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Armenian Sport and Gymnastics in the Ottoman Empire

13.10.2009 17:27

The presentation of the illustrated book of the director of the Armenian Genocide museum-Institute, Mr. Hayk Demoyan, entitled “Armenian Sport and Gymnastics in the Ottoman Empire” (in Armenian, 220 pages) was held at the the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute today. The book presents the history of sport and physical training among Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire with more than five hundred photos.

The book refers to the activities of Armenian sport clubs established in Armenian populated cities of the Ottoman Empire, to the organization of Pan-Armenian Olympic Games, to the history of intensively developing athletic movement in Western Armenia and Cilicia, as well as refers to the sport unions of Armenian women, to sport competition and nationalism, to the establishment of Armenian scout movement. A separate chapter is dedicated to the Armenian sportsmen who fell victims to the Armenian Genocide.

The history of the development of Armenian sport and gymnastics in the Ottoman Empire takes its beginning from the end of 19th century, when the first athletic clubs and societies were established. Under the rule of the Sultan, being engaged in sports or athletics was strictly forbidden and those who broke this law were punished.

After the coup d'etat of Young Turks in 1908, the first Armenian athletic clubs and football teams were formed in Constantinople and Smyrna. During this period the first professional Armenian sportsmen - Shavarsh Chrisian, Mkrtich Mkrian, Grigor Hakobian and others played significant role in propagating athletics among the Ottoman Armenians.

A unique phenomenon in the history of sport of the Ottoman Empire was the participation of two Armenian sportsmen in the 5th International Olympic Games in Stockholm. Armenian athletes Vahram Papazian and Mkrtich Mkrian became the first sportsmen who represented the Ottoman Empire in the International Olympic Games.

The publication of the first sport magazine in the Ottoman Empire by Shavarsh Chrisian, called “Marmnamarz” (“Athletics”) (1911-1914), offered an additional incentive for extending the interest towards the sport among the Ottoman Armenians. “Marmnamarz”, the “body of national physical training”, became the major instrument for the development of sport and athletic life among the Armenian population. This magazine published information about various sport games and their results, as well as published photos of Armenian and foreign athletes and Armenian football teams.

On the eve of World War I there were about 40 Armenian athletic clubs in Constantinople alone. Armenian football teams took part in team and international tournaments of several leagues in the capital. The most famous football teams were “Balta Liman”, “Araks” and “Torq”. The most famous team of Smyrna was “Hay Vorsordats Club” (“The Armenian Hunters’ club”). Armenian sport clubs were established also in Smyrna, Nikomedia, Karin, Marzvan, Samson, Adana, Van, Caesarea, Dortyol, Trapizon, Konya etc.

In 1911-1914 the Pan-Armenian Olympic Games were organized with the participation of tens of Armenian sport and athletic clubs and societies. During the Games records were held and the winners were awarded with silver medals. In 1914 were also held the first “Cilician Olympic Games”.

Many Armenian sportsmen fell victims to the Armenian Genocide. Among them was Shavarsh Chrisian, the editor of “Marmnamarz”, and after it the publication of the magazine was stopped.


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