Nerses Topolyan with students

Nerses Topolyan: ‘With Armenia in the Heart’

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YEREVAN / MYTISHCHI (Russia) — Nerses Topolyan, 44, a karate coach and Moscow Armenian community activist, was born in the city of Sukhumi, the capital of unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia. He studied at the Abkhazian State University in the department of technology of subtropical and food products (engineering technologist). Since 1988 he has been practicing karate, has a certificate for three dan of Shitō-ryū shitō-kai. For the last five years he has been a student of Shihan Oshiro Toshihiro, from whom he has been studying Shōrin-ryū karate-do and Yamanni-Chinen-ryū Kobujutsu. Nerses lives in Mytishchi (Moscow region), together with his wife, three sons and a daughter. He teaches karate in Moscow (Narekatsi Gymnasium), Mytishchi (School No. 31), Korolev (SmartUm Development Center for the Whole Family), Pushkino (X-Fit Fitness Club) and is the head of the Nika-Budo school of martial arts and combat sports. In September 2019, he represented Russia at the instructor training camp in Naha on the island of Okinawa (Japan).

Dear Nerses, I am always interested in people with diverse interests. How would you define yourself?

First of all, I am a person called by God to improve himself. I would like to keep the title of a human and try to grow higher. After that, I am the son of my parents who wishes them a long and happy life. I am a brother, friend and just an acquaint, who must be ready to live up to good expectations.

Since the age of 12 you have been involved with karate. Many do this, especially in their teens (also two of my sons), but few continue further and delve into its essence. Has karate helped to shape your personality?

Karate has always played an important role in my life. It was a great hobby as a child and a way of communication. There was a very good karate team in Abkhazia. We were visited by Japanese masters who carried inadvertent information about karate and motivated us. Unfortunately, the 1992-1993 war did not allow for us to continue classes. But, after the war, Abkhazia gradually began to come to its senses and in 1997, having entered the University, I met like-minded people with whom I continued my karate classes. At that time, it was a salvation from post-war stress. Karate has become my profession and one of the main hobbies of my life.

Nerses Topolyan

Interestingly, those who practice Shōtōkan karate dislike Kyokushinkan karate and vice versa. Is it the same for those who practice Shitō-ryū?

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Fortunately, in my case there is no such thing. Apparently this was instilled by my first teacher, Tsezar Vianorovich Mataradze, who taught Shitō-ryū karate, but also introduced us to the rules of Kyokushinkan. Besides, I started with sambo. Then, when I moved to Mytishchi, I received knowledge at the seminars of such famous masters as Sakumoto Tsuguo (Ryuei-ryu Karate and Kobudo), Akamine Hiroshi (Mukenkai Karate and Ryukyu Kobudo), as well as from Chinese masters: Jesse Tsao (Taichi) and Tian Ye (Taichi and Hong Quan). But, the main teacher for me is Shihan Oshiro Toshihiro, whose technique is just unusually good!

Some who are proficient in karate also study Japanese language and culture.

When you have been doing karate for more than 30 years and communicate with the bearers of the tradition, then of course you partially adopt this culture. First of all, this concerns etiquette. My knowledge of the language is at the level of technical actions and etiquette. When I talk with masters from Japan, I am certainly interested in other areas as well. The Okinawans (the island of Okinawa is the birthplace of karate) are very similar to the Caucasian and Transcaucasian peoples. Okinawa, by its nature, is generally very similar to Abkhazia.

Interestingly, in 1950s an Armenian-American, Anthony Mirakian was the first Westerner who went to Okinawa and studied karate, later introducing it in the US. Nerses, in your biography, I was intrigued by the fact that for two years you lived in the New Athos Monastery, where you received a diploma from a theological school. What were you looking for there and did you find what you were looking for?

I have been religious since childhood, although my family was not distinguished by the religiosity that was suppressed in the Soviet Union. Since childhood, I have been interested in eternity and God issues. It is a long story… And I ended up in the New Athos Monastery to systematize and enrich my knowledge in theology. There were created excellent conditions for this thanks to Father Dorofey Dbar.

You underwent retraining at RSUFK – the Russian State University of Physical Culture, Sports, Youth and Tourism, which you consider to be the best sports university. And what is the best?

Topics: Abkhazia, karate

RSUFK is a really strong school with strong traditions and teachers. If time allowed me, I would have received a complete education there. School and university are, first of all, teachers and professors, who are just excellent in RGUFK.

The concept of the Development Center for the whole family, where you work, seems very interesting.

