Dersim – Games

10/02/2022 (Last modified: 10/02/2022) - Translator: Simon Beugekian

Chur [Fort]

This game was played by two separate teams. The first team (Team A) would “defend,” and the second team (Team B) would “attack.”

The aim of the attackers was to step on a rock called chur [fort] without being caught or tagged by the defenders. If any of the attackers succeeded in doing so, the “fort” would be captured, and the attacking team would win. However, if, during this process, any of the attackers were tagged by the defenders, they would be considered “eliminated” and immediately leave the field of play.

In practice, this meant that the game would usually begin with the entire defending team surrounding the fort. If any of them strayed too far from it, one of the attackers would immediately seize the opportunity to sprint straight to the rock across the narrow gap created by the straying defender, while crying out “Chur!”. If the attacker succeeded, the defender who allowed the capture would “fall hostage” to the attacking team. But any attackers tagged by the defenders while running towards the fort were immediately eliminated from the game.

The game would go on until either all members of the attacking team were eliminated or until at least one member of the attacking team succeeded in planting a foot on the base rock. [1]

Presumably, within the context of this game, words like “hit,” strike,” and “knock” were merely euphemisms for being manually tagged by a competitor.

The description presented above is taken from a book dedicated to the history of Chmshgadzak, where the game was played in open fields or courtyards. The memory book of Charsandjak also mentions that the game was sometimes played on the spacious roofs of the city’s homes. In such cases, the “fort,” instead of being a rock, would be the house chimney, which would be called koz for the purpose of the game. [2]

Pertakhagh [Fort Game]

This game was another version of chur. It was played by two competing teams.

A flat rock would be placed in the center of the field of play. This rock represented the “fort.” One team would defend this fort, while the other would endeavor to capture it.

The defenders would surround the rock. Their goal was to defend it at all costs. The defenders could also sally out and strike or tag members of the attacking team, thus eliminating them from the game altogether. But they had to be careful not to leave their fort unattended, lest they fell victim to a surprise attack.

How was the fort captured? Only if one of the attackers, without being touched or tagged by one of the defenders, succeeded in touching the rock with his hand or his foot. This would mark the fall of the fort.

The attackers, too, could eliminate members of the defending team (the guardians). If a defender became separated from both the fort and his teammates, the attackers could capture him by simply physically surrounding him. This action was called guyrel [gdrel, or “cut off” in the local vernacular] the defender from the game. [3]

Toura (Topouz)

This game required two players. They would hold on to the edges of an object like a pillow, in such a way that the distance between them remained constant. One of the players (Player A) would be blindfolded.  He would hold a toura, which was locally called a topouz. A toura was made by tightly rolling handkerchiefs and rags into the shape of a snake, with a strong, ball-shaped knot at one end. A quantity of laran would be tied around this ball-shaped knot. Laran was thick woolen or hemp thread.

As the game progressed, the blindfolded player would call out “Apemous!” The other player (Player B) would immediately reply “Spemous!” Player A would then attempt to hit Player B with the toura, judging the latter’s location based on sound. Naturally, due to the blindfold, the strike would usually miss, prompting the mirth of the players and spectators. The game would go on until Player B was finally struck by the toura. At that point, the two players would switch roles. [4]

An alternative version of this game was played in Charsandjak: the pillow was placed on the floor, and the two players would lie on each side of it. Both would be blindfolded and armed with tourans. One of the players would say, “Apemous, chrte djamouz, sen seni sakla, geldi khara topouz!” [“Apemous slaughters the buffalo. You had better defend yourself. The black mace descends!”] Immediately following these words, this player would attempt to blindly strike his opponent. As for the second player, without leaving the side of the pillow, he had to deftly avoid the strike of the first player’s toura. If he succeeded, it was his turn to strike out at his opponent. [5]


This game was played by two to three players.

A small rock would be placed on a larger stone rising about 10-15 centimeters above the ground. This small rock was the gala.

