Armenian Jerusalem

The tiny community of genocide survivors and their descendants

living in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, has taken

a bold and determined step toward ensuring that their unique place

in the history of this immortal city, is not irretrievably lost. With the

perennially relentless threat of assimilation and attrition dogging

their footsteps, the “kaghakatsis” – literally, city or native dwellers –

are caught up in a brain drain that could, they fear, make their

decreasing number dwindle even further.

     Community leaders voice their fears more bluntly.      “What we are facing is extinction and oblivion,” they say.                Kaghakatsi   Armenians   are   a   genealogical   oddity:   every   single   member   of   the community   is   related   to   everyone   else   in   the   community,   either   directly   or   indirectly. Takoug   Khatchadourian   (nee   Kevorkian)   is   the   sister-in-law   of   the   famous   composer Ohan   Durian.   But   she   is   also   the   aunt   (on   the   father’s   side)   of   Hagop   Hagopian (originally Hovsepian). That makes Hagop’s sons and daughter kin to Durian.               At   their   peak,   the   kaghakatsis   numbered   in   the   thousands.   Now   they   are   down   to   a few hundred.                But   this   tiny   enclave   whose   members   have   been   making   their   home   in   the cobblestoned   alleys   of   the   Old   City   for   centuries,   have   enriched   the   variegated tapestry   of   Jerusalem   with   their   blend   of   unique   culture,   their   traditions,   their   arts and crafts, their cuisine.                For   generations,   many   of   the   houses   in   the   Armenian   Quarter   would   have   been inhabited   by   the   same   family.   The   slipshod   nature   of   the   Ottoman   art   of   masonry   is evident    in    the    meter-thick    earth    walls    and    the    ramshackle    foundations.    Little allowance   has   been   made   for   sunlight   and   ventilation   and   the   wall   plaster   cakes continually, as the walls shed their whitewash under the onslaught of humidity.                The   houses   are   blessed   twice   every   year   (at   Christmas   and   Easter)   by   the   parish priest,   "and   that   is   perhaps   what   helps   to   make   them   safe   and   habitable,"   quips   one resident.                The   kaghakatsis   have   played,   and   continue   to   play,   a   leading   role   not   only   in maintaining   and   perpetuating,   the   Armenian   presence   in   the   Holy   Land,   but   also   in helping to make this world a better place to live in.                “True,   we   occupy   a   coveted   niche   in   the   history   of   the   Old   City,   but   unless   we take   prompt   measures   to   preserve   our   entity,   our   history   will   no   more   be   known,” community leaders warn.                With   the   timely   launch   of   the   enterprising   kaghakatsi   Family   Tree   Project,   this threat of extinction will hopefully be safely removed, project organizers say.                The   project   has   so   far   collated   genealogical   details   of   over   800   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.                The   organizers   pin   their   hopes   on   validating   their   data   by   tapping   the   vast archives of the Armenian Patriarchate of St James, which date back some centuries.                “Old   birth,   death   and   marriage   certificates   would   be   our   principal   source   of information,” say the organizers.      And old family photographs.               The   organizers   concede   that   there   are   plenty   of   gaps   in   the   kaghakatsi   family   tree database that need to be filled.                “For   instance,   we   may   have   the   name   of   a   grand-grandmother,   but   no   one remembers her maiden name, or the date of her birth,” they note.                The   information   gathered   so   far   is   housed   in   a   main   computer   database   that   will make   it   possible   to   print   out   or   display   pages   of   selected   branches   of   the   tree   or   an “all-in-one”   showing   the   whole   sprawling   network   of   relations,   in   an   Adobe   Acrobat (PDF) file.                A   secondary,   backup   computer   database   using   different   software,   has   also   been created.                A   unique   domain   name   for   the   project   has   now   been   registered   and   the   project enshrined on the internet at:                 The   initial,   modest   family   tree   project   begun   last   year   has   been   growing   by   leaps and   bounds. The   organizers   note   that   the   website   will   not   only   host   the   family   tree   of all   the   kaghakatsis,   but   also   their   history   and   way   of   life,   and   a   record   of   their achievements,   and   will   include   photos,   artwork,   anecdotes,   traditions,   proverbs, cuisine, etc.      “We need all the help and support we can get,” the organizers note.                “This   is   a   labor   of   love,   and   we   try   to   keep   expenses   to   an   absolute   minimum,   they say.                “However,   we   do   need   to   constantly   update   the   software   and   hardware,   pay   our internet service providers, and so on,” they add.                “And   we   need   more   genealogical   data.   Without   the   help   of   contributions   from every   single   living   kaghakatsi,   wherever   her   or   she   may   be,   we   cannot   hope   to complete the record and make this vital community project succeed,” they point out.             They   invite   anyone   possessing   information   of   any   nature   on   the   kaghakatsi Armenians to contact them at          (Sydney, Jan 24, 2008)
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