Athletic Display: Genocide Museum reveals little-known history of Armenian sports in Ottoman Turkey

An exhibition presenting the hitherto mostly unknown pages of history of Armenian sports in Ottoman Turkey opened at the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan on Tuesday.

The display called “Armenian Sport in the Ottoman Empire” features photographs of sportsmen and sport groups in Western Armenia in the early 20th century, issues of the first sport periodical in the Ottoman Empire “Marmnamarz”.

Museum Director Hayk Demoyan, who conceived the idea, says that last year he discovered all issues of “Marmnamarz” at the museum’s library and as a historian was also interested in the subjects of nationalism in sports and sport competition inside the Ottoman Empire and most of all he was interested in the combination of sport and genocide. He says that the subject of “Sport and the Holocaust in Germany” had been studied and that this exhibition and his studies find evidence of how an aim was set in the Ottoman Empire to struggle against successes of ethnic minorities in sports, as a result of which sport clubs were closed and their Armenian athletes fell victim to genocide. Demoyan is currently working on a monograph on the subject of Armenian sports in the Ottoman Empire and his book on this subject is due to be published in the near future.

“Marmnamarz” editor, track-and-field athlete Shavarsh Krisyan was one of the many Armenian intellectuals to be deported from Constantinople on April 24, 1915 and later killed. It was then that the newspaper stopped being published.

The issue of the “Armenian Scout” periodical published in 1920 on display at the museum is devoted to dozens of killed Armenian sportsmen. And the founder of one of the first football teams in Constantinople, Tork (the team’s photograph is displayed), scout leader Vahan Cheraz, who was invited by the government of the first Republic of Armenia in 1919 to develop sports in Yerevan, was later arrested by the Soviet authorities and executed by shooting in 1927.

The exhibition also reveals that about 40 Armenian sport clubs operated in Constantinople before World War I. Armenian sport clubs had also been founded in Nikomedia, Karin, Van, Adana and other areas. Pan-Armenian Olympic Games were organized between 1911 and 1914. Armenian football teams participated in competitions of the Ottoman Empire.

And during the 5th Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm in 1912 Vahram Papazyan and Mkrtich Mkryan were the first athletes to participate in sport competitions under the flag of the Ottoman Empire.

The exhibition at the Armenian Genocide Museum (www.genocide-museum.am) will run till September 15.