One of the players assumed the role of the guardian of the gala – this player was called the ebe. The role was assigned by lot. The ebe and the other players would then stand at a predetermined distance from the gala. All players other than the ebe would have pebbles in their hands. The first player would throw a pebble at the gala. The aim was to strike the gala and dislodge it from its perch. If the first player failed, he would become the ebe. If he struck his target on the first attempt, he would immediately run to the pebble he had thrown and then place it on the perch of the gala. At the same time, the ebe would also run to recover the gala and replace it on its original perch, then to hit (tag) the player who threw the pebble. In other words, the ebe’s duty was to prevent the thrown pebble from occupying the position previously occupied on the stone by the gala. If the ebe succeeded in tagging the player who threw the pebble, the latter would be eliminated from the game.

The basic strategy of the game was thus: The player trying to strike the gala off the perch would attempt to throw his pebble from as far away as possible, so that the ebe would have difficulty chasing him down and retrieving the gala simultaneously. The retrieval of the thrown pebble was an important aspect of the game. A player who struck the gala was not allowed to pick up his pebble with his hands. Rather, he was forced to dribble the pebble with his feet all the way to the perch. Upon reaching it, he had to kick the pebble up into the air and then grab it with his hand. If the pebble hit the ground at any time during this process, the player was eliminated from the game. [6]


This game was similar to gala, but it did not involve the ebe.

It was a game played by two players.

The first player would throw a rock, trying to dislodge the gala. If he failed, the second player would have his turn. If he succeeded, then he would measure the distance, in strides, between the gala’s original spot and the place where it had fallen. The first player who succeeded in knocking off the gala at least 29 strides (or feet) off its original spot would be declared the winner. It was unlikely for the gala to be displaced a whole 29 feet upon the first strike, so the two players would take turns throwing their rocks at the gala, until one of them finally hit the mark of 29. Each “foot” or stride had a Turkish moniker associated with it, and these words were recited by the players while counting their strides. Unfortunately, our sources do not list these Turkish terms. [7]


This was a game played by two players.

The two players would stand face-to-face. Each would fold one of his legs backwards and hold his foot against the back of his thigh with his hand. In this position, they would skip towards each other and hit each other with their shoulders and haunches. This was called koup zarnel [hitting the koup]. The player who was forced to let go of his suspended foot first would be declared the loser. [8]

Rope Game

This game was played by two teams (team A and team B). Each team would consist of about ten players. A long rope was necessary to play the game.

Four players from team A would stand in the center of the field of play, with their backs and legs slightly hunched, and holding one end of the rope in their hands. The other members of team A would grab hold of the other end of the rope. Team A’s players were called the “guardians.”

The members of team B had to take a running start and jump onto the back of any of team A’s players, then straddle them for as long as they wished. On the other hand, the guardians had the right to use the rope in their hands to strike their opponents. To be struck by the rope did not mean instant elimination. But if the guardians tagged players from team B with their hands or feet, the latter would be considered eliminated. The game would continue until all members of team B were eliminated. [9]


A chelig was a short stick, about 15-20 centimeters in length, with its two ends flattened and flush. The chboukh was also a stick, but about 80 centimeters in length. The chelig would be balanced on two separate rocks, in such a way that its flat, flush ends rested on the flat surfaces of the rocks. This structure was called an odjakh [hearth].

The first player would strike the chelig hard with the chboukh in his hand, aiming to hurl it into the air. The competitor, who would be standing at a predetermined distance from the odjakh, would have to catch the flying chelig. If he failed, he would lose the game. If he succeeded, he would then throw the chelig back in the direction of the odjakh. The thrown chelig had to make contact with some part of the odjakh. Then the players would switch roles. But if the second player, after catching the chelig, was not able to throw it at the odjakh in such a way that the chelig hit the odjakh, the other player, still holding the chboukh, could strike the chelig lying on the ground. The strength of this blow would be enough to hurl the chelig back into the air, and the same player would have to strike the chelig again, in mid-air, with the object of tossing it as far as possible from the odjakh. This sequence of events could be repeated three times. If the player with the chboukh failed to strike the chelig in mid-air three times, he would lose the game, and the opponent would be declared “lord” of the odjakh.

