Armenian Jerusalem
ingeniously creative

Artists, singers, craftsmen, tradesmen, thinkers - all

walks of life

                Unlike   their   compatriots   in   the   diaspora,   where   the   seductive arms   of   assimilation   have   succeeded   in   denuding   Armenians   of their   ethnic   entity,   the   kaghakatsis   and   Venketzis   of   Jerusalem have   been   able   to   resist   its   charms   and   retain   the   purity   and independence of their blood.                     There    have    been    instances    of    intermarriage    with    their neighbors,   mostly   Christian Arabs,   but   these   have   been   few   and   in most    cases    the    offspring    of    such    marriages    have    been    firmly absorbed into the Armenian fold.                One   or   two   Armenian   girls   have   broken   from   the   fold   and acquired    Moslem    husbands    -    in    at    least    one    case,    the    Moslem husband   has   had   no   qualms   about   his   children   going   to   an Armenian school    or    even    transmogrifying    his    Moslem    surname    with    the addition of the distinctive Armenian patronymic "ian."      And lo and behold, Bitar becomes Betarian!                On   the   other   hand,   one   rarely   hears   of   an Armenian   (or   Christian)   male   wedding   a   Moslem girl.   Not   because   of   the   lack   of   eligible   brides,   or   the   impossibility   or   impracticability   of   a romantic   interlude,   but   simply   because   it   is   anathema   for   a   Moslem   girl   to   marry   outside   her religion.      Although   the   code   of   laws   enforced   by   Israeli   courts   in   Arab   lands   it   has   occupied has   practically   eradicated   the   pernicious   "tradition"   of   honor   killing   among   an   Arab   society growing   in   sophistication   as   it   becomes   more   exposed   to   Western   ideals,   the   stigma   and alienation attached in such a mixed marriage is enough to deter the most ardent wooer.                Before   the   Israeli   juggernaut   swept   over   Jerusalem, Armenians   had   been   living   under   the sway   of   the   Arabs   who   have   had   a   noticeable   influence   on   their   way   of   life.   The   Israeli presence   did   awaken   them   to   the   unlimited   possibilities   available   from   a   different,   more Westernized   perspective,   but   the   old   traditions   and   mores   had   been   too   deeply   ingrained   to be easily uprooted.                The   Arab   influence   pervaded   many   aspects   of   Armenian   life,   including   their   cuisine   and social   mannerisms.   Arabic   became   the   Armenians'   second   language:   the   kaghakatsis   spoke   it fluently   but   the   Vanketsis   have   always   been   struggling   with   it   because   coming   late   on   the scene,   they   had   less   contact   with   and   exposure   to   the   Arabs.   On   the   other   hand,   the Vanketsis   were   at   ease   with   Turkish   which   had   been   their   second   tongue   before   their      arrival in the Holy Land. At home, almost all the kaghakatsis spoke in Arabic!                Inevitably,   the   Armenians   interjected   their   conversations   with   linguistic   expressions adopted    from   Arabic    and    Turkish,    thus    enriching    their    vocabulary    and    expanding    their literary   horizons.   I   can   remember   scores   of   Arabic   (and   a   few   Turkish)   proverbs   I   learned   at home and in the streets, but hardly a dozen in Armenian.               As   a   matter   of   course,   some   of   the   juiciest   dealt   always   dealt   with   the   lower   parts   of   the human   anatomy.   And   quite   a   few   descended   to   the   levels   of   sheer   vulgarity.   If   you   were unhappy   with   your   portion   of   a   pie   or   cake,   you   would   protest   that   it   was   as   small   as   the female    reproductive    organ    of    a    crab.    Two    inseparable    friends,    applied    specifically    to gossiping females, were described as two bottoms in one panty.                Whenever   I   kissed   my   grandparents'   hands   (this   tradition,   too,   has   dropped   by   the roadside),   they   would   bestow   this   blessing   upon   me:   "may   the   earth   you   touch   turn   into gold."                The   Jewish   influence   has   been   salubrious,   and   the   affluence   made   possible   by   the   higher standard   of   living   is   appreciated   by   modern 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.                  The   young   adventurers   and   their   chaperones   usually   came   back   with   their   pot   of   gold, but   disaster   overtook   a   distant   uncle   of   mine.   His   son   was   hit   by   a   train.   He   buried   the   youth in a foreign land and returned home empty-handed, a broken man.      The   years   rolled   by.   Radio   and TV   invaded   the Armenian   Quarter,   and   the   lure   of   tempting places   and   distant   fortunes   gripped   the   young.   The   concept   that   Jerusalem   was   merely   a temporary   sojourn   intensified,   particularly   among   the   young.   They   believed   that   this   was merely   a   way   station,   that   their   future,   or   that   of   their   offspring   lay   either   in   America   or Australia,   or   perhaps   Armenia.   The   older   generation   could   only   moan   and   grieve   and   pine, too deeply rooted in tradition to ponder any move themselves.     
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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