The “Terrible Turk” who was Armenian

By Serop Stepanian, Toronto, 12 February 2024

More than a century after his boxing fame peaked, Abdul Maljan is a forgotten figure. Although he fought under the nickname “The Terrible Turk,” Maljan was an Elazig-Harpoot/Kharpert-born Armenian (1882) who immigrated with his parents to America at the age of 13.

He made his debut as a professional boxer in 1906 when he was 24. Maljan was a fascinating man with a multifaceted life. He was a formidable fighter who faced off, against Philadelphia’s Jack O’Brien for the world championship. A few years earlier, he broke the jaw of boxer Paul Moore. Starting in 1906, he fought in 22 professional matches. Among his opponents were Tommy Burns, Cleve Hawkins, Dummy Jordan, Harry Mayfield, Jim Tremble…He also trained “Fireman” Jim Flynn for his bout with Jack Johnson in 1912 who became the world’s first Black heavyweight boxing champion.

Despite his fame, Maljan remained mysterious. At various times he was Maljan, Malgan, Maljan Chevoor, Malgan Chavoor, and Abdul the Terrible Turk. The latter was, of course, a marketing gimmick fabricated to add threat and mystique to his profile. Another mystery is his marital status. Although in Nov, 1911 he announced his engagement to Mary Halfey of Kansas City, it’s unknown whether he married to her or to someone else.

After he retired from boxing in the early Twenties, he emerged as an exotic Hollywood character. He spent the next 30 years in close association with glitzy Hollywood. Among Hollywood luminaries he befriended were film director Mack Sennett, actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Charles Chaplin, and particularly Jack Warner, head of Warner Bros studios. He was also close to banker Motley Flint. When the latter was shot to death in a Los Angeles courtroom. Maljan served as pallbearer.

For 22 years he was a close companion of Jack Warner, acting as his valet, masseur, confidante, and bodyguard. Warner said the only person he fully trusted was Maljan. When he died (cerebral hemorrhage) in 1944, Warner paid for his grave and funeral expenses. Maljan was buried at Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

We know Maljan was Armenian because he was born in Elazig. Few- if any–Elazig Turks immigrated to America while many Armenians did leave Turkey at the turn of the century because of the persecution of Armenians.

We know Maljan was Armenian because a number of other Armenians have substituted the “I” of “Ian” with “j.”

We know Maljan was Armenian because there were contemporary Maljans whose first names were Ezekiel, Azniv, and Ovag.

We know he was Armenian because a noticeable number of American- and Canadian-Armenian young men became professional boxers in the decades prior and post the Genocide. In Ontario, there was an Armenian boxer who was known as Harry “the Barbarian.”

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