Armenian Jerusalem

It is a crying shame that a truly comprehensive and scholarly

gratifying history of the annals of the Armenians of Jerusalem

has yet to be penned. Armenians have been living in Jerusalem

continuously for over two thousand years, even before their

conversion to Christianity.

     That's a lot of history, by any reckoning.                Not   that   this   demonstrably   vital   colony   of   artists, craftsmen,   and   other   creative   spirits   -   the   list   is   endless but   runs   the   whole   gamut   of   human   experience   -   lacks   the necessary   skill   or   expertise   to   do   it,   scattered   though   most of   its   members   may   be   around   the   four   corners   of   the world.                The   reasons   behind   this   omission   are   not   mere   inertia on   the   part   of   Armenian   scribes.   The   lamentable   fact   is that   the   ancestors   of   Jerusalem's   Armenians   gave   record- keeping   a   pedestrian   glance,   leaving   their   progeny   with precious little reliable records or resources to tap.               And   let   us   not   forget   that   the   whole   Middle   East   region has    been    so    enmeshed    in    periodic    patches    of    political upheaval   over   the   centuries,   the   foremost   preoccupation of   the   city's Armenian   denizens   has   always   been   to   win   the struggle for survival.      But all is not lost.                As   we   look   through   the   glass   of   history,   darkly,   though   we perceive    dark    clouds    of    unknowing,    we    can    also    sporadically discern   some   bright   lights   of   promise,   personified   in   a   minuscule pride of historians, like Ormanian and Savalaniantz.                    Their    books    have    almost    become    objects    of    veneration, preserving   for   posterity   as   they   do   segments   of   the   story   of   the Armenians of Jerusalem.                Several   years   ago,   Jerusalem-born   scholar   Kevork   Hintlian attempted   to   fill   part   of   the   gap   in   the   history   of   his   people   with   a well-researched,   slim   but   titillating   volume,   "The   History   of   the Armenians in the Holy Land."                Unfortunately,   this   book   remains   generally   undervalued   and unappreciated    -    it    deserves    better.    Hintlian    has    been    urged repeatedly   to   expand   it,   extend   its   range.   Hopefully,   he   will   get around to it sometime soon.                In   sharp   contrast   to   Hintlian's   slender   tome,   US-based   Haig Krikorian   has   just   celebrated   the   culmination   of   a   ten-year   labor   of   love   with   a massive    800-page    endeavor,    entitled    "Lives    and    Times    of    the    Armenian Patriarchs of Jerusalem."                Krikorian's   book   is   a   timely   treasure,   foraging   into   the   profound,   almost inaccessible    niches    and    caves    of    disparate    archives    to    encapsulate    for perpetuity the vicissitudes of the Armenian church in Jerusalem.                The   Armenian   nation   owns   this   patient   plodder   an   incalculable   debt   of gratitude   for   rescuing   from   obscurity   the   epic   tale   of   the   panoply   of   Armenian church   leaders,   with   a   detailed   chronicle   that   covers   over   a   millennium   and   a half of the lives of the Armenian patriarchs of Jerusalem.                Krikorian   has   the   good   fortune   of   being   a   close   friend   of   the   current incumbent,   Patriarch   Torkom   Manoogian,   and   that,   coupled   with   his   unflinching support    for    the   Armenian    Patriarchate,    opened    several    doors    for    him    and accorded him unprecedented access to existing records and private papers.                Despite   the   heavy   lifting,   I   could   not   put   the   book   down.   Krikorian's   fluid writing   style,   his   meticulous   choice   of   diction   and   paraphrase   and   the   lack   of any literary mannerism of ostentation makes reading his book a delight.                And   there   is   plenty   to   tell   his   readers.   Some   of   the   facts   he   has   uncovered have   probably   never   been   revealed   before.   How   many   Armenians   are   aware that   Abraham   (638-669),   regarded   by   many   as   the   first   Armenian   Patriarch   of Jerusalem,    had    trekked    all    the    way    to    Mecca,    to    plead    with    the    Prophet Mohammed for protection for his flock?                [While   it   is   almost   impossible   to   determine   the   exact   number   of   Armenian Patriarchs in Jerusalem, various sources place the number between 75 to 100].                Krikorian   has   taken   great   pains   to   trace   the   origins   of   the   Armenian presence   in   the   Holy   Land,   and   in   particular   in   Jerusalem,   and   as   you   read   you come   to   realize   that   the   story   of   the   Armenians   of   Jerusalem   is   actually   the story   of   their   church,   embodied   in   the   Patriarchate   of   St   James,   with   its   grand cathedral,    and    that    their    history    is    linked        inevitably    to    their    entity    as Christians.                While   recapping   his   chronicle,   with   a   great   eye   for   detail,   the   writer   also delves   into   the   deeds   and   misdeeds   of   priestly   members   of   the   Brotherhood   of St   James,   an   interlude   that   no   doubt   is   bound   to   raise   eyebrows:   not   many Armenians   will   be   happy   to   see   the   dirty   wash   of   their   spiritual   leaders   aired   in public.                Krikorian   is   not   interested   in   a   whitewash.   He   emphasizes   that   the Armenian church   survived   the   ravages   of   time   despite   the   relentless   threat   of   internal strife   and   corruption   at   the   hands   of   unconscionable   clergymen   who   pitted their ambitions ahead that of the good of the church.                Inevitably,   there   is   the   sorry   episode   of   the   25   manuscripts   purloined   in   the late   1940's   and   the   battle   to   get   them   back.   Not   all   25   were   retrieved.   Three still   remain   unaccounted   for,   languishing   perhaps   in   the   safe   of   some   millionaire collector.   Whether   he   or   she   would   know   or   appreciate   half   the   value   of   so precious a possession, nobody will know.                Nor   does   Krikorian   shy   away   from   pointing   the   finger   at   the   attempts   by other     Christian     denominations,     particularly     the     Greeks     and     Latins,     to expropriate Armenian properties and subjugate the Armenian church.               At   some   point   down   the   timeline   of   history, Armenians   are   said   to   have   built over   500   monasteries   in   and   around   Jerusalem.   Many   of   these   have   been   lost now   -   either   destroyed   or   taken   over,   either   through   wars   or   subterfuge,   and sometimes by sheer chicanery or incompetence.                Ironically,   while   fellow   Christians   persecuted   the   Armenians,   their   non- Christian   overlords,   particularly   the   Moslems,   seem   to   have   viewed   them   with special    favor,    granting    them    rights    and    privileges    they    enjoy    to    this    day. Krikorian   points   out   that   this   was   no   doubt   politically   motivated,   as   a   counter to their enemies with their Byzantine sympathies and loyalties.                Krikorian,   a   former   student   at   the   theological   seminary   of   the   Armenian Patriarchate    of    Jerusalem,    takes    us    through    a    travelogue    that    spans    the Byzantine,      Arab,      Crusader,      Maneluke,      Turk,      British      and      Jordanian administrations,   and   down   to   the   present   era   of   the   Israeli   and   Palestinian conflict.                Throughout   this   epoch,   pockmarked   by   frequent   violence   and   endemic corruption,   the Armenians   continued   to   survive   and   thrive,   honing   their   skills   at diplomatic and politician maneuvering, alongside the arts and crafts.                It   is   their   presence   that   gives   Jerusalem   its   unique   flavor   and   contributes   to the city's claim to be the center of the world.
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

HB Abp Yeghishe Derderian

HB Abp Torkom Manoogian

HB Abp Nourhan Manoogian

Patriarch Harutiunm Vehabedian