Armenian sports clubs and athletes had important contribution to the development and growth of sports life in the Ottoman Empire. Around hundred Armenian sports clubs operated all over the Ottoman Empire.
Between 1911 and 1914, Armenian Olympic games were organized in Istanbul. During these years, the Armenian newspaper titled “Marmnamarz”, founded by Shavarsh Krissian, was published, and became the first sports magazine of the Ottoman Empire.
In the summer of 1912, two Armenian athletes called Vahram Papazian and Mgrdich Mgrian participated in the 5th Olympic Games in Stockholm and represented the Ottoman Empire for the first time at an international Olympics.
The year 1908 is considered to be an important turning point in the advancement of athletics in the Ottoman Empire because formerly during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid, sports or football games were prohibited by the state law and those who broke the law, were severely punished. After the lifting of this ban, the first Armenian football teams were formed in Constantinople, Izmir, and other cities of the empire. There were also some athletes like Shavarsh Krissian, Mgrdich Mgrian, Vahan Cheraz, Jololian brothers and others who played a significant role in spreading sports among Ottoman Armenians. Krissian moved to Egypt, and founded “Gamk” and “Ararad” sports clubs in Alexandria and Cairo. These clubs later on joined the Homenetmen Pan-Armenian family.
With the participation of a dozen Armenian sports clubs and physical education organizations, four Olympias were organized in Istanbul from 1911 to 1914.
The Armenian Genocide interrupted the development of Armenian sports life. Many Armenian athletes became victims of the Genocide and many Armenian Sports Clubs ceased to operate. Shavarsh Krissian the editor of “Marmnamarz,” whose main dream was to unite all sports clubs under one flag to promote a healthy national upbringing of the new generation, also became a victim of the Genocide.
Three years later, Krissian’s co-workers who survived from the Genocide, restored the Armenian sports life and turned the martyr’s dream into a realty by establishing Homenetmen: Armenian Sports General Union in Istanbul on November 16, 1918.
Homenetmen ran operations both in scouting and sports. The 25 chapters of Homenetmen generated sports teams both in and around Constantinople with a particular focus on individual sports such as athletics and cycling. By uniting the sports teams and athletes, Homenetmen organized three Navasartian Games that took place in 1919, 1921, and 1922. Ten chapters out of 25, had their own gyms in Istanbul.
Homenetmen’s fame extended beyond Constantinople and the Minister of education of newly independent Armenia,Nigol Aghpalian invited Homenetmen to Armenia with the mission of providing physical education for orphans. Accepting the invitation, in 1920, Homenetmen sent an energetic delegation to train about 22 thousand orphans who were sheltered in the three orphanages of Alexandropol, Kymri. And like this, orphans became part of Armenia’s first sports group so that they would compete in athletic and football races. These teams also participated in the first Pan-Armenian Olympic Games in September 1920, chaired by the representative of the Republic of Armenia. One month later, in October 1920, Homenetmen hosted the first football match in its history between Homenetmen Istanbul Football Team and Yerevan “Sports” Club in Yerevan.
When the Soviet Republic of Armenia was established on December 2, 1920, Homenetmen ceased its operations in the homeland. However, it continued its sports life in Istanbul, but when an internal coup d’etat was carried out in Turkey and the Kemalist movement came to power, Homenetmen Central Committee declared officially the dissolution of Homenetmen in Turkey on September 16, 1922.
Then the organization expanded its operations into the Diaspora, where the newly created chapters made scouting and sports life a major means of uniting the younger generation around Homenetmen and promoting a healthy national upbringing.
Sports life was considered to be the best means of self-assertion for the first generation of Homenetmen who survived the Genocide and deportation. Each victory was equivalent to victory over migration, and poverty. All victorious athletes became role models that embodied the will of the Armenians to survive and kept the Armenian’s honor and dignity high in the countries that hosted them.
It is noteworthy that Homenetmen Central Committee strongly rejected the notion of professionalism stressing that it did not conform to its rules and guidelines that aimed for physical refinement and character ennobling.
Gradually, Homenetmen sports life improved in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine and led to the establishment of the union’s chapters in the Middle East in 1927. Afterwards when Homenetmen members moved from the Middle East to Australia and the United States, they hosted the Navasartian Games. Inter-chapter sports games started up in Australia in 1968, the Western United States in 1975, and the Eastern United States in 1990. Canada on the other hand, had been organizing its own inter-branch sports since 1969.
Homenetmen also engaged in inter-school sports competitions with the aim of spreading the love of sports and physical education to the new generation. Hence, Homenetmen hosted LEVAM, SEVAM, and KAHAM in Lebanon, Syria, and the United States.
Homenetmen sports life had its best manifestation in the Middle East where Homenetmen teams and athletes obtained championship titles in their own countries and the Arab World and after 1972, Homenetmen participated in International Olympic Games and always kept the flag of its country wave high.
The establishment of Homenetmen Pan-Armenian structure in 1974, gave a new incentive to the Union’s sports life, and starting from 1981, the games that were organized every four years became Homenetmen’s major sports events which made thousands athletes enthusiastic about each other’s victories and transferred that enthusiasm to other chapters and communities with a beautiful image and always stressed the importance of remaining faithful to the motto of the Union “Rise and Raise.”
The will to become brave Armenians with Homenetmen, and lead Armenians from victory to victory is the ultimate goal of Homenetmen.