by: Aram Hovasapyan
As part of the Hye Votes project I spent a significant amount of time last week along with my fellow ANCA-WR interns registering Armenian voters during the 37th annual Navasartian Games. It was my first time attending the event and I was thrilled that it had drawn many Armenians from all over the United States and even other continents in its celebration of Armenian sport and scouting culture. I was pleased to see Armenian-American youth members so actively and energetically engaged in sports and physical activity – a pastime crucial to a healthy Armenian population. However, my thoughts could not help but drift to sports and physical education in the fatherland, or more precisely the lack thereof.
Today in Armenia, members of the youth are apathetic to any form of physical activity. Many prefer to slouch on the couch and watch the endless and mind-numbing soap operas followed by long sessions of chatting on Facebook. In fact, from all my Facebook friends, those residing in Armenia are most often online. Unfortunately, walking heavily and lazily with a protruding belly has become a norm, even among young Armenians.
During the Soviet Union, participating in sports was widely encouraged throughout the population as a means of winning the Cold War and showing Soviet power and dominance in the Olympics and other competitions. Armenians achieved great results. Albert Azaryan was a two time Olympic gold medal gymnast, after whom the Azaryan Cross (the crucifix position a gymnast assumes on the rings) was named. Yurik Vardanyan was an Olympic gold medal weightlifter who was the first person to lift 400 kg total (snatch and clean and jerk) in the 82.5 kilogram category. Other Armenians also excelled in boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, diving, and gymnastics and earned many titles. These results were possible since a significant proportion of the ordinary population also engaged in these sports, thus creating a large pool of candidates who could potentially devote themselves to a sport and reach great heights. My mother, father, uncles, aunts, and many others of that generation practiced some sport throughout their youth quite consistently, none of them for professional purposes. The side effects resulted in a healthy and capable population.
When I visited Armenia last summer, an event truly exposed me to the magnitude of the problem among the youth. My cousin, his three friends, and I had gone to do barbecue in his family’s “dacha” (vacation house) in the outskirts of town. There were a few steel bars welded together to serve as support for the grapes and vines that were intended to grow on it. One of his friends suggested we see who could do the most pull-ups on those bars. Having been involved in a wide variety of sports including water polo, karate, mixed martial arts, and cross country, I was up for the challenge. We each took a shot, and I completed twenty-two pull-ups, surpassing the combined total number of pull-ups done by the other four young men, one of whom had just finished serving two years in the army. Naturally, I was thrilled. However, my happiness soon faded as I realized that the soldiers defending Armenia’s borders were, more than likely, in similar physical form as this group of young men. Even today, when technology dominates military operations, the physical fitness of the soldier is still integral.
I am writing this blog to bring forth a change to the status quo regarding sports in Armenia. I know that these problems exist throughout the world as well (in varying magnitudes), but I am directing them to my fellow Armenians in an attempt to shed light on an alarming issue not often discussed. I wish all Armenians would take up a sport and commit themselves to it. The benefits are immense: a healthier population, a more energetic workforce, a stronger military, greater self-confidence and on. So please, if you can’t drop and give me twenty pushups, commit yourself to a sport and enjoy it as you get in better shape. If twenty for you is a piece of cake (as it eventually should be), keep it up. You are doing great!