Armenian Jerusalem
       rmenians   have   been   living   in   Jerusalem   for   over   2.000   years,   even   before Armenia   proclaimed   Christianity   as   its   state   religion   in   3O1 AD,   when   pilgrims began   trekking   to   the   Holy   Land   on   a   spiritual   journey   that   would   rejuvenate their   faith   and   reinforce   their   commitment   to   the   new   religion   of   peace   and love, preached by Jesus of Nazareth.             The   Armenians   of   Jerusalem   are   the   direct   descendants   of   those   pious   pilgrims   who braved   all   sorts   of   dangers,   endured   all   kinds   of   hardships,   in   their   determination   to   walk in the footsteps of the Christ.            A   large   number   of   the Armenian   pilgrims   chose   to   remain   here.   Jerusalem   had   become their   new   home. They   built   houses,   churches   arid   convents,   some   no   longer   standing,   like the   one   at   the   Musrara   Quarter,   a   stone's   throw   from   the   15th   Century   walls   of   the   Old City,   where   in   1991   archaeologists   uncovered   an   incomparable   mosaic,   laid   down   by   an unknown Armenian priest, Eustacius, in the 7th Century.          The Armenian   Convent   of   St   James   became,   in   time,   the   largest   single   compound   that housed   Armenian   pilgrims,   and   represented   the   demographic   and   spiritual   core   of   the newly-established colony.            As   you   tread   the   cobble   stoned   alleys   of   the   Convent,   you   are   taken   back   more   than   a thousand    years    into    the    distant,    idyllic    past    of    our    forefathers    who    laid    down    the foundation stone of our present existence, for all generations to come.             The   Convent   itself   occupies   the   southwestern   corner   of   the   Old   City   and   is   situated   on the   site   of   the   encampment   of   the   Xth   Legion   of   Rome   which   was   to   storm   the   Jewish Zealot stronghold at Masada.             Together   with   its   adjoining   outcrop,   the   Armenian   Quarter,   which   skirts   the   northern edge    of    the    Convent,    the    Armenian    compound    is    home    for    about    2,000    to    3,000 Armenians.   Another   2,000   are   scattered   in   various   parts   of   the   Holy   Land,   mainly   in Bethlehem,   Haifa,   Haifa,   Ramleh   and   Ramallah,   where   visible   Armenian   communities have evolved around the periphery of their ubiquitous nucleus, a church or convent.            At   its   peak,   the Armenian   presence   in   Jerusalem,   where   they   have   been   most   densely concentrated,   num-bered   25,000.   But   the   havocs   caused   by   the   discom-bobulations   of half   a   century   of   bloodshed   and   the   perennial   political   and   economic   instability   in   the region,   have   decimated   the   colony.   Most   of   its   former   members   are   now   ensconced   in   the more   placid,   greener   pastures   of   the   free   world:   the   USA,   Canada, Australia,   and   parts   of Europe.   You   can   even   come   across   former   Jerusalemites   in   such   far-flung   places   as Calcutta or Johannesburg.             Nevertheless,   Armenians   have   continued   to   be   a   dynamic   presence   in   Jerusalem.   The numerical   factor   is   irrelevant.   Armenians   are   in   a   unique   situation   in   Jerusalem.   Their Patriarchate   enjoys   a   semi-diplomatic   status.   It   is   one   of   the   three   major   guardians   of the   Christian   Holy   Places   in   the   Holy   Land.   (The   other   two   are   the   Greek   Orthodox Patriarchate   and   the   Franciscan   Custodia). Among   these   sites   are   the   Church   of   the   Holy Sepulcher   in   the   Old   City,   the   church   of   the   Ascension   on   the   Mount   of   Olives,   the   Tomb of St Mary in the Valley of Gethsemane, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.             When   you   first   enter   through   the   huge   iron   gate   of   the   Convent,   you   come   face   to   face with   an   ancient   marble   water   fountain,   which   was   placed   there   centuries   ago   to   provide a   cool,   refreshing   drink   for   pilgrims,   in   compliance   with   an   ancient   Middle   Eastern custom. The   introduction   of   running   water   to   the   homes   of   Jerusalem   residents   sometime during the British Mandate, made the fountain redundant.             