For the greater part of the past century, the Jerusalem Armenian

Benevolent Union (JABU), popularly known the "Agoump" (club),

continued to act as the nerve center of the social and cultural life

of the kaghakatsi Armenians of the Old City.

               It   played   a   significant   role   not   only   in   enhancing   the   education   of   the kaghakatsi   youth   with   its   Scout   movement,   but   also   in   providing   succor   and shelter in times of need.                One   of   its   most   cherished   traditions   is   the   annual   (Armenian)   New   Year's eve   celebration   when   everyone   who   can   make   it,   wends   his   or   her   way   to   the club    hall    to    share    a    meal    or    refreshments    and    drinks,    sing    songs,    and remember the old days.                Filled   with   good   cheer,   and   good   wine,   the   revelers   then snake    along    the    winding    alleys    of    the    Quarter,    led    by    an accordion-wielding    Pied    Piper,    and    carry    the    party    to    each other's   home.   Invariably,   the   evening   would   end   at   the   home   of the   head   of   community   leader   and   JABU   president   Antranig Bakerjian.                His   table   would   always   be   lavishly   laid. The   genteel   host,   he would    personally    ensure    his    guests,    who    would    sometimes number   over   a   hundred,   each   had   a   drink   or   finger   food   in hand.                More   songs   and   more   laughter,   the   merriment   would   continue   until   the   wee hours of the morning.                The   next   day,   it   would   be   the   children's   turn   to   have   a   party,   with   a   heavily laden Santa Claus to regale them and give them presents.                In   the   afternoon,   JABU   committee   member   Arshalouys   Zakarian   would   lead   a group   of   ladies   to   the   homes   of   the   less   fortunate   families,   to   bestow   some   good cheer upon them along with such largesse as JABU's modest budget would allow.                Bakerjian   had   a   deep   love   of   literature,   particularly   poetry   and   drama.   One   of his   perennial   favorites   was   E.   A.   Poe's   "The   Raven."   He   directed   and   produced several plays, among them the highly popular "Syv Ho.yr" and "Salome."                 JABU   survived   and   thrived   on   the   income   generated   not   by   membership   dues, which   were   practically   nonexistent,   but   by   the   sale   of   gate   tickets   to   the   much- coveted   balls   held   on   three   or   four   occasions   during   the   year   in   the   club   hall,   as well   as   the   highly   anticipated   stage   productions.   Lotteries   brought   in   some   more money.   There   were   also   regular   film   shows:   the   first   movie   ever   screened   by   JABU was   "The   Greatest   Show   on   Earth,"   (which   starred   Charlton   Heston   and   James Stewart).                 JABU   also   helped   stage   other   shows,   with   magicians   the   most   popular attraction.    The    club    once    even    managed    to    stretch    a    tight-rope    above    the audience for a trapeze artist's balancing act.                The   walls   were   decorated   with   Disney   characters,   drawn   by   nascent   artists   like Kevork   Koukeyan   ("Kawarek")   who,   alas,   never   bothered   to   capitalize   on   their talent.                  Literary   activities,   like   dramas   and   poetry   recitation,   were   another   major   draw. "Salome" and "Sev Hogher" (Black Earth) won hands down as best productions.                 The   Scout   movement   was   a   solidly   established   feature   of   life   for   the   young kaghakatsi.   It   was   unquestionably   male-dominated.   The   children   were   trained   in various   kinds   of   Scout   lore   and   craft,   went   camping   at   the   drop   of   a   hat,   and marched   in   glorious   parades.   One   of   their   most   memorable   exploits   was   a   three- trek to Wad el Quilt and the Dead Sea, carrying full packs.                Although   community   numbers   have   been   shrinking   alarmingly   over   the   past several   years,   the   JABU   spirit   still   lives   in   Jerusalem,   in   the   US,   in   Australia, wherever there is a sizeable colony of kaghakatsis.                JABU   was   founded   in   Jerusalem   in   1929,   the   same   year   the   city   saw   the establishment    of    the    Tarkmanchatz    parish    school    and    the    Gulbenkian    library. Among   its   original   founders   were   Hagop   Hovsepian   (who   later   changed   his   surname to Hagopian), a "sefer berlik" survivor.                During   the   1948 Arab-Israeli   war,   it   fell   to   the   well-organized   kaghakatsi   leaders to   take   on   the   duty   and   responsibility   of   guarding   and   defending   the   Armenian Quarter    and    the    Convent    of    St    James.    With    whatever    weapons    they    could scrounge,   they   patrolled   the   Armenian   compound,   ministered   to   the   occasional casualties, organized food distribution, and herded people to shelters.                In   the   wake   of   the   1948   Arab-Israeli   war,   the   kaghakatsi   community   leaders (there   were   nine   of   them)   decided   it   was   time   to   refurbish   the   "Agoump"   whose roof had received a direct hit during the fighting between the Arabs and Jews.                