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

Strands of gold entwined with copper, wrapped in the folds of a towering

wall, the scent of pines carried on the breeze at twilight, the sound of bells

punctuating the slumber of tree and stone.Lying in proud solitude, its

mountain air as clear as wine, its name scorching like the kiss of a seraph.

         We   are   looking   down   on   the   little   town   of   Jerusalem,   city   of   gold,   of   which   the   poets   and troubadours   never   tire   of singing    Israel‚    Ofra    Haza calls    it    Yerushalaym    shel zahav‚       (Jerusalem       of Gold)        and        Lebanon‚ Fayrouz     zahratul     mada‚ (flower of the cities).          We   are   in   the   process   of carrying    out    some    aerial filming.     The     helicopter hovers   impatiently   in   the spring      air,      the      65mm camera      in      its      bosom hungrily    lapping    up    the landscape          unravelling below,        creating        the backdrop     for     what     the producers     and     director are confident will be a triumphant celebration of Jerusalem.          Like   busy   ants,   the   thousands   of   pilgrims   down   below   push   and   pull   each   other,   in   their haste   and   eagerness   to   join   a   procession   or   reach   a   gate   before   a   logjam   develops   and   they are left out in the cold, sometimes for hours.          They   are   here   to   celebrate   Easter,   2010.   The   concatenation   of   ceremonies   this   particular leap   year   has   exacerbated   a   perennially   congested   logistics   problem,   creating   headaches   not only   for   church   leaders   who   must   accommodate   their   flock,   but   also   for   the   outnumbered police who must impose order and a sense of security and ensure all things run smoothly.          Religious   ceremonies   follow   one   another   back   to   back   in   an   endless   run   of   astute   stage management    and    euphoric    expectations    as    members    of    the    various    Christian    churches, Catholic,   Protestant   and   Orthodox   (Armenian,   Greek,   Assyrian,   Coptic,   Ethiopian),   crane necks   or   seek   vantage   points,   some   clinging   perilously   to   rooftops,   as   they   seek   to   view, absorb and store in their memories, echoes of the sacred moments they are experiencing.          In   years   past,   when   the   crowds   were   thinner,   scuffles   between   two   or   three   different Christian   denominations,   almost   invariably   involving   Greeks   and   Armenians,   had   come   to   be the   expected   norm.   Disagreements   broke   out   over   each   side‚Äôs   private   interpretation   of   the terms   of   the   long-standing   ‚Äústatus   quo‚Äù   that   governs   relations   between   the   various Christian churches, an inheritance from the Ottoman regime.          With   territorial   rivalry   running   rampant   over   ownership   of   the   holy   sites,   breaches   of   the status   quo   are   always   viewed   with   zero   tolerance.   You   sweep   one   extra   tile   beyond   your jurisdiction, and you are encroaching on my rights and privileges. With   these   and   other   sensitivities   in   mind,   our   production   team   has   worked   hard   to   establish solid   rapport   with   the   leaders   of   the   Christian   churches,   as   well   as   with   leaders   of   the neighborhood    Moslem    and    Jewish    communities.    We    have    almost    carte    blanche    to    film whenever and wherever we want.    Almost.          Although   I   am   allowed   to   videotape   the   relics   of   Armenian   saints   (encased   in   gilt   silver containers   shaped   like   forearms),   housed   in   a   chapel   that   is   ordinarily   out   of   bounds,   I   am denied   access   to   the   treasury   of   the   Armenian   Patriarchate,   whose   location   is   a   closely guarded   secret,   and   whose   portals   require   three   separate   keys   wielded   by   three   different priests,    to    open.   And    the    Waqf,    the    institution    which    oversees    Moslem    religious    sites, demands   that   we   stop   the   cameras   rolling   when   the   sheikh   mounts   the   minbar   (pulpit)   to deliver   the   Friday   sermon   at   the   Aqsa   mosque,the   third   most   important   place   of   worship   for Islam after Mecca and Medina.          The   weather   is   unimpeachable   and   the   spacecam   delivers   beautiful   footage   of   the   Dead Sea,   Qumran,   Nazareth,   the   distant   Judean   hills,   and   other   major   landmarks   of   the   Holy   Land in a wide sweep of a predetermined grid pattern. I            am   down   on   the   ground   doing   my   bit.   This   is   my   second   trip   to   Jerusalem   in   15   years.   I have   been   brought   over   as   project   consultant,   but   soon   after   I   land,   a   camcorder   is   thrust into   my   hands:   what   I   film   will   complement   our   mushrooming   research   material   and   help   the project make an informed decision about what to include in the final cut.          For   the   first   time   in   years,   there   are   no   incidents   to   mar   the   festive   spirit.   Sensible   heads have   prevailed   and   have   been   able   to   contain   any   nascent   sparks   that   might   lead   to   a potential   flareup:   the   only   jarring   note   is   the   immense   difficulty   hundreds   of   hapless   pilgrims face   in   trying   to   run   the   gamut   of   makeshift   checkpoints   the   Israeli   police   has   erected   at every corner and junction of the Old City streets and alleys.          I   myself   have   had   personal   experience   of   this   anomaly:   armed   with   a   couple   of   passes issued   by   the   Armenian   Patriarchate,   I   am   trying   to   get   two   production   team   members   past one   checkpoint   at   Jaffa   Gate,   only   to   be   rebuffed   and   told   to   try   the   nearby   New   Gate   or   the more   distant   Zion   Gate.   Although   I   carry   an   itonai   chutz   (foreign   correspondent)   pass   as   well as    permission"    letters    of    reference    from    all    three    Guardians    of    the    Holy    Places    (the Armenians,   the   Greeks   and   the   Custodia)   allowing   us   free   access   to   the   Holy   Places,   the police officer is unimpressed.          If   I   let   your   people   pass,   I   must   let   everyone   else   pass   as   well,   he   tells   me,   waving   at   the milling multitude behind the barricade.         As   I   stand   there   fuming,   one   of   the   pilgrims   at   the   checkpoint   pleads   with   me   to   give   her   a pass. I shake my head helplessly. I only have the two          The   team   members   finally   make   it   through   but   only   after   we   place   a   call   with   the Jerusalem police chief.    We barely have time to join the Armenian procession to the church of the Holy Sepulchre.         As   we   plod   through   the   cobblestoned   streets   of   the   Old   City,   I   tell   myself,   it   is   through   these roads   that   the   son   of   the   carpenter   from   Nazareth   must   have   passed   on   his   mission   of   peace and forgiveness, and his eventual condemnation and punishment.          And   here   we   are,   two   thousand   years   later,   re-enacting   his   painful   march   to   his   place   of crucifixion.          And   ultimate   triumph   over   death,   and   his   resurrection   on   the   Holy   Fire   Saturday   we   are witnessing .    Jerusalem, April 2010
3D IMAX screen capture