Reuters

In Sanliurfa, south-east of Turkey, a cage full of pigeons sits surrounded by a circle of stools. Nearby, a poster on the wall advertises a now-passed "National Most Beautiful Pigeon Contest".

Auctioneer Kadir Sakizci, 28, conducts a sale at a pigeon auction in Sanliurfa, Turkey Image copyright Umit Bektas / Reuters

Here, they auction the birds to a dedicated band of pigeon keepers and breeders, a pastime that has been thriving for hundreds of years in the region and across the nearby border in Syria.

Ismail Ozbek, 23, poses for a photograph with one of his pigeons in Sanliurfa, Turkey Image copyright Umit Bektas / Reuters

Ismail Ozbek is one of those breeders. He keeps about 200 pigeons in lofts fitted with alarms and closed circuit TV cameras to ensure their safety.

Mr Ozbek has given these prized birds lyrical names such as Sari Aynali, Kara Alaca, Kirk Telli and Ispir.

Small bells and strings of beads adorn their feet, and some even wear silver jewels in their feathers.

A pigeon, known as Abali, with an approximate market value of 1000 Turkish Lira ($263) Image copyright Umit Bektas / Reuters
A pigeon, known as Kara Alaca Kirk Telli, with an approximate market value of 500 Turkish Lira Image copyright Umit Bektas / Reuters

At auction these birds command high prices, in spite of unrest in the region and the recent clashes between Kurdish insurgents and government troops.

One of the most coveted of Mr Ozbek's birds has a value of 1,500 Turkish lira (£320).

Auctioneer Imam Dildas once sold a pair of pigeons for 35,000 Turkish lira (£75,00).

"This is a passion, a hobby you cannot quit", said Mr Dildas.

"I've been known to sell the fridge and my wife's gold bracelets to pay for pigeons."

Resit Guzel, 55, feeds his pigeons on top of a roof Image copyright Umit Bektas / Reuters

With the Syrian border just 30 miles away, many of the best birds came across to Turkey as the civil war heightened, causing oversupply, which led to lower prices, but as the conflict escalated, the prices rose once more.

Pigeons are seen in a coop Image copyright Umit Bektas / Reuters
A pigeon, known as Ispir, with an approximate market value of 1500 Turkish Lira Image copyright Umit Bektas / Reuters
A pigeon, known as Zirhli, with an approximate market value of 1000 Turkish Lira Image copyright Umit Bektas / Reuters
A pigeon, known as Sari Aynali, with an approximate market value of 500 Turkish Lira Image copyright Umit Bektas / Reuters

By the end of the auction, Mr Dildas had sold about 13,000 Lira (£2,750) worth of birds. His commission is 10%.

Pigeons fly in the sky in Sanliurfa, Turkey Image copyright Umit Bektas / Reuters

All photographs by Ismail Ozbek.

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