Athleticism in Armenia

Athleticism in ArmeniaArmenians have been worshiping physical strength from ancient times. Vahagn, god of fire and war of Armenian mythology, possessed enormous power both physically and spiritually. Vahagn fought and conquered dragons, hence his title Vishabakagh, “dragon reaper”, where dragons in Armenian lore are identified as “Vishaps”. Many of Vahagn’s acts resemble the ones of Heracles.

Hayk The Great (also known as Hayk Nahapet), who has overcome arrogant Titanid Bel, was considered to be athletic as well. The day of Hayk’s victory, August 11, was consequently set as the beginning of the new year of the ancient Armenian calendar. Besides feasts, that day has been celebrated with contests.  Even Armenian kings participated in that competitions.

Armenian kings have shown great results not only at home events, but at ancient Olympic Games as well. Soon-to-be king of Armenia Tiridates III became Olympic champion of 265th Games in 281 AD. His descendant and future king of Armenia Varasdates captured the crown (considered equivalent to a modern gold medal) in boxing during 291st Games in 385 AD. Varasdates’ victory was mentioned in Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi’s works.

In more ancient times, Armenian kings have often personally led their armies’ crusades, and have been excellent bowmen and skilled riders. According to ancient monuments and notes, horses of the kings have been able to perform 10 meter (32,81 feet) jumps, and kings have been able to accurately shoot arrows at targets at more than 450 meters (1476,38 feet).

Since 1999 an event named Pan-Armenian Games has been set up to renew the ancient traditions of Armenian sportsmanship. The Games are open to Armenian passport-holders (irrespective of national origin) and citizens of other countries who have Armenian descent. Spouses of those of Armenian descent are also eligible to compete.

The idea of Pan-Armenian Games was developed by Soviet and Armenian diplomat Ashot Melik-Shahnazaryan during 1987-88, when some reforms in USSR gave hope and opportunities to invite representatives of foreign Armenian organizations to Armenia.

The main idea was to reinforce connections with Armenian diaspora and introduce Armenia to Armenians who had never been in their homeland before. But because Armenia was a Soviet republic and such an idea was considered by Moscow to be nationalistic, Melik-Shahnazaryan had to wait until Armenia attained independence to try and put forth his brainchild.

Nagorno-Karabakh war brought additional and very heavy complications to Melik-Shahnazaryan’s idea’s fruition, resulting in his program’s postponement until 1994 when the project was revived.

In 1995 in Paris Ashot Melik-Shahnazaryan for the first time publicly announced his intentions to create the Pan-Armenians Games. The idea of organizing sporting events for all Armenians and the motto of the future World Committee “Unity through Sport” was highly supported by representatives of Homenetmen, AGBU (Armenian General Benevolent Union, headquartered in New York City) and Homenmen in diasporan cities such as Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, Beirut, Paris and many others.

During the founding meeting on April 30, 1997 in Yerevan, World Committee of Pan-Armenian Games (WCPAG) was created, with the help of traditional Armenian unions of the Diaspora and the Iranian-Armenian cultural-sport organization “Ararat”. Today, the WCPAG is a non-governmental, international organization that collaborates with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), UNESCO, the Council of Europe and other international sport units and contributes in developing sport in Armenia.

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