The current article analyzes some of the challenges faced by local, regional and national communities in identifying elements of cultural heritage and promoting them abroad, particularly with respect to their inscription in UNESCO’s Representative List of intangible cultural heritage. The focus of the article is on the Oil Wrestling Festival of Kirkpinar in Edirne (Odrin), which was inscribed in this list in 2010 and presents fruitful grounds for approaching various theoretical issues, such as: the presentation of local, regional and national traditions and their turning into parts of world heritage; the accumulation of the promoted heritage with a series of accompanying events and its gradual development into an entire cultural complex; the uses of heritage in the context of on-going processes of its “internationalization” and “globalization”, etc. By shedding light on key moments in the history of Kirkpinar and the development of oil wrestling, the article will outline the new meanings that this tradition acquired after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire with the related drawing of new state borders in the region, and the ensuing interpretation of Kirpinar as heritage that refers to previous historical, geopolitical, and cultural realities. Thus, for example, the development of the festival during the 20th century is indicative with its viewing in republican and secular way as a “sport” activity after the creation of the Republic of Turkey. Parallel to that Kirkpinar testifies also to the changes in the attitudes towards the imperial past and to its uses as a resource for construing a representative image of Turkey to the world nowadays. Posing Kirkpinar in a general Balkan historical and cultural context, and analyzing in detail its main activities, figures, and ritual components, the article outlines the gradual emergence of the festival into a representative form of preserved cultural traditions and its becoming a focal point of the policies for safeguarding cultural heritage that is viewed as
“unique”, “age-old” and “inherent” to the national community.