Armenian Jerusalem
illustrated gospel manuscript

For years beyond count they have been languishing undisturbed,

save for an occasional peek, in the cavernous archives of the

Armenian Patriarchate of St James, in the Old City of Jerusalem.

         For   years   beyond   count   they   have   been   languishing   undisturbed,   save   for   an occasional   peek,   in   the   cavernous   archives   of   the   Armenian   Patriarchate   of   St James, in the Old City of Jerusalem.               Three   fat   tomes   of   painstakingly   meticulous   script,   with   frequent   lapses   into flowery   forays,   the   official   registers   recording   the   births,   baptisms,   marriages and deaths of the denizens of the city's Armenian Quarter, the kaghakatsis.                The   passage   of   time   has   taken   its   usual   toll   of   the   150   pages,   but   the onslaught   has   been   mercifully   mild.   Except   for   places   where   the   faded   writing makes   for   difficult   reading,   the   entries   penned   by   the   ancient   clerks   have retained most of their pristine clarity.                Locked   away   within   the   hallowed   confines   of   the   Convent   of   St   James,   the pages   rarely   again   saw   the   light   of   day   after   being   bound   into   books.   They would   only   be   brought   out   when   some   one   needed   to   consult   them   and   verify   a date or name. Only to be re-consigned later to relative oblivion.      Until now.                In   keeping   with   his   wish   to   exude   a   measure   of   "glasnost"   into   the   moribund life   of   the   Armenians   of   Jerusalem,   and   to   promote   efforts   by   the   kaghakatsi Armenian   Family Tree   Project   to   preserve   the   history   and   culture   of   his   Old   City community,   the   Patriarch,   Archbishop   Torkom   Manoogian,   has   agreed   to   have the   contents   of   the   registers   made   available   for   study   and   research   by   the Project organizers.                     The    Patriarchate    also    gave    the    organizers    permission    to    copy    the information in the books, under proper security and privacy safeguards. To   facilitate   this   arduous   task,   the   Patriarchate   even   offered   to   house   and   feed the researcher for the few weeks needed for the job.                With   the   support   and   blessing   of   the   Patriarchate   in   hand,   the   Project organizers   then   faced   the   problem   of   deciding   on   the   safest   and   easiest   way   to undertake   the   copying   of   the   registers.   One   option   would   have   been   to   use   a hand-held scanner. Another, a photocopier.                But   the   delicate   and   brittle   texture   of   the   paper   has   precluded   these   and   it has   finally   been   decided   to   use   a   camera   and   photograph   the   pages   instead. This would have to be done by a professional, not just anyone with a camera.                The   cost   would   be   considerable   for   the   Project   which   has   no   budget   of   its own, and is run entirely on a voluntary basis.                It   was   at   this   point   that   the   cavalry   arrived,   in   the   form   of   Garo   Nalbandian, one   of   Jerusalem's   foremost   photographers   whose   work   appears   regularly   in leading local and international publications and venues.                Once   Garo   knew   of   the   nature   of   the   project,   he   promptly   offered   his services to the organizers.      He would waive his fee.                "If   you   are   doing   a   'labor   of   love',   my   dad   is   willing   to   help   too,"   his   son   and assistant, Hovsep, told the organizers. "So he will do it for free."      The organizers were ecstatic at this new and "welcome" development.                "The   man   is   so   busy   he   can   scarcely   scratch   his   head,   yet   here   he   is   donating his   time   and   services   to   a   project   for   nothing,   when   he   could   have   made   a package for himself," a kaghakatsi Armenian commented.                The   fact   that   his   wife   is   a   kaghakatsi   herself,   a   member   of   the   Toumayan clan, would have also influenced his decision.                Besides,   he   is   no   stranger   to   the   Patriarchate   and   has   been   involved   in   some of   its   preservation   projects,   among   them   the   Edward   and   Helen   Mardigian Museum, for which he helped create the graphic display of old Armenian coins.                The   registers   are   a   rare   and   delightful   treasure   trove.   They   speak   volumes. A   quick   look   reveals   their   quaint   twist:   apparently,   in   the   old   days,   clerks   had developed   only   a   pedestrian   attitude   towards   the   art   and   science   of   archiving, as   evidenced   by   the   fact   that   they   were   not   particular   about   recording   or tracing   accurate   patronymics:   often,   people   are   referred   to   by   a   sobriquet instead   of   a   surname.   Thus   it   is   not   surprising   to   find   "tertzag   (tailor)   Garabed" rubbing    shoulders    with    "sabounji    (soap    maker/seller?)    Tavit,"    "badgerahan (photographer)     Hagop,"     "sevaji     (shoemaker)     Sahag",     "Krikor     vosgerich (goldsmith)" . . .                Now   that   access   to   these   registers   has   been   secured,   the   Project   enters   a challenging    and    definitive    phase.   The    Family   Tree    online    database    already houses    over    2,300    names    belonging    to    some    50    clans:    the    genealogical information    there    has    to    be    validated    by    the    contents    of    the    kaghakatsi registers.               Apparently   these   documents   are   not   the   only   legacy   of   the   ancestors   of   the kaghakatsis    living    in    the   Armenian    Quarter    of    the    Old    City    of    Jerusalem. Patriarchate   sources   believe   there   is   a   mountain   of   data   about   this   community being retained in various forms at the Patriarchate.                "There   must   be   enough   material   there   to   keep   a   researcher   happily   busy   for a lifetime," one source said.                     Like    the    registers,    these    unknown    archives    also    face    the    threat    of degradation unless urgent measures are taken to preserve them.                Manoogian   would   like   nothing   more   than   to   computerize   all   Patriarchate archives,   but   such   a   daunting   undertaking   would   tax   the   meager   resources   of   St James.                Nevertheless,   he   continues   to   pursue   his   dream   of   propelling   this   august establishment   into   the   technological   age,   a   move   that   has   seen   the   Patriarchate go    online    and    its    offices    linked    by    a    web    network.    Gone    are    the    stolid, lumbering   Remington   typewriters   and   messy   ribbons,   making   way   for   sleek   PC's running the latest operating systems.      And accountability and openness have become the order of the day. Armenian   Jerusalem   has   come   a   long   way.   It   would   not   have   been   possible without sabounji Tavit, sevaji Sahag, tertzag Garabed or badgerahan Hagog.                "Their   legacy   lives   on   in   us,   and   will   continue   down   the   line,   as   long   as   there is   one   single   kaghakatsi   still   breathing   on   this   planet,"   as   one   community   leader puts it.    
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian
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