Notably, when a player tossed his chelig towards the odjakh, his competitor, holding the chboukh, had the prerogative to parry the chelig away in mid-air. Only expert players mastered this advanced skill.

The loser of this game had to suffer a punishment. Namely, the winner would spread his legs, like an arch. In one hand, he would hold the chelig, and in the other, the chboukh. He would squat as much as possible and would strike the chelig with the chboukh as hard as possible. The chelig would go through his legs and fly into the distance. The loser had to carry the winner, on his back, all the way to the where the chelig came to a rest. [10]

Chekudjum! [Leapfrog]

This game was played by three or more players.

One player, chosen randomly, would hunch down, spread his legs wide, and hold his knees with his hands. The other players would take a running start, gain leverage by placing their hands on the first player’s bent back, and leap over him. The leaper had to spread his legs as much as possible, as no part of his body, other than his hands, could brush up against the first player. Any such contact would disqualify the leaper, who would then assume the role of the hunched player.

One player was chosen as the first leaper in the game, and the others followed him. The first leaper would make odd utterances while jumping (for example: “Chekudjum!”). The other leapers had to repeat that same term, in exactly the same way, while jumping over. Anyone who made a mistake lost the game. However, a player who forgot the words had the right to simply say, “Varbedis usadzu!” [“Whatever my master said!”].

This initial round would be followed by a more complicated process. The first leaper would have to place his hat (usually a fez) on the back of the hunched player while jumping over him. The hat had to remain in place, and not slide off. The following players would have to repeat the process, placing their own hats on the back of the hunched player. Next, the first leaper would have to jump over both the hunched player and all the hats, this time crying out, “fes düşmesin!” [“May the fez not fall!”]. Upon the conclusion of this phase of the game, the first leaper would then have to pick up his fez while jumping over the hunched player, while crying out “fes düşsün!” [“May the fez fall!”]. The other players would have to repeat the process, each grabbing his own fez or hat while jumping over. [11]

Uch-Adum [Three Steps]

This game was similar to Chekudjum.

The difference lay in the fact that the first leaper would jump over the hunched player, move forward three additional strides, then assume the same hunched position. If a third player were involved, he would have to leap over both other players and repeat the process. This would go on until all players leaped over all others. Then the game would re-start, with the initially hunched player becoming the first leaper, etc. [12]


This was another game similar to Chekudjum.

One player would lean down as close to the ground as possible, stooping as much as possible, and place his hands on his knees. The other players would leap over him, as they would if they were playing Chekudjum, and while leaping over, they would cry out, “Bashshari, bashshari!” Then, in the second round, the hunched player would raise his back slightly and the game would restart, and so on, until one of the jumpers failed to leap over, thus losing the game. The loser would then assume the role of the hunched player. [13]

Ouzoun Esheg [Tall Donkey]

This game was played by two competing teams.

One team (team A) would stand in a line, with their backs hunched and their heads bent down. They would be hunched entirely. Only the first person in the line would stand erect, his back against a wall. This person was called the ebe. The person in front of the ebe, the first of the hunching players, would lean his head against the ebe’s stomach, using it as a buttress. The ebe would tightly hang on to his teammate’s shoulders, thus securing the human chain forming behind them both. The third teammate would hunch down and link his left elbow through the second teammate’s groin and his right elbow through the latter’s thigh. The fourth teammate would do the same, and so on. In this way, a strong human chain was formed.

The game would be initiated by the competing team (team B). The first of this team’s members, after taking a ten-stride running start, would place his hands on the back of the last person in team A’s chain (just as in Chekudjum), and thrust himself forward as hard as possible. His aim was to leap forward as far as possible onto the human chain, but to remain on top of it and not slip off. After coming to a rest on a member of team A, this member of team B would hold up a random number of fingers and call out: “How many fingers am I holding up?” The person beneath him had to guess the correct number of fingers. If he guessed correctly, team A would win the game. If he guessed incorrectly, the game would continue and team B’s second player would jump onto the human chain, with this process continuing until victory was achieved.

