Vahram Papazyan on Competing in the 1912 Olympics

In 1912, only two athletes from the Ottoman Empire went  to compete in the Olympics - both were Armenian. Vahram Papazyan was one of them. During his testimony, he recalls fainting in the middle of his race because of anxiety over what he would do and what could happen if he won. During the 1912 Stockholm Olympics the Finnish team, who had participated since 1908 under the Russian flag, refused to march under the Russian flag and was allowed to do so. That nationalistic incident by the Finns was the context in which Papazyan feared that a similar incident would occur to himself in case he kept his lead and won. He was worried about the Olympic audience and participants calling for the Ottoman flag to be put down and what repercussions that potential act would have for Armenians back in the Ottoman Empire. The official reports of the 1912 games states that 'Papazian' never finished the race.


75 miles [yards] to finish half mile and I was 10-12 yards ahead of the second an American, Holden. I remembered what he did in javelin throwing. Finland 1st, 2nd, 3rd [were] Finns. Those hoisted [the] Russian flag because at that time Finland was under the Russian yoke. So, Jim Thorpe was the first among the American, there were 5 or 6 Americans athletes, there and Jim jumped and started shouting: “Down with the Russian Flag!” And all the people “Down with the Russian Flag!” but Jim Thorpe started [it]. He was internationalist so they took down the Russian flag, they hoisted the Russian and Finnish flag. So when I was sure that I was going to win, I thought of what will happen in my case, because he knew my case. I was also under the yoke of a foreign country. If they shouted for raising the Armenian flag, there could be another massacre in Armenia. So that thought, emotionally broke me down, I couldn’t hold on my knees. 10 yards ahead, 75 yards to finish. Everybody was amazed. They cheered me more than one minute, the Turkish, but I was afraid of the end.

Hagopian- “You were afraid of winning?”

Yes, because I was going to ask an Armenian flag, I didn’t know if there was an Armenian flag or no and 2nd if I knew, I would never ask them instead for Turkish flag, because it was very good for my people in Armenia.

[Armenian]Hagopian- “Who wanted you to raise the Armenian flag, the Armenians?”

Because for Finland, they didn’t want the Russian Federation flag, they protested and were successful, therefore they’re going to have me raise the Turkish flag and make put down the Turkish flag. An Armenian is going representing Turkey and asking to put down the Turkish flag, you know what that means? Considering Adana [1909 massacres],… I didn’t want anything like that to happen; I went as a citizen of Turkey, so the flag was going to be Turkey’s.

[English] I am citizen of Turkey, under the yoke or not. If Jim Thorpe, in simple it was in our case, [if] he shouted in front of 50-60 million people, “down with the Turkish flag,” it would be the end of me and my people at home. An international demonstration against the country of which I am a citizen.

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