Armenia will be celebrating the centennial of its first republic on May 28.
We have researched multiple sources and prepared a two-part column ahead of the holiday to tell about sport in the First Republic of Armenia.
In the first part of the column, we cover the activity of the Ministry of Public Education and Art that oversaw physical activities and education, foundation of sport associations, and Armenia’s failed membership in the International Olympic Committee.
Refugees, the war, and prospects of developing sport
The First Republic of Armenia was proclaimed in 1918, after the nation won heroically the battles at Sardarapat, Bash Aparan and Karakilisa.
The two years this young republic existed were tough: refugees, famine, blockade, constant clashes with enemies, Soviet Russia’s conqueror-style policy… That created the impossibility to form a stable state, which affected sport too, especially physical education in schools.
235 out of 459 schools in Armenia closed. Physical education teachers had to leave their jobs because of the economic hardships and the acute lack of instructors was evident.
The republic also had no opportunity to organize efforts and events to improve the state of sport in the country.
For physical and moral revival of Armenian nation
The authorities made attempts at restoring physical education in 1918, but the lack of instructors hindered their efforts. They still took more practical measures next year, asking the republic’s diplomatic missions in other countries for data on physical education.
In particular, Armenia’s Minister of Education wrote to the diplomatic representative in Georgia:
“We need detailed information about physical education institutions in Georgia to organize similar associations and develop sport in Armenia.
1. Who manages the entire process?
2. What such institutions does Georgia have?
3. How do they fund the budget for the process?”
Similar letters were sent to other missions, and soon answers started coming. Constantinople’s Armenian newspaper “Hay Scout” sent 10 editions, and the same newspaper in Paris delivered programs and books on the matter.
Foundation of sport associations in Armenia
Minister of Public Education and Art Gevorg Melik-Gharagyozyan was extremely concerned about the state of sport and physical education in the country and told the ministerial council on 19 June 1919: “I have instructed V.S. Sidorovich, teacher at the boys’ school in Yerevan, and Ensign Arakelyan to found sport associations. The mentioned persons are well-informed members of sport institutions and are willing to participate in organization of sport events in Yerevan.”
A year later, Arakelyan asked the ministry to organize a Pan-Armenian sport holiday and hold football and track and field competitions.
“Winners of our domestic Olympiads should go to Europe and represent Armenia in the international tournaments,” he wrote.
Between 1919 and 1920, Armenia established the gymnastics union, chess association, Dyutsazn Yerevan sports club, Baze Alexandroupolis gymnastics association, etc.
Paris-educated Artsruni pushes forward physical education
Positive changes started from 1 September 1919, when Paris-educated Vahan Artsruni was appointed head of the medical department of the Education Ministry. It was his initiative to form a healthcare council in January 1920, which would study the issues of public health in schools.
“The Ministry of Public Education has given me the responsibility for physical education and thus tasked me with increasing the physical capacities of our population and taking care of the Armenian nation’s physical and moral revival. All concerned, thinking Armenians should support this process of rebirth,” wrote Artsruni.
At that time the ministry started demanding that heads of educational institutions send in their programs for improvement of physical education. There reports show that directors nationwide wanted more gymnastics programs and accessible physical education for the public.
From Pan-Armenian games to unsolved issue of joining IOC
As was before the Genocide in 1915, the sport life in 1919 was showing signs of activity in Armenian-populated areas. The Armenian General Athletic Union was expanding into big and small cities. Football, basketball and track and field competitions took place across the country.
The Pan-Armenian Olympiad renewed after the war, held under the auspices of the union. The first games took place in 1919, at Union Stadium in Gatgyugh, Constantinople. A year later the Armenian republic sent a representative, Armen Takhtajyan, who took part in the award ceremony and congratulated “future citizens of Armenia”.
This period also laid the ground for developing professional athletes. Russian representative, IOC member of Armenian nationality Levon Urusov worked hard to protect the interests of Armenia and Armenian athletes at IOC sessions in 1919, Lausanne and 1920, Amsterdam and to secure Armenia’s participation in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp. Although IOC members were inclined to decide in Armenia’s favor, President Pierre de Coubertin suggested holding the final discussion after official application from the Armenian government. Nevertheless, the issue remained unsolved, as on 29 November 1920, the Soviet rule established in Armenia.
To be continued
Gohar Nalbandyan, Hasmik Babayan