Armenian massacre leads to birth of Egyptian shooting champion Sarkis Martayan
Sarkis Martayan (Photo: Daily News Egypt)
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After the Armenian genocide began in 1915, many Armenians left their countries and immigrated to other countries, such as Greece and Egypt. Many Armenians came to Egypt and proved their success, as did many of their children and grandchildren.
Egyptian history and arts are full of Armenian-Egyptian figures, including Nubar Pasha, who was Egypt’s first prime minister.
Amongst the Armenian figures who stand out in the world of sports today is Sarkis Martayan, representing Egypt.
He competed at the 2016 World Helices Championship, which came to an end on 10 October.
To find out more about Armenians in Egypt and the victory of Armenians representing Egypt in the discipline of shooting, Daily News Egypt met with Martayan, who is currently ranked fourth internationally.
Can you tell us about your father’s family?
We are third generation Armenians living in Egypt. My father was born in Egypt. My [paternal] grandfather was born in Armenia. Our city of origin is now officially in Turkey. Many Armenians from our city immigrated to Cairo because of the Armenian genocide.
What about your mother’s family?
They moved to Greece before the Armenian genocide for work reasons. They stayed there for three years, and then moved to Alexandria, where they had many relatives and acquaintances. At that time, Egypt’s conditions were better than Greece’s.
How did they meet and start their life together?
Armenians in Cairo and Alexandria know each other and are constantly in touch. We are very well-connected. We meet during summer vacations. We also meet at the basketball tournaments which we organise. Our favourite sport is basketball. We have several clubs in Alexandria and Cairo where Egypt’s Armenian community meet.
What impact did the Armenian massacre have on your generation?
It mainly impacted the first generation who were leading a normal life, and suddenly had to leave their houses and land to immigrate. They suffered a series of tragedies that no Armenian family could escape from. You will always find an Armenian family that had someone who was harmed during that time.
There is a huge difference between a war and a massacre. By all means, you cannot go on slaying women, children, and human beings in such a barbaric way.
How do you commemorate this tragedy?
Next year, 24 April will be the 102nd or 103rd anniversary of the massacre. On that day, we go to church, where a mass is held, and we pray.
The Armenian community in Egypt is closely connected. Can you tell us more about the places where the community meets?
We have several clubs, including one called Ararat. It is named after the Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark first struck land. It is now located in Turkey, but originally, it is Armenian.
We also have several institutes, including the Armenian school, located in Heliopolis.
There was another school in downtown Cairo. I think it is closed now, as the number of Armenians here has declined, so they merged both schools.
We have another school in Alexandria, and a church in Ramses Street. The majority of Armenians are orthodox, like Copts.
What about the community’s activities?
As I told you, we have several clubs. We organise several sports activities and we do care about youth. Our primary and favourite sport is basketball. We also have other sports activities, including ping pong and football.
Why did you not leave Egypt after situation stabilised in Armenia?
Some Armenians left after the 25 January Revolution, but the majority stayed in Egypt. Being Armenian is our identity, but we are also Egyptians. We love Egypt.
What about saving your cultural heritage?
We have many volunteers to sing at the church. By all means, we work on saving our heritage by passing it from one generation to the next.
In our houses, we always speak Armenian.
At the Armenian schools in Egypt, students study the same curriculum taught at the Egyptian schools. In addition to that, students study the Armenian language, culture, and literature.
Passing our identity and heritage to our future generations is the least we can do for our ancestors, who severely suffered.
So do Armenians here marry each other?
We have no problem marrying non-Armenians. However, we prefer to marry from each other, as we are few.
Do you feel like a minority in Egypt?
On the contrary, we feel that we are part of Egypt and it is part of us. I have many Muslim and Egyptian friends.
How many Armenians are now here in Cairo?
They are barely 3,000 people. In the past, we were more, but after King Farouk left Egypt in 1952, many Armenians left as well to countries like France and the US.
How did you begin your sports career?
I was playing basketball, but then I stopped. Since I was young, I was practising shooting. I have been a member of the Egyptian national shooting team since I was twelve years old.
Who encouraged you to become a shooter?
I think to be a shooter, you have to have someone in the family who is used to hunting or practises shooting, as it is difficult to own a weapon at home. My father used to hunt and I would accompany him.
Afterwards, as members of the Shooting Club, me and my brother studied and practised shooting.
I will never forget my Russian coach, Alexander Manoushki, who taught me how to use the weapon.
What are your most significant victories in shooting helices?
In 2009, at the European Championship held in Sevilla, Spain, I won the second place at the King’s Cup’s open competitions.
In 2011, I ranked ninth internationally.
In 2012, at the Helices World Cup held in Rome, me, my brother Raffy, and one of our relatives Ara Miskdjiain, represented the Egyptian team. We won second place at the teams competition. This victory is remarkable, since the Portuguese team came in third place. The Portuguese are considered world champions in helices shooting.
In 2015, I won the African championship and was ranked fifth internationally.
What about other Armenian victories at the international helices events?
In 2011, Miskdjiain and another Armenian named Harry Kazangian were members of the Egyptian team who came in third place at the teams competition at the European Championship.
In 2014, Raffy won gold at the European Championship.
What about the Armenian presence in the discipline of compak sporting in Egypt?
This discipline started in Egypt in 2013. Two years later, in 2015, the Egyptian national team was formed. It included five shooters, three of them were Armenians: me, Raffy, and Miskdjiain.