Hagop   Zakarian,   to   whom   people   rarely   referred   by   name,   preferring   to   call him   by   his   popular   sobriquet   "sab'   el   leil"   (night   tiger),   picks   up   the   thread   of   the history of JABU.                Zakarian,   one   of   the   pillars   of   the   modern   kaghakatsi   entity,   who   now   lives   in Miami,   Florida,   was   one   of   those   nine.   The   others   were   Arshalouys   Zakarian, Antranig   Bakerjian,   Kevork   Kaplanian,   Ghazaros   Pashaian,   Melkon   Babigian,   Krikor Mnatzaganian, Apraham Toumayan and Mourad Mouradian.                 [All   of   the   people   mentioned   in   the   above   paragraph   have   lamentably   passed away now].                The   "transition"   that   took   place   in   1948   was   aimed   at   blending   "the   founders with   the   new   members   in   order   to   follow   through   what   our   founders   were   doing," Zakarian says.                 "During   the   transition   a   new   committee   of   nine   members   was   elected   and given   the   responsibility   to   remain   identical   to   the   same   work   the   founders   were doing," he adds.                The   nine   included   merchants,   businessmen   and   public   servants   and   under   their guidance, the JABU club was ushered into a golden age.                However,   the   1967   Six   Day   War   and   relentless   attrition   among   the   kaghakatsi ranks saw its glory begin to fade.                Echoing   the   feeling   of   all   kaghakatsis,   Zakarian   is   determined   to   see   the Agoump "grow and remain as strong as it was in the past."                "This   will   make   everyone   of   us   very   proud   of   our   heritage   and   hard   work,"   he adds.                He   notes   Bakerjian's   visit   to   the   United   States   to   raise   the   funds   required   to repair   the   damage   to   the   club's   roof   was   highly   successful.   Bakerjian   also   visited Sydney,   and   returned   home   to   Jerusalem   with   pledges   of   continuing   support   from abroad.                After   graduating   from   Jerusalem's   Terra   Santa   school,   Bakerjian   became   a teacher   English.   In   the   1950s   he   joined   the   the   United   Nations   Relief   and   Works Agency   (UNRWA)   for   Palestinian   refugees,   rising   through   the   ranks   to   attain   the status of Area Officer.                During   his   visit   to   the   United   States,   he   was   asked   to   remain   at   the   UN headquarters   in   New   York   but   he   declined   the   offer   because   he   wanted   to   go   back and serve his community and rebuild and strengthen the Agoump's membership.                The   total   cost   of   repairs   at   the Agoump   stood   at   US$87,000.   Rebuilding   started in 1992.                Ghazaros   Pashayan   was   a   Treasury   Department   employee   with   the   British Mandate   government   when   he   volunteered   his   financial   expertise   to   JABU.   He became   a   committee   member   and   oversaw   the   Agoump's   books,   keeping   a   tight rein on expenditures.                He   was   later   to   emigrate   to   Australia   and   continue   serving   the   community   by managing the finances of the Sydney branch of JABU.                 Krikor   Mnatzaganian   assumed   the   duties   of   store   manager   and   inventory keeper,   ensuring   that   the   Agoump   never   ran   out   of   necessities.   But   he   was   most more   for   his   prowess   on   the   dance   floor,   earning   for   himself   the   label   of   "al   raqqas" (the dancer). Rare was the girl who could stand on her feet after a twirl with him.               Arshalouys   Zakarian   proved   to   be   one   of   the   most   active   members   of   the   JABU board.   She   was   appointed   specifically   to   speak   for   the   women   of   the   community. She was their voice and their hope.                "Her   commitment   and   hard   work   was   to   get   as   many   women   as   she   could involved in the Agoump," Hagop Zakarian (no direct relation) says.                She   was   particularly   active   in   JABU's   charity   and   social   welfare   programs   and nothing   delighted   her   more   than   to   witness   the   delight   of   the   community   children as they opened their Christmas presents, whose donation she orchestrated.                 Kevork   Kaplanian,   who   owned   a   shoemaking   business   in   the   Christian   Quarter, volunteered    his    time    and    efforts    as    manager    of    the    club's    catering    and entertainment department.                "Whenever   the   Agoump   help   a   party   or   had   a   celebration,   he   used   to   get   up very   early   in   the   mornings   and   head   to   the   market   to   purchase   the   necessary provisions,"   Jack   says.   His   skills   extended   to   the   culinary   art   and   the   mezzas   he prepared were mouth-watering indeed.                The   Agoump   hall   set   the   stage   for   a   very   active   entertainment   program,   for children   and   adults   as   well.   Under   Kaplanian's   stewardship,   the   audience   was regaled   with   magicians,   a   tightrope   walker,   and   movies! The   first   film   shown   at   the Agoump   was   "The   Greatest   Show   on   Earth,"   starring   Charlton   Heston   and   James Stewart.                