Ahead of the Armenian Genocide Centennial Mediamax Sport presents Western Armenia’s “Armenian Athletes and the 1915” series, which touches upon the athletes, their input in sports and various tournaments organized by Armenians.
Olympics: the first representatives of the Ottoman Empire were Armenians
Armenians first took part in the modern Olympic Games back in 1912. The same year also marked the debut of the Ottoman Empire in the Olympics – the Ottoman Empire was represented by Vahram Papazian and Mkrtich Mkryan.
After Turkey joined the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1911, Delegate of the NOC (National Olympic Committee) of Turkey Selim Sırrı Tarcan placed advertisements in Ikdam and Sabah newspapers stating that Turkey will for the first time take part in the Olympics and that the athletes of the Empire are welcome to take part in them. As a result, Turkey was represented by only two athletes and both were Armenians.
It was the first time Turkey was participating in the Olympics and apparently, the Turks wanted Turkey to be represented by Turkish athletes. This is why, the participation of the Armenian athletes stirred up national discords.
Vahram Papazyan is the second from left
Tarcan equated the sporting event to military competition. After the opening of the Olympics he wrote that it’s so painful and hard that the representatives of 26 various nations are in Stockholm, and “only we are not represented there”.
“Marmnamarz” sports magazine and its editor Shavarsh Krissian did not leave this statement unanswered: “Both of our Armenian athletes have competed in the Olympics for the Ottoman Empire”. Krissian wrote that what Selim says is not a new thing and the young Armenian men should become physically strong and upgrade Armenia, “otherwise lamentation and weeping will be of no use”.
Disputes, huge expenses and fund-raising campaign
Prior to the Olympics in Stockholm, Armenians had already launched heated discussions over who will eventually participate in them. Some were for Mkrtich Mkryan and others – for Vahram Papazian.
They were both attending American Robert College in Constantinople and being actively engaged in various sports events they were transferring their knowledge to other young Armenians.
Owing to the efforts of the staff of “Marmnamarz” magazine, the representatives of the Armenian clubs in Constantinople came together to discuss who will leave for the Olympics. By a 7-1 vote, Mkryan won over Papazian.
Armenians started a fundraising and both athletes left for the Olympics.
Vahram Papazian and Mkrtich Mkryan at the Olympics
2406 athletes from 28 countries took part in the Olympics in Stockholm and competed in 14 sports. Vahram Papazian participated in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters run, and Mkrtich Mkryan participated in 2 hand shot put, discus throw, pentathlon and decathlon.
As agreed, Delegate of the NOC of Turkey Selim Sırrı Tarcan was to accompany the Armenian athletes at the official opening of the Olympics; however, he did not attend the event.
At the opening, Vahram Papazian and Mkrtich Mkryan noticed that the flag of the Ottoman Empire is not among the national flags of the participating states. They met with the organizers and voiced this issue. The organizers soon corrected their mistake and the Turkish Ambassador got surprised at seeing Armenian athletes represent the Ottoman Empire.
Surviving the Armenian Genocide and settling in Beirut, Vahram Papazian wrote in 1962 that owing to Armenians the Turkish flag was for the first time waved among the flags of the rest of the countries.
Mkryan did quite well, and even managed to reach the semifinal. Competing in five sports Mkryan set a record becoming the only athlete representing Turkey who has participated in so many sports. Papazian also produced a good impression.
Vain hopes of 1916 Olympics...
After the 1912 Olympics, “Marmnanarz” expressed the hope that Armenians will have a more imposing delegation at the 1916 Olympics in Berlin, but there is still much to be done.
But the “four year later” did not arrive for Armenians. 1.5 million innocent Armenians, among them editor of “Marmnanarz” magazine and prominent Western Armenian figure Shavarsh Krissian, were massacred by Young Turk leaders and a significant part of Armenians took up the path of migration.
First Armenian Olympic athletes Vahram Papazian and Mkrtich Mkryan also survived the Genocide.
In 1915, Papazian settled in Beirut, married Anet Yegavian and had four children. He then moved to the U.S. and died there at the age of 92.
Unfortunately, there is no information about Mkrtich Mkryan’s further work. Archive materials related to him have not been preserved at the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute either.
Gohar Nalbandian, Hasmik Babayan
The article features quotes from “Marmnamarz” magazine, Hayk Demoyan’s “Armenian Sport and Gymnastics in the Ottoman Empire” and Hasmik Stepanyan’s “The Input of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire” books.