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
         (First published on July 2, 1986)       Their   community   spirit   is   pointed   to   by   Itzhak   Ya'acovi,   Director   General   of   the   East Jerusalem   Development   Company,   who   recalls   that   while   the   Old   City's   Christian   and   Moslem residents   opposed   the   municipality's   plan   to   replace   all   TV   antenna   towers   with   a   central one,   the   Armenians   welcomed   the   idea   and   were   the   first   to   cooperate.   Naomi   Teasedale, Mayor   Teddy   Kollek's   advisor   on   Christian   affairs,   adds   that   the   Armenians   are   the   only minority    group    in    Jerusalem    to    teach    their    children    Hebrew    in    their    own    school,    the Tarkmanchatz.          George   Hintlian,   a   leading   authority   on   Armenian   culture   and   society   and   curator   of   the Armenian   museum   of   art   and   culture,   points   out   "we   hold   a   unique   position   in   Jerusalem.   We are   not   a   parochial   community.   The   Armenian   Patriarchate   has   semi-diplomatic   status.   It   is one   of   the   three   guardians   of   the   Holy   Places   (The   Holy   Sepulchre,   the   Church   of   Nativity   in Bethlehem,    the    Church    of   Ascension    and    the   Tomb    of    the    Virgin    at    Gathsemane).   The importance   of   the   Armenians   in   Jerusalem   derives   from   the   fact   that   their   church   is   one   of the   custodians   of   the   holy   places:   we   rank   second   in   importance   after   the   Greek   Orthodox and   the   Latin   Patriarchate."   Without   this,   the Armenians   here   would   be   no   more   than   simple landholders.          For   decades,   the Armenian   church   properties   along   Jerusalem's   Jaffa,   Shlomzion   Hamalka, Yannai,   and   Korresh   streets,   and   in   the   towns   of   Ramallah,   Jaffa   and   Bethlehem   have   been providing   the   Patriarchate   with   the   funds   to   help   run   its   manifold   educational,   cultural   and religious programs. Invariably, the Patriarchate's budget was in the red.          "Now,   for   the   first   time   in   sixty-five   years,   we   have   money   in   the   bank," Archbishop   Karekin Kazanjian,   the   naturalized   Australian   Grand   Sacristan,   said   proudly.   "We   have   settled   our debts,   and   for   two   years   we   had   no   help   from   abroad,"   he   added,   referring   to   the   massive infusion of funds sent regularly from rich Armenian contributors in the U.S. and elsewhere.          The   Patriarchate   runs   a   subsidized   health   service,   providing   medical   care   and   attention   for all Armenians   for   a   symbolic   fee.   The   doctor   does   not   call   every   day,   but   is   usually   available most afternoons of the week.          The   St.   James   printing   press,   the   first   in   the   Holy   City,   was   established   in   1833.   Although most   of   its   output   is   in Armenian,   it   undertakes   work   in   other   languages,   including Arabic   and Hebrew.   Patriarch Yeghishe   Derderian,   an   acknowledged   poet   and   writer,   regularly   patronizes the printing press. A Haven for Theology Students          The   theological   seminary   is   home   for   less   than   a   score   of   young   students,   drawn   chiefly from   Turkey   and   Lebanon,   who   occupy   a   sprawling   new   building   put   up   by   the   American- Armenian   philanthropist Alex   Manougian. They   come   from   distant   villages   in   the   mountains   of Turkish Armenia,   bearing   outlandish   names   that   have   no   connection   with   their   ancestors   and hardly   knowing   a   word   of   Armenian.   They   come   seeking   a   refuge   and   a   haven   from   the endless   battles   in   and   around   Beirut,   leaving   behind   friends   and   families,   dreaming   of   the day   they   will   be   invested   with   the   veghar   (the   unique,   cone-shaped   Armenian   churchmen's head-dress)   and   have   the   right   to   call   themselves   Vartabed   (literally,   teacher).   They   become the   elite   of   the   Armenian   church.   Now,   with   the   borders   sealed,   the   influx   has   shrunk   to   a trickle.   Still,   the   Patriarchate   is   not   worried.   There   will   never   be   a   shortage   of   priests   in Jerusalem,   which   supplies   the Armenian   diaspora   with   an   endless   stream   of   parish   priests   and primates.             