Iranian Armenians in Sports

By Mateo Mohammad Farzaneh, Naser Shahryari, , Saeid Tabesh,
Submitted to Session P6633 (Crises of Representation, Reform, and Recovery in 18th-21st c. France, Iran, & Turkey, 2021 Annual Meeting
Armenian Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Armenians have been an integral part of the Iranian society for centuries but their role as coaches and players that developed western sports, the history of Armenian-only sports teams, and their decades-old crisis after 1979 remain understudied. Hence, the history of Iranian sports remains incomplete. Armenians not only introduced sports such as boxing and soccer to Iran they coached and trained thousands of athletes in tennis and basketball among others.
My presentation has two parts: In the first, I argue how Iranian Armenian women and men shaped popular sports in Iran during the secular rule of the Shah. By using field interviews with major figures and analyzing published/unpublished biographies, articles, sports op-eds, and letters/photos from private collections we will understand how the state used western sports and inclusion of Armenian women, especially as a positive step towards state modernization in the 1950s.

In the second part, I will discuss how the 1979 revolution, the eight-year war with Iraq, and the economic downturn starting in the late 1990s continuing to now forced Armenians to emigrate in large numbers, which consequently had a devastating impact on Armenian-only sports teams pushing them to the brinks of extinction while leaving a small pool of current coaches and players to represent. Although cultural identity and the fact that Armenians were the only Christian minority did not bare on their participation before 1979 a bifurcated identity crisis because of the policies of the government in one hand, and the Armenian community itself on the other, played a significant role in weakening Armenian presence in the Iranian sports landscape in national and exclusive Armenian teams. In this part, I will analyze print media in which Armenians and sports commentators discuss the Armenian teams unwillingness to allow non-Armenian players when there was a short of Armenian players and the causes of their emigration, which had mostly was economic being cultural/political. My other sources include public records from the Armenian Apostolic Diocese of Isfahan and Southern Iran, and the records from ministries of sports and education.

This article will enhance our understanding of Armenian’s role in the development of modernization through sports. Not only will it highlight the role of Armenians in Iranian sports but how Armenians tried to create a distinct identity through establishing all-Armenian teams which in light of increased immigration is under threat of extinction.