Armenian Jerusalem

The checkered history of the Armenians in Jerusalem, with their

remarkable achievements [among them the setting up of the

city's first photographic studio and printing press] have been

relatively well documented over the years by Western scholars

fascinated by this remote remnant of an exotic race.

         Although   diaspora   Armenians   themselves   have   been   demonstrably   lax   in chronicling   the   endeavors   of   their   compatriots   in   Jerusalem   the   gap   left   by   such illustrious   historians   as   Hovhanissian,   Ormanian,   Savalanyantz   and   Sanjian   has been    admirably    filled    by    objective    observers,    particularly    from    Europe.   A definitive   account   (if   there   ever   can   be   one)   by   a   native Armenian   Jerusalemite is long overdue, the lapse difficult to explain.            Hopefully,   it   is   perhaps   not   necessarily   a   reflection   of   a   lack   of   interest,   since there   have   been   a   few   laudable   efforts   by Armenians   in   Jerusalem,   among   them Kevork Hintlian and the late Assadour Antreassian, to tell their tale.          At   the   same   time,   with   the   advent   of   Patriarch   Torkom   Manoogian   and   the refreshing   new   breezes   he   brought   with   him,   the   Armenian   Patriarchate   of Jerusalem   has   in   recent   years   regularly   kept   the   world   informed   of   goings   on among the Armenians in the Holy Land through its Press Office.         Armenophiles   need   not   despair   therefore,   since   if   we   can't   do   it   ourselves,   we can always count on the next best thing, have our story told by 'odar's.          The   latest   such   endeavor   is   by   three   'odar's   who   have   lived   and   taught   among the   Armenians   in   Jerusalem   and   have   gained   a   firsthand   sampling   of   their   way of life.          "The Armenians   in   Jerusalem   and   the   Holy   Land,"   put   out   by   Belgium's   Peeters publishing   firm   under   the   auspices   of   the   Hebrew   University   of   Jerusalem's Armenian    studies    department,    provides    thoughtful    reading    for    everyone interested in this tiny enclave of unforgettable people.          The   book   has   been   edited   by   a   trio   of   leading   armenologists,   Michael   Stone and   his   wife   Nira,   native   Israelis,   and   Roberta   Ervine,   who   hails   from   the   US. The    300-page    tome    comprises    a    formidably    impressive    volume    of    papers delivered   at   scholarly   gatherings   held   to   celebrate   the   30th   anniversary   of Armenian   studies   at   the   Hebrew   University,   in   what   the   editors   hope   will   "form a contribution to the investigation of the Armenian presence in the Holy Land."               Despite    the    relentless    attrition    among    the    city's    Armenians    that    has decimated   the   once   25,000   strong   community   as   whole   families   have   packed   up and   left,   the   editors   strike   an   upbeat   note   encouraged   by   recent   archaeological finds, certain that the future "doubtless holds more exciting discoveries."             Serious    scholars    can    also    look    for    assistance    in    their    research    to    the Patriarchate's   manuscript   library,   the   world's   second   largest   such   collection, although a study of these MSS is still in its infancy.          The   book   covers   a   wide   range   of   topics,   including   the   arrival   of   the   first Armenian    pilgrims,    a    reassessment    of    two    incomparable   Armenian    mosaics dating   back   to   the   5th   century,   the   contribution   of   Armenian   Jerusalem   to Armenians   in   America,   and   a   delightful   piece   on   the   lilting   dialect   of   the   city's 'kaghakatsi.”         This   paper,   by   Bert   Vaux,   is   bound   to   elicit   wide   grins,   and   perhaps   feelings   of nostalgia   among   elderly   'kaghakatsi'   Armenian   readers.   The   current   crop   of these   natives   has   mostly   weaned   itself   from   the   quaint   twang   of   its   Arabic augmented    dialect,    this    "unique    mélange    of    distinctive    elements,"    but    the scattered   old   matriarchs   and   patriarchs   [of   whom   there   were   at   least   three   in Jerusalem,   and   another   two   in   Sydney,   when   the   paper   was   written,   contrary   to Vaux's   assertion   that   only   one   completely   fluent   speaker   remains,   in   New   York], are still going strong at it.          Unfortunately,   we   may   have   to   agree   with   Vaux's   assumption   that   the   dialect will   not   be   passed   on   to   future   generations.   Certainly,   with   the   proliferation   of Hebrew   speakers   among   the   Armenians   of   Jerusalem,   the   monopolistic   Arabic language    influence,    has    begun    to    wane.    And    the    rising    generation    of 'kaghakatsi's,   admittedly   few   in   number,   have   few   or   no   role   models   left   to inherit their distinctive linguistic tradition.          The   future   may   hold   only   a   queasy   promise   for   the   Armenians   of   Jerusalem, caught   as   they   are   in   the   vice   of   regional   political   uncertainty   and   unnatural attrition,   but   the   story   of   Jerusalem,   whenever   and   wherever   it   is   told,   will always be spiced with the unique flavor of the Armenian cauldron.          We   can   always   count   on   Michael   and   Nina   Stone,   and   Roberta   Ervine,   and   a gallery   of   distinguished   armenologists   and   armenophiles,   to   keep   rekindling   the flame under it.          "The Armenians   in   Jerusalem   and   the   Holy   Land"   offers   erudite   reading   for   us while   at   the   same   time   giving   us   ample   food   for   thought.   The   book   could   have done   with   more   illustrations,   with   perhaps   one   or   two   color   reproductions,   of   a Toros   Roslin   painting   or   the   haunting   Eustacius   mosaic,   discovered   ten   years ago. What reader would balk at the extra cost when such treasure is on offer?
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
Pilgrims and merchants at St James
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