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Wrestling and celebration: Traditional Armenian kokh


Photo: Mediamax

Photo: Mediamax

Photo: Mediamax

Photo: Mediamax

Photo: Mediamax

Photo: Mediamax

Photo: kokh.info

Photo: Mediamax

Photo: Mediamax

Photo: kokh.info

Photo: Mediamax

Photo: Mediamax

Photo: Mediamax

Photo: Mediamax

Photo: Mediamax



Ancient nations have their own unique sports, and Armenians are no exception to the rule. Kokh is traditional Armenian wrestling, once practiced across Armenian highlands and now struggling to gain wide popularity. What we know about kokh today is what was preserved in literature, dance, and various sagas.

Mediamax Sport attempts to shed light on kokh’s curious sides, its development in Armenia, and possibilities of making it a widespread sport.


Ancient sport born anew

National Federation of Kokh began operating in Armenia in 2001. Greco-Roman style wrestler, World champion Vaghinak Galustyan has been the head of the federation since 2015.

The organization carried out tangible work in 2017: they’re preparing a manual, they held several tournaments in marzes and picked the official kit. In mid-July, they organized an open tournament in Garni, which attracted 88 participants.

Photo: Mediamax


“It helped us to see our capabilities and focus on the next steps. We have 28 coaches who hold trainings 2-3 times a week in the hall where wrestling, judo, and unarmed self-defense martial art (‘sambo’) teams come to train. In October, we’ll hold the national championship in Vanadzor.”

Modern kokh strives to maintain all traditional features of the sport: Armenian music, dance, and kit, which is to get the final look soon.

Photo: Mediamax


“We have a special program to develop kokh. I met with President of the Federation of Zurkhaneh Sports and Koshti Pahlavani of Iran recently and we made a number of suggestions for joint projects. We want to develop national sports in our countries.”

Photo: Mediamax


The federation cooperates with Armenian Ministry of Culture to give a second life to kokh in accurate form.

“Kokh is not just a sport. It contains a cultural component and interesting ceremonies as well. They should be revived too.”

Photo: Mediamax


What is kokh?

Kokh is national Armenian single combat that combines elements of wrestling and physical culture. It used to be an integral part of festivities, pilgrimages, weddings, and other celebrations. 



The match begins with a round of dancing to traditional music. The athletes complete the dance, raise their hands, clap each other on both hands (a double high-five, you could say), and get to wrestling.

Photo: Mediamax


It lasts 8 minutes. Win by fall goes to the wrestler who pins the opponent to the mat. If the winner is unclear by the end of the match, the athlete with most points is declared the winner. The most popular types of this sport are Lori kokh and Shirak kokh.

Photo: kokh.info



An Armenian doesn’t get thrown

Head of Armenia unarmed self-defense team and President of Kokh Coaches Council Hovhannes Khajoyan recalls that kokh matches were frequently organized in Armenia until 1990s.

Photo: Mediamax


“We have support from the government now so we’re trying to develop our national sport and make kokh attractive again. This year we got the kit, which was great news for the kids.”

Photo: Mediamax


Khajoyan noted that in ancient times, Armenians would wrestle at various celebrations after dancing traditional dances. That is how they turned wrestling itself into celebration and did everything to entertain the viewers.

Photo: kokh.info


“The wrestlers tried to avoid getting thrown in any way they could. An Armenian doesn’t get thrown, it ill becomes a man, and that is what kokh has been about since the ancient times.”

Kokh lovers

Boys at the sport school of unarmed self-defense and judo decided to train in kokh as well and take part in the open tournament in Garni.

Photo: Mediamax


Three of them – Gagik Geghamyan, Aram Ghazaryan, and Aram Aghajanyan – won in the tournament. All three practice unarmed self-defense and want to have professional achievements in sport. Kokh is a recent occupation for them.

Gagik Geghamyan:

“I know that kokh is an old Armenian sport. I competed in 2 tournaments by now, quite successfully. There are actually just a few differences between unarmed self-defense and kokj, that’s why it’s easy for me and I enjoy kokh training. We do kokh along with our main training sessions.”

Photo: Mediamax


Aram Ghazaryan:

“I like kokh a lot. It’s a pagan sport, rivals dance and greet each other with a smile. That’s very impressive and beautiful.”

Aram Aghajanyan:

“It’s curious, but I won in my very first kokh tournament. Kokh is an Armenian sport, close to our hearts. Some athletes have a difficulty with the dancing part, but they will learn in time. Kokh is only beginning to develop.”

Photo: Mediamax



We used materials from kokh.info website for this article.


Hasmik Babayan, Gohar Nalbandyan
Photos by Arshak Kostandyan

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