The Armenians of Jerusalem form four distinctive groups, each as

vibrant as the rest, yet all united by their common heritage and

their incontestable belief in a shared heritage. The language, too,

is always the same.

               That   is   not   to   deny   the   nascent   undercurrent   of   healthy   rivalry   that   each harbors.                The   two   major   groupings   are   the   native   "kaghakatsis"   who   live   mainly   in   the Armenian   Quarter   of   the   Old   City,   and   whose   ancestors   first   settled   in   the   region 2,000   years   ago,   and   the   "Vanketsis"   who   live   within   the   precinct   of   the   Convent of    St    James    where    they    had    found    refuge    from    the    Turkish    genocides    and pogroms.                On   the   cultural   level,   the   Kaghakatsis   congregate   around   their   Jerusalem Armenian    Benevolent    Union,    the    JABU,    while    the    Vanketsis    have    split    their activities   into   two   avenues   of   expression,   each   driven   by   a   varying   ideology.   The "Homentmen"   (allied   with   the   Tashnag   political   party)   pined   for   an   independent Armenia,   free   of   Soviet   influence   and   intervention,   while   the   "Hoyetchmen"   had been   comfortable   with   the   status   quo   in   Armenia   (prior   to   Gorbachev's   coup). Another    minor    splinter    group,    the    "Ramgavar,"    was    more    or    less    tenuously sympathetic to the Soviet line.               There   are   two   other   groupings,   the   Catholic   and   Protestant Armenians,   mostly converts.   The   Catholics   have   set   up   their   own   private   youth   club,   "Arax"   (after   a popular river in Armenia).                In   recent   years,   the   lines   of   demarcation   among   the   groupings   has   begun   to dissolve, in the face of modern challenges. Rivalries have melted away and closer relationships   established:   the   younger   generation   has   no   patience   with   stultified stances,   and   with   the   inception   of   social   networking,   they   are   more   attuned   to   a more global outlook.                The   youth   clubs   have   their   own   scout   groups   and   cultural   programs.   Among these,   thespian   aspirations   rank   high.     Among   their   more   ambitious   efforts,   have been   the   staging   of   classics   like   "Salome"   and   Bedros Tourian's   "Sev   Hogher"   (Black Earth),   but   comedy   sketches   and   one-man   stands   have   been   the   main   fare   on   the dramatic menu.                World   famous   musician   Ohan   Dourian   has   often   regaled   audiences   with   his piano renditions, while Tavit Tavitian offered audiences his version of Czardas.                 Over   the   centuries,   the   kaghakatsi   have   enriched   the   Holy   City's   multifaceted ethnic   and   social   fabric   with   a   proliferation   of   talent,   vision   and   hard   work, creating    a    unique    culture    and    identity,    unlike    any    other    in    the    Armenian diaspora. This   tiny   enclave   whose   members   have   been   making   their   home   in   the cobblestoned   alleys   of   the   Old   City   for   centuries   for   over   2,000   years,   have   given the   city   its   first   printing   press   and   photographic   studio,   and   titillated   the   palates of aficionados with spicy blends of their irresistible cuisine.             The   kaghakatsi   ancestors   were   great   teachers,   artists,   goldsmiths,   carpenters, story-tellers   and   family   men,   but   they   were   poor   record   keepers.   Except   for   a register    of    births,    deaths    and    certificates    maintained    by    the    Armenian Patriarchate   of   St   James   in   Jerusalem,   and   some   family   heirlooms,   we   possess   no archives   or   documents   detailing   their   way   of   life,   other   than   word-of-mouth accounts.                True,   little   has   changed   in   the   Old   City   over   the   centuries,   but   memories   also dim,   and   the   next   generation   of   kaghakatsis   may   wonder   where   on   earth   they came from: who were the kaghakatsis, what made them run?      A   "Family   Tree   Project"   launched   a   few   years   ago,   now   part   of   the   expanded endeavour   that   will   encompass   all   Armenians   of   Jerusalem,   seeks   to   answer these   questions,   its   mandate   preserving   the   history,   culture   and   traditions   of   the kaghakatsis who at their peak numbered over 25,000.               As   part   of   the   project,   efforts   are   being   made   to   trace   the   family   connections of   this   unique   entity   whose   members   are   all   related   to   one   another,   in   one   long unbroken   chain.   The   project   will   ensure   that   their   unique   place   in   the   history   of the immortal city of Jerusalem, is not irretrievably lost.                The   Family   Tree   is   accessible   only   to   bona   fide   kaghakatsis   with   the   help   of   a private key available here.                The   Family   Tree   Project   has   so   far   collated   genealogical   details   of   over   3000 kaghakatsi   Armenians   from   among   the   members   of   the   score   of   leading   “clans,” relying   mostly   on   personal   reminiscences   and   recollections.   But   the   years   may have shrouded some of these in obscurity.                   While   the   project   pays   tribute   to   the   memory   of   those   who   have   gone   before us,   it   hopes   to   bequeath   to   future   generations   of   kaghakatsis   a   deeper   sense   of belonging   to   a   uniquely   cohesive   society   that   knows   well   the   meaning   of   sharing and caring.                   For   wherever   there   is   a   kaghakatsi   in   any   part   of   this   world,   there   is   a Jerusalem and an Armenia.
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