When asking about the number of fingers they were holding up, members of team B could not lie, as the ebe of team A faced them and could verify the information. [14]

Here, we see a description of the game Grag ga? [“Is there a fire?”]. It is very similar to the game Manoug-Manoug, which is described in this article. A similar game was showcased to Houshamadyan by Serina Babigian Rosenkjar and her husband, Richard Rosenkjar, from Los Angeles. Serina had learned this version of the game from her ancestors, who were natives of Chmshgadzak, in the Dersim region.


This was a game played by two players. It was a children’s game.

One of the players would be designated “Manoug.” He would intertwine his fingers, making a circle with them. In the game, this represented a tonir. The other player would begin the game by addressing Manoug:

“Manoug, Manoug, give us a flame!” and the second player would insert a finger in the space between Manoug’s pinky fingers and ring fingers.
“From the upper pat,” would reply Manoug. “Upper pat” meant the upper floor.

This time, the player would insert a finger in the gap between Manoug’s two ring fingers and middle fingers. He would make the same request and receive the same answer. And thus, again and again, the same demand would be made, and the same reply received, until the player reached the gap between Manoug’s index fingers and thumbs. At that point, a different question would be asked:

“Manoug, Manoug, are you baking bread?”
Ha!” [“Yes!”]
“Could I bake some, too?”
“Come and bake some.”

And the process of “baking the bread” would begin. At some point, the player (not Manoug) would lose his paboudj [slipper] and address Manoug:

“My paboudj fell down the steps, shall I go down to fetch it?”
“Go get it,” Manoug would reply.
“There’s no dog or anything to bite my hand down there, is there?”
“No, no, don’t be afraid,” would reply Manoug.

The second player would then use his or her fingers to “go down” the stairs to the cellar of the “house” to find his or her slipper. But Manoug could, at any time, suddenly bark out and quickly grasp the second player’s fingers in his hands. This symbolized a dog biting the finger of any stranger who dared enter the tonir. [15]

The Making of Balls

Balls used in various games in Dersim were made by local youths. Balls were made of wads of cotton, tightly wound with plenty of wool thread. [16]

Badi [Wall] Top

This was a game played by two players.

The two players would stand facing a wall. One player would throw the ball against the wall, and upon the ball’s ricochet, the other player had to strike it with his hand in such a way that it bounced off the wall again. The two players would thus take turns bouncing the ball off the wall. This game was reminiscent of modern squash. Each “strike” counted as a point. The winner was the first player to reach 100 points. [17]


The ball would be bounced off against the ground, and then, as it rose, the players would hit it while still in the air and keep it afloat. The goal was not to allow the ball to hit the ground and to reach 100 points – meaning, to hit the ball at least 100 times while keeping it in the air. These 100 points could be achieved despite occasional failures – namely, if the ball did hit the ground, the count did not necessarily restart from naught. [18]

Dolab Top

It was a game similar to kedntop. The difference was that the first player who struck the ball into the air would then have to spin around once or twice. Once the ball hit the ground, and as it began to rise again, the same player would hit the ball again to keep it in the air, and then would once again spin around. [19]


This game was played by two competing teams (teams A and B).

A total of 12 salbrougs would be arranged on top of each other. A salbroug was a small, flat stone. One member of team A would be designated the “guardian” of this pile and would stand very close to it. One member of team B would be designated as the “pitcher.” This pitcher would throw a ball at the pile of salbrougs from a predetermined distance. If he missed, it would be the turn of a second player from team B. If the ball hit the pile, and the salbrougs collapsed, the pitcher would immediately run to them and try to re-arrange all 12 on top of each other. Meanwhile, the “guardian” from team A would be endeavoring to find the ball thrown by the pitcher, recover it, and then hit the pitcher with it. If he succeeded, the pitcher would be eliminated. Then, the stones would be arranged in a pile again, and it would be team B’s turn to guard the salbrougs. If the attacking team’s pitcher was able to re-arrange all 12 salbrougs after knocking them down without being eliminated by the “guardian,” team B would be declared the winner. [20]


This game was played by two players, using five small rocks.

