On the surface, though, positive PR prevailed. Diaspora members make up the bulk of the estimated 10 million Armenians worldwide, and already play a critical role in providing investment in Armenia's economy and support for its cultural and educational institutions. The August 18-26 Games, with events ranging from table tennis to volleyball and swimming, were meant to strengthen those ties still further.
As a sign of that aim, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian chairs the Games' executive committee. Mohammad Aliabadi, vice president of Iran, which has an estimated ethnic Armenian population of a few hundred thousand, attended the event's August 18 opening ceremony in Yerevan's Vazgen Sarkisyan soccer stadium.
But domestic politics also played a role. Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who has announced his intentions to run for president in 2008, took center stage in the August 26 finale, handing out awards and crowning the most beautiful sportswoman, Miss Pan-Armenian Games.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the Games' government ties, the prime minister was awarded an honorary order by the event's "world committee."
Also in attendance was influential pro-government parliamentarian and oligarch Gagik Tsarukian, chairman of the Prosperous Armenia Party, who had earlier urged the heads of Diaspora athletic organizations to involve themselves more in Armenian sports. Tsarukian also used that opportunity to offer an incentive: a reward of $700,000 to any of the 20-25 athletes competing for Armenia who wins a gold medal in Beijing's 2008 Olympics.
Opposition political activists were given a less warm official welcome. At the opening ceremony attended by Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Foreign Minister Oskanian and Armenian Apostolic Church Catholicos Karekin II, police detained three activists from the anti-Kocharian Impeachment bloc as they handed out leaflets calling for the release of alleged political prisoners.
One parliamentary deputy from the opposition Heritage Party, Zaruhi Postanjian, who works as a human rights lawyer, alleges that stadium police took a bag containing client documents from her.
Most events, however, were poorly attended, with many local Armenians unaware of where the venues were situated, and media access was tightly controlled. Despite accreditations, only film crews from Public Television H1, which was beaming the Games worldwide via satellite, were given unrestricted access to competitions.
Some of what was broadcast, however, was as much about existing divisions within the Diaspora as about building a sense of ethnic community.
On August 19, things turned ugly when a basketball team from Glendale, California, attacked their counterparts from the Armenian community in Istanbul. Local media were not present at the game.
Turkish Armenian players charged that the American-Armenians called them "dirty Turkish dogs." Representatives of the California team denied the allegation. Police intervened on court to break up the ensuing fight and separate the two teams.
Police were again called on court in the game that immediately followed after local basketball players attacked Egyptian players with their fists and chairs. Four Diaspora Armenians from Cairo were reportedly hospitalized as a result. The Yerevan basketball team was disqualified from the Games the following day allegedly in return for the Cairo team not pressing charges.
Other Armenians from Muslim countries such Iran, Iraq and Syria, including those studying in Yerevan, also alleged to reporters similar taunts.
Local reaction to the Games was muted, with many potential spectators disinterested or unaware that they were even happening. Zara Gevorgian, a 21-year-old recent university graduate, attended only because she says she knew some of the local players taking part. "The opening ceremony was terrible and reminded me of Komsomol events during Soviet times," she said. Nor are player fights a rare occurrence, according to Gevorgian. "Every time I go something happens
Onnik Krikorian is a freelance photojournalist and reporter based in Yerevan.