The    former    seminary    -    for    many    years    a    legend-wrapped,    cloistered    abbey    -    was transformed   in   1979   into   a   museum,   thanks   to   the   tireless   efforts   of   Archbishop   Shahe Ajemian,   the   former   chancellor   who   was   ousted   from   office   in   1982   and   the   generosity   of another    American    Armenian,     philanthropist     Edward     Mardigian.     Priceless     manuscripts illustrated   by   such   artists   as   Toros   Roslin   and   Pitzak   easily   stole   the   show   at   the   grand opening.   Even   Mayor Teddy   Kollek,   a   seasoned   world-traveller,   professed   amazement   when   he viewed the display of Armenian treasures.         The   1920s   were   a   watershed   in   the   history   of   the Armenians   in   the   Holy   Land.   It   was   during this   brief   epoch   that   the   Armenian   community   finally   obtained   a   school   of   its   own,   the Tarkmanchatz,   which   has   given   the   world   more   than   its   quota   of   luminaries   including   Ohan Durian,   the   pianist   and   composer.   The   school   is   a   college   now,   with   the   tireless   principal, Bishop   Giuregh   Kapikian,   unabashedly   importuning   donors   to   help   keep   the   Tarkmanchatz afloat. The   fees   paid   by   the   handful   of   students   (180   last   year,   compared   with   700   at   its   peak a couple of decades ago) hardly pay the salaries of his teaching staff.          The   late   Armenian   multi-millionaire   philanthropist,   Calouste   Gulbenkian,   provided   the funds   for   the   construction   of   a   library   that   ranks   as   one   of   the   most   important   in   the Armenian   diaspora.   The   Gulbenkian   library   boasts   fifty   thousand   volumes,   of   which   twenty thousand   are   in   Armenian.   The   rest   are   mainly   in   English,   French,   and   German,   as   well   as quite   a   few   dead   languages,   including   hieroglyphics.   Sahag   Kalaydjian   acts   as   librarian.   Like the    other    officially    appointed    employees    of    the    Patriarchate,    Kalaydjian    doubles    as accountant-auditor,    teacher,    hyumnology    instructor,    and    has    a    thriving    cassette    vending business on the line.          Most Armenian   youths   prefer   to   work   outside   the   Patriarchate,   where   they   can   earn   better pay   and   garner   fringe   benefits.   This   leaves   a   dearth   of   qualified   employees   which   has necessitated   doubling   or   tripling   the   work   load   of   lay   members   of   the   community,   like Kalaydjian and Hintlian.          The   pay   is   low,   but   Hintlian   would   never   dream   of   giving   up   his   position   of   influence   in   the Patriarchate.   He   lives   in   a   rent-free   house,   like   all   the   Armenians   who   are   domiciled   within the   Convent   of   St.   James   -   but   that   is   the   only   fringe   benefit   he   ever   expects   to   receive.   For years,   he   has   been   planning   to   write   another   book.   But   the   pressure   of   work,   particularly during   the   recent   upheavals   when   he   was   required   to   field   dozens   of   reporters   every   week, look   after   the   reorganization   of   the   museum   (he   is   curator),   and   follow   the   court   cases involving assaults on the premises of Archbishop Hazanjian, kept demanding all his time.          Not   that   any   book   written   by   a   Jerusalemite Armenian   is   going   to   cause   ripples   among   the community    members.    The    library    has    over    three    hundred    different    newspapers    and magazines   on   display,   but   hardly   more   than   two   or   three   people   ever   bother   to   drop   in   at   the reading room. Armenians Outside St. James                               The Armenians   of   Jerusalem   do   not   all   live   within   the   walls   of   the   complex   and   some share   common   borders   with   the   Jews   in   the   renovated   Jewish   Quarter. The   houses   are   all   the property   of   the   Patriarchate   -   and   the   residents   pay   virtually   no   rent,   although,   unlike   St. James residents who are exempt, they do pay municipal taxes. Several   Armenian    Quarter    inhabitants    have    resorted    to    taking    in    lodgers.    The    Convent authorities    close    their    eyes    to    the    practice.    They    benefit    substantially    only    when    an Armenian   resident   wants   to   "sell"   his   home   and   move   on   to America   or   elsewhere.   