The first player would grab all five rocks in his palm, then fling them to the ground. This had to be done carefully, as the aim was to make sure that the rocks fell close to each other, but not in a single clump.

The first player would grab one of these rocks and keep it in his hand. Then he would throw into the air, and while the rock still was still in the air, he would collect one of the four other rocks from the ground. The operation had to be performed very quickly, because then, that same player would have to use the same hand to also catch the falling rock. While grabbing each rock off the ground, the player had to be sure not to move any of the others, as this would mean disqualification.

This was the game’s first stage. In the second stage, a rock would once again be thrown into the air, but this time, the player would have to grab two rocks at a time from the ground before catching the falling rock. The third round involved grabbing three rocks off the ground, and so on.

If all these rounds were played, the player would form a bridge on the ground, using his left hand’s (if right-handed) middle finger and thumb. The five rocks kept in the player’s right hand would be “thrown” onto the “external” side of the bridge, meaning the left side. The player would grab one of the rocks with the right hand, throw it up into the air, then, very quickly, try to push one of the other rocks from the left side of his hand-bridge to the right side, before catching the falling rock with the same hand. The process would be repeated until all four rocks were on the proper side of the bridge. The game could go on still further, with the players attempting to move the rocks across the bridge in twos, threes, or fours. [21]

Keri-Keri [Hostage-Hostage]

This game was played by two competing teams. A line would be drawn across the field of play, and the two teams would gather at a short distance from that line, carefully staying away from each other. Then, sallies would be launched from both sides, with the intention of capturing hostages from the opposing team. Our sources indicate that “hitting” opponents was sufficient to “capture” them as hostages, but additional details are not available. A hostage was called a pounen. Hostages would sit on the ground, within two meters of the dividing line, and about a meter from each other. There was a way to “rescue” a hostage. A hostage’s teammate could carefully approach him and grab a hold of his hand. This would mean liberation. But this maneuver was hazardous, as the rescuer ran the risk of also being tagged and captured. [22]


This game was played by two teams, each consisting of two players.

The members of team A would sit on the ground, face-to-face, their legs stretched forward in such a way that their soles made contact. Members of team B had to leap across this obstacle, without making any contact with their opponents. The first leap was generally easy, as the members of Team A would have their legs flush against the ground. But before the second leap, they would raise their legs, and so on, until members of team B could no longer cleanly leap over. Once they stumbled, the teams would switch roles and team B would be the “sitters.” [23]

Beyvdouk (Bahvoudouk) [Hide-and-Seek]

This was a very popular children’s game. One player (player A) would stand at a designated spot (the base) and close his or her eyes, while the other players would hide as best as they could. After a predetermined amount of time, player A would alert the others, open his or her eyes, and begin looking for the hidden players. Upon spotting anyone, he or she would run to that spot, spit on the ground, and call out the hidden player’s name. While player A looked for the hidden players, his or her rivals could secretly come out of their hiding spots, reach the base, and spit on the ground. Whoever did do would earn the right to be a hider again in the next round of the game. But player A, seeing them make their way to the base, could chase them down and tag them, preventing them from spitting on the base. In this case, the tagged player would have to be the “seeker” in the next round of the game. [24]


This game was played by several players. One player (player A) would be chosen by lot to stand with his left hand placed on his right cheek, in such a way that the palm faced outward. The other players would stand in a line behind player A, and the first would deliver a heavy slap to player A’s right cheek. Upon this, the remaining players would wave their thumbs in front of player A’s eyes and repeat the noise “buzzz.” Player A had to grab one or another of the thumbs. But the other players had to prevent him from doing so, including, if necessary, by slapping him repeatedly. The game would end when player A finally succeeded in grabbing one of his competitors’ thumbs. The player whose thumb was grabbed would then become the new “victim.” [25]

Dropping an aylakh [Dropping a Handkerchief]

This was a game played by a large group of players. The “dropper” of the handkerchief would be chosen randomly. The other players would make a ring around this player, their backs hunched forward and their gazes directed inward.

