Book of the Week: Armenian Sport in the Ottoman Empire

‘Armenian Sport and Physical Gymnastics in the Ottoman Empire’
By Hayk Demoyan
Yerevan: Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, 2009: 220 pp.
Language: Armenian

Hayk Demoyan’s Armenian Sport and Physical Gymnastics in the Ottoman Empire is a richly illustrated book covering a variety of topics, beginning with an overview of sports in the Ottoman Empire, to a thematically and chronologically organized discussion of the development of Armenian sports in the Ottoman Empire.

Armenian athlete Yervant Derounian (1912)

The 12 chapters of this volume explore the involvement of Armenian women in sports; the Armenian Olympic Games (1911-14); Armenian athletes in the international Olympic Games; sports and competing nationalisms; the setbacks sports suffered during the genocide; Armenian sports in the post-war setting (1918-22); the creation of the H.M.E.M.; sports in Armenian orphanages; and the establishment of the Armenian scouts and its development.

Armenian sports and physical training began to develop at the end of the 19th century, when the first sports clubs were established, and schools began to include sports as part of their curriculum. At the turn of the 20th century—around the time professional Armenian athletes began to emerge—sports clubs were founded in Smyrna and Constantinople. The participation of two Armenian athletes, representing the Ottoman Empire, in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm was of historic significance, while the oldest sports magazine in the Ottoman Empire was the Armenian language “Marmnamarz,” whose founder and editor was the famous Armenian athlete Shavarsh Krisian.

In his introduction, Demoyan, who is the director of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in Yerevan, notes that Turkish sports history ignores the numerous and important contributions made by Armenians to the development and advancement of Turkish sports; if mentioned, it is done so passively, or very briefly, since for Turkish historiography, the topic of Armenian contributions is an “undesirable” and “dangerous” topic.

Some of the many fun facts or illustrations you might appreciate: a 1911 guide to breathing exercises for women; a 1912 poster for the Olympic Games in Stockholm; numerous photographs of various Armenian athletes posing and often flexing; snippets of newspaper articles; and a letter addressed to Krikor Djololian from Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the scout movement, in response to Djoloilan’s letter describing the state of scouting in Constantinople.

In writing this volume, Demoyan benefitted by research done and information compiled by Puzant Torikian and Krikor Djololian, whose collection was donated to the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute by Patrick and Seta Djololians.

Full of interesting facts and great illustrations, this book is an excellent introduction to early Armenian sports development. It will make a great gift for any Armenian sports lover, and an interesting addition to an Armenian coffee-table book collection.

Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian was the editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2014 to 2016. She served as assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2010 to 2014. Her writings focus on human rights, politics, poverty, and environmental and gender issues. She has reported from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabagh, Javakhk and Turkey. She earned her B.A. degree in Political Science and English and her M.A. in Conflict Resolution from the University of Massachusetts (Boston).
Nanore Barsoumian

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  1. A few misspellings that perhaps come from the book: the sports magazine was actually called “Marmnamarz.” It is worthy to add that its editor, Shavarsh Krisian, was (not by chance) among the leaders and intellectuals deported from Constantinople on April 23-24, 1915 and then killed.
    Of course, the founder of the scout movement was Robert Baden-Powell.
    I believe that the name of Krikor Djololian’s son (born in France) should be written “Patrick” and not “Badris.”

  2. I find the references of the creation of HMEM and the establishment of the Armenian Scouts very interesting.  I’m curious about what Baden Powell, the “founder” of the Scout movement wrote to Krikor Djololian in response to the state of Scouting in Constantinople.  Was it Armenian or Turkish Scouting or both.  My guess is it was just prior to 1915.

    I have been told by a former Boston Scout Executive that it was Baden-Powell’s wish that ethnic Scouting be practiced in adopted lands while registered with the National Scout Office. 

    So, I’m wondering if this communication between the two had anything to do with his position on ethnic Scouting. 


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