The concept is simple: if you want to captivate the child with something – plunge into it yourself. In the “X-fit” fitness center of Pushkino almost all parents who bring their children to me, at the same time they are engaged in the gym. I have long dreamed of organizing a separate group for the parents of the children, but so far it has not been possible, primarily due to the lack of time in my schedule (I work with young people in four places). I am very impressed when I come to Germany for training camps and see people of retirement age who have just started karate classes.

Having studied subtropical food products, probably you will be interested to know that now such fruits are grown in different parts of Armenia: olives, kiwi, bananas. As an agricultural engineer, do you consider this promising for Armenia?

This is all very interesting, but I think that it is necessary to focus on the production of products natural for a given region and try to enter the world market.

One of my best childhood memories is connected with your birthplace, Sukhumi, where I spent summers twice in the distant Soviet years. It was pleasant to meet local Armenians in this beautiful city and in the vicinity; I remember there was an Armenian school named after Hovhannes Tumanyan. 

I think Sukhumi is the best place on the earth! And this is not only because it is my birthplace. Objectively, the nature is magnificent there! Sukhumi was a very cozy and beautiful city! The school was by the sea! At the end of the school day, we managed to run to the beach and swim in the sea. The summers were very noisy and fun with the influx of tourists and vacationers. We remember those years with nostalgia and sadness. Now Sukhumi is beautiful again, but there is no stability and order. But, we look to the future with hope. Yes, there is an Armenian school named after Tumanyan: I managed to teach physical education for one year there. I dream one day to return to Sukhumi and work at this school again.

The Sukhumi Armenians mainly originate from the Hemshin region of historical Armenia, there are also descendants of the repatriates of the late 1940s, who could not stand Armenia’s harsh climate and moved to the milder climate of the Black Sea. Where does your family come from?

Surely, you know that there are two terms: Hemshils and Hamshenis. Hemshils are Armenians who have converted to Islam and consider themselves a separate nation. We have always been Christians and are called Hamsheni Armenians. I am the fifth generation of my family living in Abkhazia. My ancestors lived practically in the same conditions and climate: Trabzon, Ordu, Canik – Armenian lands as part of different empires. My ancestors were engaged in the tobacco business in Trabzon. When they decided to move from the Ottoman Empire to the Russian one, they, of course, chose the same climate to grow tobacco. They moved to Abkhazia before the terrible genocide. There was a moment when my great-grandfather, seeing the political changes in Russia, having collected all the capital, wanted to move to Germany, but everything was confiscated from him, and he could not carry out the resettlement. Then my grandfather Nerses was imprisoned and exiled as a Dashnak.

A fate, that has shared many of our great-grandfathers. Nerses, and how is the Armenian social life in Moscow and how much are you involved in it?

Moscow has everything one to feel himself an Armenian and preserve traditions and culture. There are lots of organizations for teaching the Armenian language to both children and adults. National dances, music, theatrical groups, a museum, a general education gymnasium according to the Russian education system with the classes of the Armenian language, history and literature. And all this is on the territory of the temple complex of the Armenian Church at 9 Olympic Avenue in Moscow, where I work. I also teach physical education and karate at the Gymnasium named after St. Grigor Narekatsi in Moscow, and the motto of our gymnasium is “With Armenia in heart.”

And despite this, unlike many countries, Armenians in Russia are rapidly losing their language and culture. How do you keep the Armenian identity in your family? 

It so happened that my parents studied in Russian schools and universities. I also studied at a Russian school. Then a group for studying the Armenian language was opened in my school, and I studied there for about a month. I speak the everyday Hamshen dialect, but it is completely insufficient to convey my thoughts. After the war, while in Abkhazia, I began to read historical novels and Armenia’s history and this fascinated me so much that I began to learn the alphabet on my own and began to read slowly. Now I continue to study and hope that in the near future I will be able to speak and read Armenian fluently. My wife is not Armenian, but she is also very good in learning Armenian. The Armenian-ness of my family is expressed in belonging to the family cultural traditions and language that we support and develop, as well as in belonging to the Armenian Apostolic Church. I, my wife and children are also studying grabar (ancient Armenian language) by prayers.

Have you managed to visit your historical homeland, which is now again in a difficult situation?

When I studied at New Athos Monastery, in the summer I asked for leave to visit the holy places in Armenia, and in the summer of 2004 I went to Yerevan. From there I immediately went to Holy Etchmiadzin, Saint Hripsime, Saint Geghard, which shook me to the core. Since then I have not been there and I dream to return! I have no relatives in Armenia and the climate is not very suitable after Abkhazia, but I think more and more on my desire to go there, especially after what happened. When there was a 44-day war, I fought the covid-19 and was very hard on it. And, in the end, I was finished off that a terrible document was signed on my birthday on November 10. There are no words. But, we will not give up. This is definitely not the end!

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