The dropper would begin circling the other players, on the outside of the circle. Eventually, he or she would choose a target and furtively drop the handkerchief behind them. The target would have to immediately jump to their feet, chase down the dropper of the handkerchief, and capture them, or at least tag them. At the same time, the dropper had to run all the way around the circle in the original direction and try to “capture” the position relinquished by the target. If the dropper succeeded, the target would become the new dropper of the handkerchief. Or, if the dropper was tagged, he or she would remain the dropper for another round. [26]


It was a game more commonly played by children, both boys and girls.

The players would stand in a semi-hunched position, either with their feet in the shape of a circle or all standing in a serried line. They would place their hands on their thighs and jump into the air while crying out Pangepou! [27]


Dersim was a water-rich region, which meant that many of its residents were proficient swimmers. Locals would swim in the area’s ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. We know of various local names that were used to describe swimming styles. For example, there was gord logh [frog swim], which means swimming like a frog. There was also tev logh [arm swim], which involved the heavy use of the arms. This type of swimming was particularly suitable for rivers with strong currents. There was also vod logh [foot swim] and grnag logh [back swim]. [28]

Card Games

The locals’ favorite card games were Sgambil [Iskambil], Harsanik [Wedding], Khuz-Khachdi [Abducting the Girl], Vatsdzounvetz [66], and Trip (Skarta). Presumably, Prefa and poker were also played in later year. [29]


Several ditches would be dug next to each other. The players would stand at a predetermined distance. Their aim was to roll a ball into once of the ditches. [30]

* * *
Alongside the various games detailed in this article, our sources also mention that locals played knucklebone games (jackstones) and flew kites. [31]

  • [1] Hampartsoum Kasbarian, Chmshgadzak yev ir Kugheru [Chmshgadzak and its Villages], Baykar Press, Boston, 1969, pp. 485-486.
  • [2] Kevork S. Yerevanian, Badmoutyun Charsandjaki Hayots [History of Charsandjak Armenians], G. Donigian Press, Beirut, 1956, p. 593.
  • [3] Ibid., pp. 593-594.
  • [4] Kasbarian, Chmshgadzak yev ir Kugheru, p. 492.
  • [5] Yerevanian, Badmoutyun Charsandjaki Hayots, p. 594.
  • [6] Kasbarian, Chmshgadzak yev ir Kugheru, p. 486.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Yerevanian, Badmoutyun Charsandjaki Hayots, p. 593.
  • [9] Ibid., p. 594.
  • [10] Kasbarian, Chmshgadzak yev ir Kugheru, pp. 486-487.
  • [11] Ibid., pp. 487-488.
  • [12] Ibid., p. 488.
  • [13] Yerevanian, Badmoutyun Charsandjaki Hayots, p. 595.
  • [14] Kasbarian, Chmshgadzak yev ir Kugheru, p. 488.
  • [15] Ibid., pp. 493-494.
  • [16] Ibid., p. 489.
  • [17] Ibid.
  • [18] Ibid.
  • [19] Ibid., pp. 489-490.
  • [20] Ibid., p. 490.
  • [21] Ibid.
  • [22] Ibid., p. 492.
  • [23] Ibid.
  • [24] Ibid., p. 488.
  • [25] Ibid., p. 493.
  • [26] Ibid., p. 494.
  • [27] Ibid., p. 488.
  • [28] Yerevanian, Badmoutyun Charsandjaki Hayots, p. 595.
  • [29] Kasbarian, Chmshgadzak yev ir Kugheru, pp. 490-491.
  • [30] Ibid., p. 490.
  • [31] Yerevanian, Badmoutyun Charsandjaki Hayots, p. 595.