Artin Ekizian – The Story Of A Survivor In The Caves

Artin Ekizian was born in 1901 in the city of Samsun on the Black Sea coast. His father Kricor was the owner of a tobacco company, and he often sailed to America, thereby becoming its citizen. Later, this would help little Artin get to the US.

When Ekizian was 14, the genocide of Armenians, Greeks, and Syrians began in the Ottoman Empire. Krikor soon committed suicide, and his wife Mary had to escape into the caves with Artin, his sister, and brother. His brother quickly starved to death.

Distraught with grief, Mary during paranoia attacks often tried to flee from the children towards the Turkish soldiers. At night, Artin wrapped her hair around his hands so that she could not run away, but once, he woke up and saw only tufts of mother’s hair in her arms.

The search for his mother was unsuccessful. Artin was caught and enslaved. During his 4 years in slavery, he was periodically brutally beaten, starved, and forced to engage in heavy manual labor. After being enslaved, Artin would never see his sister again.

Four years later, he eventually managed to escape and come to his older sister who lived in Constantinople.

With the help of his uncle Garabed who lived in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and who actively assisted many of the surviving Armenians fleeing the genocide, Ekizian came to the United States in 1920 and soon began working in Garabed’s fish market. There, he changed his name to Harry.

After several years of carrying boxes of seafood, Ekizian went to serve in the US Navy for two terms. It was there that he passionately engaged in wrestling, which forever changed the course of his life.

In addition to the average, light heavy, and heavyweight wrestling titles, he was awarded the title of Navy World Wrestling Champion in a duel in Copenhagen and was received with honors at the White House by President Calvin Coolidge in 1927. And all this despite his frankly unremarkable height of 167 centimeters and weight of 80 kilograms.

In 1932, after leaving the naval army and after several attempts to begin his professional career as a wrestler, Ekizian arrived in Los Angeles where he would find love and glory.

In Los Angeles, Ekizian married Alice Elizabeth Bagdoyan, an Armenian from California, with whom he would have three children. The couple would move to the city of Pasadena.

In Pasadena, Ekizian worked in an auto parts store and played episodic roles in films such as “Island of Lost Souls” and William Claude Fields’s “Man on the Flying Trapeze” where he played Hookalakah Meshobbab and fought against Swedish fighter Tor Johnson.

On March 11, 1935, in Greeley, Colorado, Ekizian’s opponent Tex Wright fell dead in a wrestling match. Many were in a hurry to accuse Harry of murder, and he immediately became a persona non grata. An autopsy later revealed that Wright had had serious heart problems and should not have entered the ring.

In 1936, Adam Weissmuller became Ekizian’s manager and created for him the image of an Arab named Ali Baba. It is under this name that Ekizian would become the most famous.

On April 25, 1936, Ekizian won the title of World Champion in a fight with Dick Shikat in Detroit. Interestingly, Ekizian wanted to fight on April 24, the day of remembrance of the victims of the Armenian Genocide, but Shikat’s promoter did not agree, and the conflict escalated into Shikat’s refusal to lose the title. However, the match was already scheduled, and both fighters were not going to go home without a title, so the fight was real.

A month later, Ekizian repeated his success in a rematch on Maddison Square Garden. Shikat left the battle battered and bloodied. The Pittsburgh Post newspaper wrote: “The Armenian Assassin made poor Shikat bleed!” The same newspaper described the weight of Ali Baba at 212 pounds, 190 of which was accounted for by his mustache.

On June 12 in New Jersey, Ali Baba lost to Dave Levin by disqualification after fraud from promoter Tods Mondt, and at the end of the month, he officially lost his title to Everett Marshall in Ohio, losing all title rights.

After that, Ekizian would for another 10 years be in the center of attention of the wrestling show all over the country. Eventually, he left the ring in 1964. Throughout his career, he has managed to compete with more than three thousand opponents.

After the end of his career as a wrestler, Harry Ekizian found himself in a difficult financial situation and divorced his wife. With the last money, he bought a ranch in California and went headlong into religion. Ekizian has always been religious – he has thanked God for his family, friends, and profession. Already retired, he began to preach Christianity and treated parishioners for various diseases. Thousands of people from all over the country gathered at his ranch in order to recover or receive instruction in life.

Harry “Ali Baba” Ekizian died of a stroke on November 16, 1981, in San Luis Obispo.

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