Armenian Jerusalem
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

The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem has taken steps

to computerize and preserve the genealogical records of

community members dating back over a century and a

half, rescuing them from oblivion and the ravages of time

and weather.

               The   data,   spread   over   more   than   220   musty   pages   of   three   ancient "domars"   (registers)   maintained   by   the   Patriarchate's   scriptorium,   was photographed by one of Jerusalem's leading artists, Garo Nalbandian.             Patriarchate   sources   revealed   that   the   pages   had   become   brittle   and in   several   cases   the   running   ink   had   made   the   painstaking   handwritten script almost illegible.                Enshrined   on   computer   CD-ROMs,   the   registers,   which   are   primarily lists   of   the   details   of   the   births,   marriages   and   deaths   of   the Armenian community    of    the    Old    City    over    the    past    170    years,    will    now    be permanently preserved for posterity within the Patriarchate archives.                The   Patriarchate   has   also   acceded   to   a   request   by   the   kaghakatsi Armenian   Family   Tree   project,   which   assisted   in   the   rescue   effort,   to have a copy hosted on this project website.                The   information   will   be   accessible   to   members   of   the   kaghakatsi community whose forebears appear in the registers.                The   Project's   participation   in   the   rescue   operation   is   part   of   its efforts   to   safeguard   the   history   and   culture   of   the   members   of   the unique kaghakatsi ("native dwelling") community of the Old City.                These   efforts   have   resulted   in   the   compilation   of   a   database   listing close to a hundred kaghakatsi clans, covering more than 2400 names.      But only as far back as 1840.      What of those who went before? Armenians   have   been   living   in   Jerusalem   even   before   the   advent   of Christianity   -   but   documents   or   records   attesting   to   their   presence   in the Holy Land around that era are hard to come by.                Even   before   Thaddeus   and   Bartholomew,   the   two   apostles   of   Jesus of    Nazareth    who    according    to    tradition    brought    Christianity    to    a heathen   Armenia,   a   large   number   of   the   denizens   of   that   rocky   region had   already   set   up   home   in   Jerusalem,   the   sleepy   village   that   had become    a    distant    outpost    of    the    empire    carved    out    by   Armenian emperor Tigranes II some 150 years before the birth of Jesus.               Tigranes   invaded   Syria   and   Palestine,   extending   his   empire   from   the Caspian   Sea   to   the   Mediterranean,   and   left   behind   sizeable   garrisons and colonies of Armenians to hold the fort and show the flag.                When   in   301   AD   King   Tiridates   adopted   Christianity   as   Armenia's state    religion,    the    epoch-making    move    gave    added    impetus    to    an enthusiastic    influx    of    Armenians    eager    to    chase    the    lodestone    of rejuvenation in the new faith, in the city of the Christ.                The   colonies   endured   and   flourished.   Caught   up   in   the   zeal   of   the new   religion,   the   Armenian   pilgrims   laid   down   streets   and   put   up houses,   established   churches   and   monasteries,   and   created   mosaics and institutions.                   Out   of   that   exuberance   emerged   a   whole   new   compound,   claiming over a quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem as its private enclave. In   the   middle   of   that   enclave,   the   Armenians   crafted   a   magnificent church   within   a   convent   and   there   established   the   Holy   See   of   St James, with Abraham later becoming its first patriarch.                The   pilgrims   were   lavish   in   their   largesse   to   the   church   and   the Patriarchate   soon   became   a   major   repository   of   Armenian   treasures. The Armenians   gave   free   rein   to   their   creative   spirit,   giving   the   city   its first printing press and photographic studio.                For   over   two   millennia,   the   Patriarchate   of   St   James   has   held   and added    to    its    variegated    treasures,    mementos    of    the    caravan    of Armenians    who    had    lived,    worked    and    died    in    the    Old    City    of Jerusalem.                And   during   all   that   time,   Patriarchate   scribes   continued   to   keep   a running     commentary     of     the     lives     of     the     community     and     the congregation,    tracing    their    lineage,    encrusting    their    names    and memories into its venerable domars.             Although   the   genealogical   records   that   have   been   unearthed   so   far go   back   only   as   far   as   1840,   there   is   uncertainty   about   the   existence   of any prior ones.                 The    current    incumbent    of    the    Holy    See,    Patriarch    Torkom Manoogian,    has    almost    single    handedly    streamlined    the    laborious archival   system   of   the   patriarchate   of   St   James,   propelling   it   into   the IT age, but despite all his heroic efforts, there is still much left to do.             His   fondest   dream   is   to   computerize   the   whole   range   of   the Patriarchate's     extensive     archives,     a     job     too     daunting     to     even contemplate    at    the    moment:    a    researcher    could    spend    a    lifetime delving   into   the   Patriarchate's   paper   mountain,   and   still   come   short   of sorting everything out.                There   are   countless   numbers   of   ancient   records   languishing   in   one corner    or    other    of    the    Patriarchate,    but    hardly    anyone    on    the Patriarchate   staff   can   spare   the   time   or   effort   to   research   or   catalogue or computerize them.      And few are qualified to undertake the job.                "It   is   true   the   patriarchate   has   more   employees   than   there   are   able bodied   men   and   women   in   the   community,”   Patriarchate   sources   say. "But   what   it   requires   is   someone   of   the   caliber   of   Archbishop   Norayr Bogharian"   (who   spent   years   creating   a   definitive   catalogue   of   the thousands of illustrated Armenian manuscripts owned by St James).                In   the   meantime,   the   kaghakatsi   Armenian   Family   Tree   project continues   to   forge   ahead   with   its   mission,   adding   another   batch   of names to the database of genealogical information it has compiled.      The number of names now stands at over 2400. And still counting.                "There   are   still   many   gaps   left   to   fill,"   the   organizers   say.   "We   need more   information   -   we've   barely   scratched   the   surface. The   kaghakatsis thrived    on    custom    and    tradition,    on    anecdotes    and    tall    tales,    on escapades   and   adventure,   on   songs   and   jokes.   On   exquisite   cuisine.   On Khoren   the   Jamgotch's   Sunday   call   to   prayer.   Our   aim   is   to   elicit   these reminiscences   and   memories,   and   preserve   them. And   out   there   among kaghakatsi     descendants,     there     must     still     be     truckloads     of     old photographs, pleading to be brought back to life."                "A-avodyan   lo3s   e   /akoom,"   in   the   morning   light   has   dawned, Khoren   would   sing,   as   he   pounded   the   cobblestones   lining   the   alleys   of the Armenian Quarter. "In the morning, light has dawned."                If   the   kaghakatsi   Armenian   Family   Tree   project   has   its   way,   that light will never wane.      (Jerusalem, July 6, 2008)