Melkon   Babigian   was   another   successful   businessman,   a   goldsmith   and   jeweller by   trade,   who   lived   in   the   nearby   Greek   convent   of   St   George.   A   genial,   imposing figure,   he   found   time   to   cater   to   the   needs   of   the   community   as   a   JABU   board member.                Apraham   Toumayan   worked   in   the   payroll   department   of   the   United   Nations Relief   and   Works   Agency   (UNRWA),   and   assisted   the   club's   treasurer,   Ghazaros Pashayan,   in   managing   the   JABU   treasury   and   finance   department.   A   bachelor   all his life, he became very active in Agoump affairs.                The   greatest   joy   in   his   life   was   the   traditional   role   he   played   as   the   guardian and   transmitter   of   the   miraculous   Holy   Fire   on   "sabt   el   nour",    the   Saturday   of Easter.   He   would   be   perched   at   the   mouth   of   one   of   the   several   small   apertures   in the   edicule   containing   the   tomb   of   Jesus,   in   the   rotunda   of   the   Holy   Sepulcher, waiting   for   the   light   that   would   descend   miraculously   on   the   tomb,   signifying   the resurrection of Christ.                With   a   mighty   plunge,   he   would   snatch   the   torches   as   they   burst   into   fire,   and pass   them   on   to   the   runners   waiting   to   take   them   to   their   various   destinations. The first   torch   would   be   handed   to   the   Armenian   runner,   traditionally   a   Hagopian whose   clan   had   inherited   the   immemorial   right   for   the   race   to   get   the   torch   to   the Armenian Patriarch waiting in an upstairs balcony.                Murad   Muradian   is   best   remembered   as   a   Scoutmaster.   By   trade   a   metal   worker, he   threw   himself   body   and   soul   into   the   cultural   programs   of   the   Agoump.   His energetic   zeal   was   contagious.   He   organized   some   of   the   club's   most   ambitious camping   expeditions,   among   them   the   famous   4-day   trek   from   Jerusalem   to   Wad   el Quilt to Jericho and the Dead Sea.                Another   of   his   exploits   was   orchestrating   the   Boy   Scout   contingent   of   the funeral   cortege   of   Patriarch   Guregh   Israelian   who   died   in   1952,   in   Tiberias.   Jack remembers   how   Murad   went   from   house   to   house   to   recruit   more   youth   to   form   a Boy   Scout   group.   He   got   members   of   the   community   to   donate   clothing   and   asked every   mother   to   help   put   a   uniform   on   the   boys   so   that   they   could   participate   in the procession.                Jack   notes   that   Murad's   efforts   paid   off.   When   the   body   of   the   Patriarch   crossed the   Mandelbaurn   gate   dividing   Arab   and   Jewish   Jerusalem,   JABU   was   the   only   one of    the    four   Armenian    clubs    that    could    field    representatives    of    the   Armenian community   to   receive   the   body   of   the   Patriarch   and   accord   him   the   honor   he deserved.                "In   his   years   with   the Agoump,   Murad   was   like   a   father   to   every   boy   Scout   and Cub,"    Jack    adds.    Murad    later    immigrated    to   Australia    where    he    also    became involved in the JABU Australian activities.                Like   Murad,   Jack   Zakarian   himself   was   a   metal   worker,   who   worked   at   the Augusta    Victoria    hospital    as    an    instructor.    And    like    Apraham    Toumayan,    he remained a bachelor most of his life until he migrated to the United States.                 Jack   occupies   a   unique   niche   in   the   annals   of   JABU   and   the   kaghakatsi community    of    Jerusalem.   A    fearless,    perennially    cheerful    man    with    universal appeal,   he   was   the   heart   and   soul   of   any   gathering   or   party.   He   worked   tirelessly to   help   rebuild   the   Agoump   after   the   terrible   pounding   it   had   received   during   the 1948   fighting,   and   became   the   friend   of   young   and   old   alike.   His   tales   of   adventure and    misadventure    (some    of    them    definitely    exaggerated)    would    enthrall    his listeners   for   hours   on   end.   No   Scout   outing   or   expedition   was   complete   without   his participation.                The   Agoump   has   gone   through   more   than   one   upheaval,   but   has   survived   two wars   and   endure   over   the   years,   to   stand   as   an   invincible   symbol   of   the   spirit   of the kaghakatsi Armenians of Jerusalem.                It   continues   to   inspire   and   lead. Although   a   shadow   of   its   vaunted   halcyon   days of   glory   during   the   1950s   and   early   1960s,   it   persists   and   endures   and   shows   the flag   with   all   the   dignity,   courage   and   perseverance   that   is   the   hallmark   of   this unique Armenian community.                Its   endurance   is   attributable   in   no   small   measure   to   the   selfless,   devoted support   it   has   been   receiving   from   sister   clubs   overseas,   particularly   the   US   and Australia.
Armenian Jerusalem
In the Armenian Quarter
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
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
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