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   Holy   Land,   with   Jerusalem   nestled   at   its   core, has   seen   conqueror   after   conqueror   pitch   his   tent   by its   golden   rocks,   only   to   vanish   in   time   from   the   pages of history.                 Assyrians,    Babylonians,    Romans,    Byzantines, Mameluks,   Ottomans   have   come   and   gone,   leaving faint traces behind.                 Traces    in    the    sand,    evanescent    and    barely palpable.             But   among   the   others   who   also   came   some,   like   the Armenians   stayed,      indelibly   imprinting   their   vibrant presence      into      the annals of the city.             The   first   wave of   Armenians   landing   on   the   shores   of   the   Holy   Land   would   have been   in   the   wake   of   the   invading   armies   of   their   emperor,   Tigranes II, King of Kings.             They   were   pagans   then,   worshippers   of   lifeless   stone   gods   and goddesses.             Until   the   year   301   when   they   accepted   Christianity   as   their national religion.     And the Armenian church was born.             Since   that   seminal   era,   the   church   has   played   a   pivotal   role   in   the life of every single Armenian, anywhere in the world.             While   Etchmiadzin,   in   the Armenian   capital   of   Yerevan,   continues to   be   their   main   spiritual   fount   of   religious   rejuvenation,   Jerusalem has    come    to    occupy    a    no    less    auspicious    place    in    the    heart    of Armenians.             It   is   no   wonder   that   throughout   their   illustrious   history,   their church   has   remained   the   mighty   anvil   upon   which   their   identity   as Armenians   has   been   forged:   were   it   not   for   the   Armenian   church, Armenia   as   a   nation   would   have   ceased   to   be   a   viable   entity   long ago.             Dr   Harry   Hagopian,   international   lawyer   and   Ecumenical   advocate active   in   promoting   Christian   affairs,   reminds   us   that   "the   Armenian Church   has   held   in   the   past,   as   it   still   does   today,   a   prominent   and undisputed position in the Holy Land."             His   newly   published   book,   "The   Armenian   Church   in   the   Holy Land,"   which   he   dedicates   to   "the   Armenian   community   of   the   holy land    and    all    who    call    it    home,"    provides    a    timely    and    urgently needed   update   on   the   status   of   the   church   in   Jerusalem,   especially in   the   wake   of   the   renovations   being   carried   out   at   the   tomb   of   Jesus   for   the   first   time   in   over   200 years,   a   development   that   has   spawned   eschatological   expectations   among   the   billion   Christians   of   the world.             Hagopian   [we   are   not   related]   notes   that   first   of   all,   the Armenian   church   "enjoys   a   unique   standing in   Jerusalem   by   virtue   of   its   historical   role   as   joint   custodian   or   guardian   of   the   Holy   Sites   alongside   the Greek   Orthodox   and   Roman   Catholic   churches.   Secondly,   it   still   influences   the   lives   of   many   Armenian communities   in   the   Middle   East,   and   thirdly,   it   holds   substantial   properties,   including   churches   and monasteries, both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories."             The   slim   60-page   volume   is   packed   with   insightful   observation   and   solid      documentary   evidence, including   a   list   of   the Armenian   patriarchs   of   Jerusalem   and   a   bibliography,   presenting   readers   with   "an informative   and   analytical   work   which   can   help   to   deepen   our   awareness   of   this   ancient   Christian community   which   is   thankful   for   its   past,   passionate   for   its   present,   and   hopeful   for   its   future," according   to   Bishop   Declan   Lang,   Chairman,   Dept   of   International   Affairs   of   the   Catholic   Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.             In   all   the   battles   for   survival   the   Armenians   have   fought,   the   Church   had   always   been   in   the vanguard   of   the   struggle,   its   banners   hoisted   above      the   spears   of   the   defending   army,   the   chants   and exhortations of the priests and bishops encouraging and inspiring the troops.             The   church   provided   not   only   solace   and   comfort,   inspiration   and   courage,   but   also   refuge   to   its wandering children.                         Most   of   the Armenians   pilgrims   who   first   began   trekking   to   the   Holy   Land   in   long   caravans   that   often boasted   hundreds   of   camels,   were   housed   in   convents   built   by   the   Armenian   priests   in   and   around Jerusalem.   Those   who   opted   to   settle   down   in   the   city   were   gifted   plots   of   land   on   which   to   build homes, thus establishing the nucleus of what came to grow into the Armenian Quarter.             Many Armenian   families   still   live   there   and   in   the   nearby   Convent   of   St   James,   seat   of   the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, side by side with members of the clergy.              Its   Cathedral,   regarded   by   some   as   the   most   magnificent   in   all   of   the   Middle   East,   has   been   built   on the site of the tombs of St James, the brother of Jesus, and St James the Lesser             With   its   museum,   school,   library,   medical   centre,   printing   press,   football   field,   theological   seminary and   clubs,   the   convent   is   a   city   within   a   city,   encompassing   a   cohesive   communal   spirit   that   continues to spawn the dynamic footprint of the Armenian presence in Jerusalem.          These   are   the   descendants   of   those   who   stayed,   endured   and   prospered,   and   put   their   stamp   upon the once unremarkable provincial town, helping transfer it into the vibrant center of the world.      It is from these pioneers that all the Armenians of the Holy Land are descended.             But   Jerusalem   is   not   the   sole   province   of   Christianity.   As   Latin   Patriarch   Emeritus   Michel   Sabah   put it,   "this   Holy   City   is   home   for   two   peoples   and   three   faiths.   And   that   faith   leads   us   inexorably   to   the central   tenet   of   our   belief   that   manifests   itself   by   a   two-millennia-old   empty   tomb   in   a   cobwebby church."            And,   Hagopian   adds,   Jerusalem   could   have   a   very   proactive   role   to   play   in   bringing   peace   to   the   Holy Land,   recounting   a   remark   an   old   friend,   the   late Armenian   Patriarch   Torkom   Manoogian   jokingly   made "over   a   cup   of   brandy-laced   and   honey-rich   tea,   that   if   people   can   get   along   in   Jerusalem,   they   can   get along anywhere."             One   of   the   nuggets   Hagopian   has   inserted   into   his   monogram   is   an   excerpt   from   firman   issued   by Ottoman   Sultan Abdulhamid   dated   July   25,   1888,   which   unequivocally   grants   an Armenian   patriarch   the right to bear arms during his travels.      Not only that.             "The   patriarch   in   order   to   go   about   in   dangerous   areas   in   safety,   will   have   the   right   to   change   his dress   and   carry   arms   and   no   intervention   will   be   made   in   this   matter   by   the   police   authorities,"   the firman, addressed to then Patriarch Haroutioun Vehabedian dictates.                The Armenian   church   is   still   relevant   today,   and   forever,   a   pillar   of   strength   and   beacon   of   hope   for Armenians   all   over   the   world.   It   may   be   ancient,   but   it   is   not   archaic,   as   the   late Armenian   Catholicos Karekin, once told Hagopian.      [Dr Harry Hagopian has kindly made the book available for free, in PDF format, at these websites:  ]     (19 Dec 2016)
Guardian angels inside the Cathedral of St James