Fact No. 75
Armenians represented the Ottoman Empire in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.
The Armenian population took part in and enriched just about every aspect of life in the Ottoman Empire. Sports and recreation were no exception. Various sporting groups and clubs – from school-level activities to community bodies – became a set part of Armenian life by the turn of the century, the traditions of which continue today in the Diaspora. The Ottoman-Armenian world also included at least one sports periodical, Marmnamarz (roughly, “Body-training”), the first such publication in the country in any language.
Some Armenian athletes ended up receiving a degree of national prominence. The fifth Olympics were held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1912, and the Ottoman team was represented by two people, both Armenians: Vahram Papazian (Papazyan) and Mgrdich Mgrian (Mıgırdiç Mıgıryan). This marked the very first instance of Ottoman or Turkish representation at any Olympics in history.
Vahram Papazian took part in the track and field event, while Mgrdich Mgrian featured in shot put, as well as two-handed shot put, the discus throw, pentathlon, and decathlon events. While it is true that they both formally represented the Ottoman Empire, they were not sponsored by the government. Instead, the costs of travelling and staying in Sweden were taken on by the Armenian community, through donations (some from even beyond the capital), and also through a benefit theatrical performance.
“Armenian Olympic Games” were for their part put together at the national level on a few occasions in the 1910s in the Ottoman Empire, and an Armenian football (soccer) league was also in the works before the war and genocide took over.
Certainly Armenians took part in other Olympic games later on through the 20th century (see our previous fact for more information about that), but it wasn’t until the collapse of the Soviet Union that the Republic of Armenia could raise its own flag at an Olympics – once again with two individuals, once again in Scandinavia, but this time featuring Armenians from the United States.
Joe Almasian from Framingham, Massachusetts, and Ken Topalian from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, were active in their communities, including in the athletic events descended from Ottoman-Armenian traditions mentioned above. Paul Varadian, who had a hand in organising the Armenian Olympics that take place in America every year, picked out the pair and put them through two years of training in his own athletic specialty. In the end, even without winning any medals, Almasian and Topalian got to be the first to raise the Armenian tricolour at that most prestigious international sporting event, during the 1994 Winter Olympics at Lillehammer in Norway. Their sport? Bobsledding!
References and Other Resources
1. The Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute. “Armenian Sport Life in the Pre-WWI Ottoman Empire”
2. Nanore Barsoumian. “Book of the Week: Armenian Sport in the Ottoman Empire”, The Armenian Weekly, September 3, 2010
3. Rober Koptaş. “Olimpiyat tarihinin gayrı resmi sayfası”, Agos, 26 Temmuz 2012 (in Turkish)
4. Ira Berkow. “Winter Olympics; Even With Defeat, Armenian-American Bobsled Is a Success”, The New York Times, February 21, 1994
5. Wikipedia: “Vahram Papazyan (athlete)”
6. Wikipedia: “Mıgırdiç Mıgıryan”
Mgrdich Mgrian practicing a discus throw on campus at Robert College, the school in Constantinople (Istanbul) that both he and co-Olympian Vahram Papazian attended.
Attribution and Source
By Marmnamarz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons