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Top ten pastimes at L.A.'s Navasartian Games, the 'Armenian Olympics'

Help, too much soujoukh! The Navasartian Games mascot, July 2011
Help, too much soujoukh! The Navasartian Games mascot, July 2011
Photo by Helena Gregorian/Flickr (Creative Commons)

While others were attending cookouts and pool parties over the Fourth of July weekend, Multi-American guest blogger Lory Tatoulian was taking in the sports-related drama at the 2011 Navasartian Games, what she describes as the "mini Armenian Olympics."

Legend has it that the games got their start as chariot races and javelin throwing contests some 4,000 years ago on the Armenian plateau. Today they're held in L.A., taking place each year over the holiday weekend on the Birmingham High School campus in Van Nuys, where more than 8,000 athletes of various ages compete in basketball, volleyball, soccer and swimming during the three-day sports fest. The less athletically inclined compete in events like ping-pong and chess.

There is also a substantial amount of food, music, and tens of thousands of Armenian American attendees celebrating what Lory terms "their cultural personhood."

Here she has compiled a list of her top ten favorite Navasartian Games pastimes, most of them not related to sports:

1. The pressed soujoukh sandwiches (hot panini style spicy sausage sandwiches with garlic spread). The garlic spread is also known as an effective defense strategy when playing basketball.

2. Watching Armenian soccer moms engage in heated exchanges with referees while jangling their Cartier jewelry midair and yelling hyphenated Armenian-English insults.

3. The jewelry vendor that sells blue evil-eye charms that claim to ward off the vile energy of gossipy neighbors or jealous friends.

4. Female basketball players shooting three-pointers, while sporting Kim Kardahsian style smoky-eye make up and perfectly blown-out hair.

5. Beautiful wide-eyed kids with snow cone-stained lips walking around with their parents who met at the Navasartian Games 15 years ago.

6. The variety of German luxury cars in the parking lot.

7. The Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza celebrating America’s independence, but with legendary Armenian singers Harout Pamboukjian and Karnig Sarkissian performing Armenian patriotic songs.

8. Watching the Triple AAA Men’s Division, 40-years-and-up teams doing slam-dunks in spite of pot bellies and a variety of old injuries from the 1988 Navasartian Games.

9. The impressive number of times you hear the word “bro” being called out across the campus.

10. Grandmas sitting around tables, drinking coffee and playing the most important sport of "match-maker" between their grandkids.

My personal favorite among these is #7. And the grandmas, who were likely doing the same thing back in the chariot race days.

Lory is the author of Multi-American's guide to navigating the Armenian American supermarket, part one and part two.