They   key- money   is   quite   stiff:   an   apartment   in   the   Gulbenkian   Building   (put   up   with   the   help   of   the Gulbenkian   Foundation   for   the   express   purpose   of   housing   Armenians   made   homeless   as   a result   of   the   1948   Israeli   War   of   Independence)   can   easily   fetch   $20,000   unfurnished,   and $25,000 furnished. The Patriarchate is entitled to one third of that amount, in cash. Some   of   the   houses   in   the   Armenian   Quarter   have   been   inhabited   by   the   same   family   for generations.   A   cursory   glance   at   the   architecture   yields   telltale   evidence   of   the   slipshod Ottoman   "art"   of   masonry.   Walls   are   sometimes   three   feet   thick.   Foundations   are   pure   earth. Sunlight   and   ventilation   are   unheard   of   luxuries.   The   plaster   cakes   continually,   as   the   walls shed   their   whitewash   under   the   ravages   of   humidity.   The   houses   may   be   nothing   more   than dank   dungeons,   in   some   cases,   but   for   over   a   hundred   years,   Armenians   have   been   born   and bred   here.   The   Quarter   residents   are   called   "Kaghakatzi,"   city   dwellers,   and   are   looked   down upon by the "Venketzi" or convent/monastery dwellers.          "Perhaps   the   fact   that   the   houses   are   blessed   twice   every   year   (at   Christmas   and   Easter)   by the   parish   priest,   helps   to   make   them   habitable,"   quips   one   resident. The   priest   may   come   to bless,   but   that   is   the   only   connection   he   will   have   with   his   parish,   except   when   officiating   at a   funeral,   baptism   or   marriage   ceremony.   What   respect   priests   may   have   enjoyed   in   the community before has simply evaporated over the years. Four Groups of Armenians Israeli Armenians   generally   fall   into   four   different   groupings.   Those   who   live   in   the Armenian Quarter    speak    Arabic    like    the    natives    and    have    a    club    of    their    own,    the    Paresiratz (benevolent   union).   At   one   time   the   Paresiratz   was   the   guiding   spirit   of   the   Armenian community,   but   it   has   become   a   mere   shadow   of   its   former   self.   The   club   premises   have virtually   been   abandoned;   the   beautiful,   expansive   hall   where   banquets   were   once   held   and the grand stage where Julius Caesar used to strut have been claimed by ghosts.          Within   St.   James,   residents   are   divided   into   two   distinct   groupings.   The   Hoyetchmen   is   the bigger,   more   active   and   more   influential   faction.   It   calls   for   return   to   its   Armenian   (Soviet) homeland,   while   the   Homentmen   pines   for   a   free,   independent   Armenia.   The   Homentmen cultivates   the   Hai   Tad   (Armenian   cause)   organization,   set   up   to   revive   the   memory   of   the Armenian   genocide   and   to   spur   Turkey   to   admit   responsibility. Armenians   claim   that   the   Turks massacred   1,500,000   men,   women   and   children   in   1915,   but   no   Turkish   regime   has   admitted that   such   an   event   actually   transpired.   The   two   are   reportedly   youth   clubs   and   have   their own private premises within the St. James walls.          The   fourth   Armenian   grouping   revolves   around   the   Catholic   church.   They   have   their   own Bishop   and   complex   and   were   traditionally   considered   outcasts   by   mainstream   Armenians who   pride   themselves   on   being   sons   of   the   Lousavoritch,   Gregory   the   Illuminator,   patron   of the   Orthodox   Church.   However,   in   recent   years,   they   have   joined   ranks,   particularly   during the April 24 genocide commemoration.          One   is   struck   by   the   enormous   influence   their   Arab   neighbors   have   had   on   the   Armenian mentality.   It   is   only   in   recent   years,   with   the   advent   of   the   Jews,   that   the   Armenians   have finally   begun   to   wake   up   to   the   unlimited   possibilities   available   to   them   from   a   different, more   advanced   perspective.   The   Israeli   influence   has   been   salubrious,   and   the   affluence made   possible   by   the   higher   standard   of   living   is   appreciated   by   the Armenians.   But   they   still find   it   difficult   to   make   Jewish   friends.   For   many,   it   is   easier   to   communicate   with   the Arabs. Perhaps   this   is   the   result   of   the   Arab   conditioning   process.   Perhaps   they   find   Israelis   "cold." Even   so,   the   Armenians   cannot   help   feeling   a   begrudging   admiration   and   sympathy   for Israelis.    They    share    a    similar    history    of    persecution,    if    nothing    else.    Israel's    superior technology   and   the   sheer   endurance   of   its   people   never   stops   acting   as   an   incentive   for Armenians.                   