Behind   and   above   the   fountain,   a   marble   plaque   embedded   in   the   wall   and   engraved in   flowing Arabic   script,   proclaims   the   privileged   status   of   the Armenian   Patriarchate,   and calls   down   horrendous   curses   on   the   heads   of   those   who   would   violate   these   privileges, granted by the Mameluke Sultan Chaqmaq.            A   few   paces   away,   to   your   left,   is   another   ancient   iron   gate   that   leads   to   the   vestibule of   the   Cathedral   of   St   James,   the   jewel   of   the   Armenian   Patriarchate.   A   magnificent edifice   that   ranks   as   one   of   the   most   awe-inspiring   in   all   of   the   Middle   East,   the Cathedral    is    bedecked    with    centuries-old    "gantegh"s    (oil    lamps),    dangling    from    the soaring   vault,   and   tallow   candies   dotting   the   three   altars.   The   oil   lamps   are   still   in   use today,   lovingly   tended   by   altar   boys   who   replenish   them   with   pure   olive   oil   at   regular intervals.   The   candles,   made   by   the   Patriarchate's   own   candle-maker,   try   vainly   to   dispel the   elemental   darkness   that   pervades   the   church   and   that   impart   mystical   significance   to Armenian church rites.             The   Cathedral,   which   has   been   built   on   the   site   of   the   tombs   St   James   the   Lord's brother   and   St   James   the   Lesser,   has   in   the   past      also   served   as   a   bomb   shelter.   During the   1948 Arab-Israeli   war,   the   only   sanctuary   from   the   daily   bombardment   of   the   city   that Armenians   could   find   was   within   the   solid,   reassuring   confines   of   their   Cathedral,   with   its one-meter   thick   walls.   During   one   particularly      memorable   night,   over   1,000   shells   of   all kinds,   including   the   dreaded   mortar,   landed   on   and   around   the   Cathedral   -   but   no   single casualty    did    they    claim.    Many    believers    would    later    swear    that    they    had    seen    a mysterious   figure,   dressed   in   white,   standing   vigil   on   the   roof   of   the   Cathedral,   and   with his   hands   warding   off   the   shower   of   missiles.   It   was   none   other   than   St   James,   believers assert.             At   the   entrance   to   the   Cathedral,   a   large   plaque   marks   the   site   of   the   grave   of Jerusalem's   94th   Armenian   Patriarch,   the   late      Archbishop   Guregh   Israelian.   One   of   the city's   most   popular   and   charismatic   men   of   the   cloth,   Israelian   died   in   1949   of   a   broken heart,   after   witnessing   the   intolerable   sufferings   of   his   war-ravaged   flock,   caught   in   the crossfire   between   the   Arab   and   Jewish   armies.   More   than   once,   he   would   cradle   in   his own   arms   the   shrapnel-shredded   body   of   an   Armenian   who   had   been   the   latest   casualty in the unrelenting war.            Another   lonely,   unpretentious   grave   sits   forlornly   under   an   archway   a   few   paces   away, at   the   other   end   of   the   vestibule.   This   one   is   the   last   resting   place   of   Jerusalem's   first Armenian Patriarch, Abraham, a contemporary of Saladin.          As   you   come   out   of   the   Cathedral,   you   will   notice   a   flight   of   steep   steps   to   your   left. These    lead    to    the    private    residence    of    the        Patriarch    and    to    the    Patriarchate's administrative   offices.   Normally,   entry   beyond   this   point   is   barred   to   people   who   have   no official   business   there.   Just   across,   on   the   right   hand   side,   is   another   flight   of   steps leading   to   the   private   residences   of   the   priests   and   convent's   lay   population.   Unless accompanied    by    a    local    resident,    officially    invited    by    the    Patriarchate,    visitors    are requested not to  proceed beyond that point,             When   you   emerge   from   the   vestibule,   turn   left   and   follow   the   passage-way   until   until you   reach   the   Convent's   large   courtyard.   To   your   immediate   right,   you   will   see   the medical   clinic   established   by   the   Jinishian   Memorial   Fund   to   cater   to   the   needs   of   the Armenian   community.   The   center   is   staffed   by   a   doctor   and   a   nurse.   Medications   are dispensed either free or at a fraction of their cost.                A   few   paces   away   is   the   Patriarchate's   bookshop   where   visitors   can   find   some   rare Armenian   publications   going   for   a   song.   