Armenian Jerusalem

Artists, singers, craftsmen, tradesmen, thinkers - all walks of life:  the men

and women who make up the community of Armenians in Jerusalem are

among the most colorful anywhere in the world.

               Though   the   years   have   taken   their   remorseless   toll   of   the   greater   part   of the   Armenian   presence,   the   impact   these   touchingly   endearing   people   have left upon their progeny remains vibrantly alive.               A   background   and   history   of   a   sizeable   number   of   the   members   of   this   cast of    characters    is    shrouded    in    mystery,    at    least    for    us,    who    only    hold    the memories of their later years.                Take   Penyamin,   the   gentle,   inoffensive   soul   who   had   cast   himself   as   the village   idiot.   Idiot?   How   do   you   account   then   for   his   tales   of   the   man   on   the moon?   At   the   drop   of   a   hat,   he   would   assume   his   professorial   stance,   gaze   up at the moon, and regale us with tales of lunar exploits.      He absolutely loved cats. They would follow him everywhere.                And   who   will   ever   forget   Khoren   Aharonian,   the   Jamgotch   (town   cryer), who   used   to   sing   us   awake   Sunday   mornings?   Punctuating   his   diminutive   steps with   a   hefty   staff   he   banged   on   the   cobblestones   of   the   alleys   of   the Armenian Quarter, he would launch into a hauntingly evocative song, calling us to prayer.      "In the morning, light is born," he would sing.                Arakel   Baghsarian   won   undying   gratitude   from   football   players   of   the   Homentmen   Club (one   of   the   four   Armenian   youth   clubs   in   the   city),   with   his   support   and   sponsorship.   His passion   was   soccer   and   every   time   a   player   scored   a   goal,   Arakel   would   reward   him   with   a cash   bonus   of   JD5   (a   Jordanian   Dinar   was   worth   about   US$3   at   the   time,   and   JD5   was   an unheard   of   fortune.   He   would   know:   was   a   merchant,   his   merchandise   usually   consisting mainly   of   bread,   "tchaman"   (a   garlicky   paste),   and   "basturmah"   (spiced   dried   beef),   meted out of a hollowed enclave in one of the Old City's walls.                    The    self-effacing    Father   Anoushavan    Zeghchanyan,    a    linguist    who    knew    a    dozen languages,   including   ancient   Egyptian,   never   made   bishop   or   archbishop,   although   he   was most   certainly   entitled   to   the   rank   and   the   privilege.   He   taught   us   French   at   the   parochial school, but his lifelong wish was to compile a "comparative" grammar compendium.                 Hagop   Zakarian   earned   himself   the   nickname   "Sab'   ul   Leil"   (lion   of   the   night),   for   the   true grit   that   characterized   him.   He   was   a   Scouts   leader   and   would   take   us   on   two   or   three daylong   expeditions   to   the   region's   remote   tourist   attractions.   Places   like   the   Dead   Sea, Jericho   and   the   unforgettable   Wad   el   Qilt,   the   ice-cold   stream   that   meandered   among   the cliffs   near   Jericho.   Sitting   with   us   around   our   campfire,   his   trusty   rifle   by   his   side,   he   would entertain   us   with   tales   of   heroic   deeds,   some   in   which   we   assumed   he   had   participated,   and then   invite   one   of   the   more   foolhardy   kids   to   try   and   fire   his   gun   into   the   air.   Many volunteered, but it was a rare occasion when anyone was chosen.
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
after the show at JABU