For   many   Armenians,   the   sojourn   in   Jerusalem   is   considered   a   temporary   one.   They believe   that   this   is   merely   a   way   station,   that   their   future,   or   that   of   their   offspring   lies either in America or Australia, or perhaps Armenia.          Yeghya   Dickranian,   for   example,   is   a   popular   teacher   of   English   who   believes   his   mission   in life   is   to   provide   a   sound   education   for   his   two   children   and   help   make   their   future   secure,   a feeling   shared   by   most Armenian   householders.   (Family   ties   are   very   strong   among   them,   and generally   there   is   no   talk   of   a   son   or   daughter   leaving   home   when   he   or   she   turns   eighteen.) "What   do   I   work   for,   if   not   my   children?"   Dickranian   asked.   His   daughter   is   studying   in   the States   where   she   has   an   uncle   to   care   for   her. The   son   will   soon   follow   suit.   What   will   happen when   they   graduate?   Remain   in   America,   of   course:   "What   future   do   they   have   here   in Jerusalem?"   Dickranian   ponders.   Why   doesn't   he   send   his   children   to   Hebrew   University? Although   they   take   Hebrew   as   a   second   language   at   school,   they   would   still   have   difficulty coping with the lectures and textbooks in Hebrew.          Almost   all   the   young   Armenians   who   graduate   from   the   Trakmanchatz   polish   up   their Hebrew   at   an   ulpan.   They   know   that   without   Hebrew   their   options   here   are   limited.   Many succeed   in   finding   employment   in   the   Israeli   sector   where   the   pay   is   good   and   the   treatment satisfactory. Armenian Success Stories          Aram   Belian   was   wounded   by   shrapnel   on   the   second   day   of   the   June   1967   war.   The   next day,   he   says,   he   picked   up   a   Hebrew   primer   from   a   hospital   tray   and   began   learning   the language.   Today   he   has   reached   a   top   position   in   Israel's   Arabic   TV   service.   Without   any formal   journalistic   qualifications   (he   helped   edit   the   defunct   Jerusalem   Times,   owned   by   Al Quds   publisher   Mahmoud Abu   Zuluf   and   completed   his   apprenticeship   there),   he   graduated   to the news editing slot following a stint at the government-run Arabic language paper, Al Anba. Another   legendary   Armenian   success   story   is   that   of   the   Ohannessian   empire   (tissue   factory, printing   press)   which   began   as   a   one-man   operation,   run   by   Takvor   Ohanness.   He   used   to   buy sheets   of   brown   paper,   cut   them   down   to   size,   glue   the   edges   together   and   sell   them   to Arab merchants   in   the   Old   City.   His   parents   pitched   in   with   the   glue   work.   Now   the   well-known TAKO   trademark   heralds   a   million   dollar   enterprise.   He   is   the   only   West   Bank   manufacturer   to penetrate the Israeli market, "exporting" (the ultimate accolade) to Israeli supermarkets. I         n   addition,   the   TAKO   establishment   has   set   a   unique   precedent.   Without   prompting,   it   has turned   itself   into   the   leading   philanthropic   Armenian   organization   in   the   country,   thanks mainly   to   Serope,   one   of   Takvor's   four   sons,   who   acts   as   sales   manager. Among   the   recipients of   its   munificence:   Jerusalem's Armenian   clubs,   Palestinian   refugees,   universities,   and   the   St. John Opthalmic hospital in Jerusalem.          Most   of   the   Old   City's   jewelers   and   goldsmiths   are   Armenian.   When   the   Islamic   museum wants   a   master   watchmaker   to   tune   its   priceless   collection   of   watches   and   clocks,   it   calls   in Ohannes   Markarian:   it   will   trust   no   one   else   but   the   gangling,   stoop-shouldered   expert   whose clients have included many of Israel's elite.          The   Armenians   will   always   remain   a   paradox.   At   one   end   of   the   spectrum,   are   Armenians reaching   to   the   heights   of   power,   influence,   and   wealth   -   emulating   their   "mascot,"   the   twin- peaked   Mount   Ararat,   which   symbolizes   their   eternal   aspiration   and   longing   for   a   home   that would   put   an   end   to   their   ceaseless   peregrinations   around   the   globe.   At   the   other   end,   are the   elements   that   have   sought   to   opt   out,   indifferent   to   their   heritage,   experimenting   with various shades of despair and frustration.