The   Armenians   of   Jerusalem   were   the   first   to establish   a   printing   press   in   the   city,   and   a   copy   of   the   first   book   printed   here,   in   1833,   is available   for   inspection.   The   Armenian   Patriarch,   Yessai   Garabedian,   opened   the   city's first   photographic   studio   in   1866   and   became   its   first   official   photographer,   bequeathing a rich and exciting legacy to the Armenians of Jerusalem, which they nurture to this day.             The   original   printing   press   building,   complete   with   a   huge   manual   printing   machine and   trays   of   lead   type,   is   still   there.   Part   of   the      building   has   been   converted   into   an exhibit   of   rare   Armenian   books,   including   the   first   book   (an   almanac)   ever   printed   in Armenian      (in   Venice,   in   1512),   and   the   first   printed   Armenian   bible   (the   work   was   done in Amsterdam, in 1666).             Until   recently   type   was   still   sometimes   being   set   by   hand   at   the   old   printing   press,   but the   practice   has   now   given   way   to   innovation.   The   Patriarchate   now   boasts   a   new   state- of-the-art   facility,   located   just   outside   Convent,   which   is   equipped   to   handle   a   heavier and   more   fastidious   work   load,      including   color   printing. This   new   institution   was   the   first within   the Armenian   compound   to   introduce   the   concept   computerization   on   a   dedicated scale,   setting   the   scene   for   an   eventual   local   area   network   (LAN)   designed   to   link   all   the Patriarchate's institutions in one IBM-inspired environment.             Adjacent   to   the   old   printing   press,   the   Armenian   Youth   Union,   "Hoyetchmen",   one   of three   major   Armenian   organizations   in   the   city,      which   are   active   in   the   cultural,   sports and   educational   fields,   has   carved   out   a   niche   for   itself,   converting   an   abandoned warehouse  into a club and a stage-hall.             The   second   youth   club,   the   "Homentmen,"   lies   about   a   hundred   yards   away,   in   an enclave   that   abuts   the   official   residence   of   the      Patriarchate's   Grand   Sacristan   who   is entrusted   with   the   safe   keeping   of   the Armenian   treasures   and   Holy   Places   of   Jerusalem. The  club was recently renovated and expanded.             The   third   club   is   the   Jerusalem   Armenian   Benevolent   Union   in   the   Armenian   Quarter, outside   the   Convent   walls.   Its   members   boast      an   illustrious   lineage   of Armenian   pilgrims who   settled   in   the   city   over   a   thousand   years   ago.   With   their   own   hands   they   laid   down the      foundations   of   what   would   later   become   one   of   the   Old   City's   most   picturesque quarters, inhabited exclusively by their descendants.            At   the   end   of   the   large   courtyard,   a   wide   but   low-ceilinged   arched   entrance   leads   you to   "Paghchatagh",   (the   Quarter   of   Flowers)         which   had   originally   been   intended   as   the residential    quarters    of    the   Armenian    priests,    but    was    evacuated    and    converted    to accommodation   for   the   thousands   of   Armenian   refugees   fleeing   Turkish   persecution   at the   turn   of   the   19th   Century.   The   refugees   dramatically   swelled   the   ranks   of   the   native Armenian   population   but   the   steady,   relentless   attrition   that   is   the   bane   of   the   Christian community   of   the   Holy   Land,   has   sharply   reduced   the   numbers   of   Armenians   and   other Christians here.             Soon   after   his   ascent   to   the   throne   of   St   James,   Patriarch   Torkom   Manoogian   set   about renovating    Paghchatagh,    helping    revert    it    to    its    original    designation.   The    grandiose scheme was funded mainly by contributions from Armenians around the world.             When   you   step   out   of   Paghchatagh,   you   come   to   another   courtyard.   To   your   right,   you will   find   the   Gulbenkian   Library,   one   of   Jerusalem's   most   important   landmarks.   Named after   the   great Armenian   benefactor,   Calouste   Gulbenkian,   who   was   also   known   in   oil   and financial   circles   as   "Mr   Five   Percent,"   the   building   houses   some   100,000   volumes,   half   in Armenian    and    the    rest    in    several    other    languages,    including    ancient    Egyptian hieroglyphics.   