Turkey’s first professional boxer Garbis Zakaryan was laid to rest in Istanbul’s Şişli Armenian Cemetery following a funeral ceremony at the Armenain Church of the Three Altars (“Üç Horan Ermeni Kilisesi”) in Beyoğlu on Jan. 29.
The coffin of the Armenian-Turkish athlete, as per his will, was wrapped with the Turkish and Galatasaray flags.
The funeral ceremony was attended by many officials, including Youth and Sports Minister Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoğlu, Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya, Beyoğlu Mayor Haydar Ali Yıldız, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Garo Paylan.
Kasapoğlu took the floor during the ceremony, saying: “We are bidding farewell to an important value [of our country]. Garbis Zakaryan set an example for our society and athletes with his exemplary character and athleticism.”
Garbis Zakaryan’s son Kaspar Zakaryan also addressed the funeral ceremony, saying: “I did not learn boxing from him but learned humanity. We learned to stand tall and not to ask anything from anyone. We learned to be a human [from him].”
Zakaryan, who is fondly remembered by his fans as “iron fist,” died on Jan. 26 at the age of 90.
Zakaryan, of Armenian descent, was born in Istanbul in 1930. He began his boxing career in 1944 at the Bosporus Tournament, eventually becoming the champion of Istanbul and Turkey of the 48 kg in 1947 and 1948.
He became a Turkish and European welterweight boxing champion, after representing the Turkish National Team for the first time in 1949 against Spain, becoming the first Turkish professional boxer in 1951.
The amateur champion of Galatasaray sports club and Turkey who became a legendary boxer ended his boxing career in 1966 after his 22-year career, but continued training European champions, including Cemal Kamacı.
‘Not to keep Garbis Zakaryan’s name alive is discrimination’
Following the funeral ceremony on Jan. 29, CHP MP Tanrıkulu criticized the Turkish authorities for not having yet named a public sports hall after Zakaryan. “In contrast to his colleagues, due to his identity [of Armenian descent], he passed away without his name being given even to a sports hall,” Tanrıkulu wrote on his social media account.
HDP MP Paylan similarly said that authorities’ failure to name a sports center after Garbis is a “discrimination.”
“Our following job is keep his name alive. Not to keep Garbis Zakaryan’s name alive is discrimination, although there are sports centers named after boxers that he trained. I will follow up on this issue until the end,” Paylan tweeted.