The   library   subscribes   to   almost   every   single   Armenian-owned   publication in   the   world,   making   it   an   invaluable   repository   of   Armenian   culture   and   literature. Almost   every   single Armenian-owned   newspaper   and   magazine   published   anywhere   in   the world is represented here.             Next   to   the   library   stands   a   relatively   recent   innovation:   the   Edward   and   Helen Mardigian   Museum   of   Armenian   Art   and   Culture.   The   museum   is   actually   situated   in   the former   "Chamtagh,"   which   once   served   as   the   Patriarchate's   theological   seminary.   Like   its twin,      Paghchatagh,   this   building   too   had   to   be   converted   into   residential   quarters   for displaced Armenian   refugees. After   all   the   refugees   had   emigrated   and   found   new   homes in   America,   Canada   and   a   host   of   other   countries,   Chamtagh   fell   into   disrepair.   Half   a dozen   years   ago,   the Armenian   philanthropist   couple,   Edward   and   Helen   Mardigian,   came to   its   rescue.   Thanks   to   their   generosity,   Chamtagh   was   soon   transformed   into   a   museum and   has   become   one   of   the   Armenian   Diaspora's   most   important   and   valuable   cultural outposts.             Following   its   inauguration,   the   building   has   undergone   extensive   refurbishing   at   the hands    of    an    expert    seconded    to    the    Patriarchate    by    UNESCO    (the    United    Nations Educational,   Scientific   and   Cultural   Organization).   The   building   houses   incomparable historical   and   religious   artifacts   some   of   which   were   brought   to   Jerusalem   by   a   regular stream   of   pilgrims.   Included   among   the   museum's   unique   displays   are   precious   hand- woven   rugs,   a   collection   of Armenian   coins   and   even   some   banknotes   issued   by   the   short- lived   pre-Bolshevik   Armenian   Republic,   scraps   of   evidence   of   the   presence   here   of   the Xth   Legion,   huge   copper   cauldrons,   colorful   tiles   from   the   world-famous   Kutayha   district, an   ancient   map   of   the   world   printed   in   Armenian,   and   a   replica   of   Gutenberg's   original printing press.             But   the   Patriarchate's   most   precious   treasures,   its   4,000   illustrated   manuscripts,   are not   among   the   items   on   exhibit   at   the   museum.   However,   visitors   can   view   facsimile pages,   in   full   color,   of   some   of   the   most   beautiful   manuscripts,   which   have   been   moved to   a   safer   location,   at   the   church   of   St   Thoros,   close   to   the   Cathedral   of   St   James,   where for   nearly   all   his   adult   life,   the   late   Archbishop   Norayr   Bogharian   lavished   special   care and   attention   on   them.   His   most   enduring   achievement   has   been   the   compilation   of eleven   grand   catalogs   listing   every   one   of   the   manuscripts,   with   occasional   excerpts culled   from   them,   and   a   full   physical   description,   as   well   as   a   brief   summary   of   the contents   of   each.   The   manuscripts   are   inaccessible   to   the   general   public.   However,   bona fide   researchers   who   meet   the   stringent   scholarly   demands   of   the   Archbishop,   may   be allowed to study the manuscripts, on the premises.             Walk   out   of   the   museum,   and   turn   right,   you   will   find   yourself   in   the   playground   of   the "Tarkmanchatz",   one   of   Jerusalem's   leading   co-educational   private   schools.   It   was   the celebrated   thinker   and   writer,   Patriarch   Yeghishe   Tourian,   who   was   instrumental   in   giving     the   city's   Armenian   community   its   first   formal   educational   institution,   back   in   1929.   The school    is    named    after    Sts    Sahag    Mesrob-Maschtotz,    the    two    Holy    Translators    who personally single-handedly crafted the Armenian alphabet.             The   curriculum   of   the   Tarkmanchatz,   the   first   one   among   the   city's   dozen   private schools   to   introduce   the   teaching   of   Hebrew   in   class   (it   also   teaches   English,   French   and Arabic   in   addition   to   Armenian),   is   oriented   towards   both   the   London   University   inspired General    Certificate    of    Education    (GCE)    examination    and    the    Jordanian    government sponsored school leaving certificate, the year 12 Tawjihi.             Almost    every    single    Armenian    who    lived    in    Jerusalem    would    have    attended Tarkmanchatz.          On   your   right-hand   side   sprawls   a   modest-sized   multi-purpose   foot-ball   field.   One   of the   Jerusalemite   Armenians'   most   cherished      traditions   had   been   the   festival   of   the annual   bonfire,   which   was   lit   in   the   centre   of   the   field,   on   the   feast   of   St   Simeon   the Elder.             Men   and   women,   of   all   ages   and   professions,   make   the   rounds   of   their   neighbors   to collect   firewood   for   the   bonfire.   Tree   branches,      broken   furniture,   a   dilapidated   termite- infested   door,   discolored   signposts,   an   odd   toilet-bowl   cover,   anything   that   will   feed   the voracious   flames,   is   dumped   into   the   field,   whose   boundaries   reach   to   within   a   few   feet of   one   of   the   city's   seven   portals,   Zion   Gate.   Celebrants   gather   around   the   fire,   singing songs   to   the   accompaniment   of   an   accordion.   Some   of   the   more   daring   or   foolhardy   will leap across the flames.             The   practice   has   since   been   discarded,   to   the   dismay   of   all,   in   the   wake   of   the prevailing  political situation.             To   the   left   of   the   Tarkmanchatz   school,   going   down   a   flight   of   steps,   the   visitor   will arrive   at   the   Church   of   the   Holy   Archangels,   the   traditional   site   of   the   house   of   Annas. This   is   the   second   major   Armenian   church   in   Jerusalem,   but   is   built   on   a   less   grandiose scale   than   the   Cathedral   of   St   James.   Located   at   the   northern   edge   of   the   Armenian compound,     it     is     commonly     associated     with     weddings,     christenings     and     funeral ceremonies.             During   the   recent   restoration   of   the   church,   workers   came   across   ancient   Armenian inscriptions   buried   behind   layers   of   plaster.   Some   of   the   inscriptions   have   been   dated   as far   back   as   the   13th   Century. An   old   baptismal   font   was   also   uncovered   behind   one   of   the walls.            The   vault   of   the   church   is   supported   on   four   fat   columns.   Stripped   of   their   plaster,   the columns    revealed    row    upon    row    of    distinctive    Armenian    stone-crosses    (Khachkars) engraved    in    the    masonry    by   Armenian    pilgrims.    The    church    boasts    another    unique distinction:   it   has   no   less   than   seven   altars,   one   of   them   marking   the   site   of   the   prison where   Christ   was   held.   But   the   most   striking   feature   of   the   church   is   the   decorative   array of    Kutayha    tiles    lining    the    walls.    Most    of    the    tiles    are    painted    in    blue    and    carry traditional Armenian   floral   motifs.   But   a   very   small   number   bear   full-color   illustrations   of Biblical   scenes.   Experts   consider   these   tiles,   and   the   ones   found   on   the   walls   of   the Cathedral of St James, masterpieces of Armenian ceramic art.             Once   you   leave   the   Church   of   the   Archangels,   you   can   turn   right   and   march   straight into   the Armenian   Quarter   of   the   Old   City,   which   lies   outside   the   walled   perimeter   of   the Convent,   or   walk   back   along   the   path   you   came.   When   you   retrace   your   steps   and   reach the   Edward   and   Helen   Mardigian   Museum,   you   will   come   to   a   passageway   that   will   lead you   out   of   the   Convent,   to   the   main   road   leading   from   Jaffa   Gate   to   Zion   Gate   and   the Western Wall.             If   you   turn   right   here,   and   walk   a   hundred   yards,   you   come   full   circle   to   the   huge   iron gate   at   the   entrance   of   the   Convent   of   St   James.   To   your   left   is   the   complex   of   the Theological   Seminary   of   the   Patriarchate,   a   gift   of   the American Armenian   philanthropists Alex   and   Mary   Manougian.   Here,   Armenian   youths   from   all   over   the   world,   including   the USA   and   Armenia,   come   to   study   for   the   priesthood.   When   ordained,   after   several   years of   intensive   study,   they   will   be   posted   to   various   churches   in   the   Holy   Land   or   overseas, and help infuse new blood among the ranks of Armenian clergy.
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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