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
to see Vanadzor come alive
The   sprawling   house   is   long   gone,   along   with   the   dairy that   his   father   ran   in   the   Armenian   Quarter   of   the   Old City,   but   the   memories   (and   tastes)   Sarkis   Bedevian   has of his childhood in Jerusalem no doubt still linger.                         The    sprawling    house,    a    stone's throw   from   the   500-year-old   walls   of the   Old   City's   Zion   Gate   (one   of   seven that    punctuate    the    walls),    has    been bulldozed   and   replaced   by   a   block   of flats.        And   there   is   not   the   slightest   trace left   of   the   dairy.   Gone   are   the   vats   and the    fridges,    the    dairy    stalwarts    Mariam and   her   son,   Dahdah. And   the   donkey   that used    to    ferry    the    fresh    milk    from    the Mount of Olives.        "Miger,"   as   the   Bedevian   patriarch,   Megerditch,   was popularly   known,   ran   his   empire   almost   single-handed, but   Sarkis   Bedevian   and   his   brother   Khatchig   were   there to lend a hand.        The   discipline   helped   define   the   future   course   his   life would   take,   and   planted   in   him   the   seeds   of   the   spirit   of sharing that has blossomed into grand philanthropy.        With   his   equally   dedicated   and   devoted   wife,   Ruth,   by his   side,   Sarkis   now   shuttles   back   and   forth   between   the US,   where   he   currently   lives,   and   his   Armenian   homeland, seeking avenues of contribution.         One    of    their    greatest    joys    and    accomplishments    has    been    the construction   of   a   church,   St   Gregory   of   Narek,   in   picturesque   Vanadzor, a    picture    postcard    town    nestling    between    two    mountain    chains    in northern Armenia.         "Basically,   we   chose   the   city   of   Vanadzor   because   there   was   one small   church   (built   sometime   in   the   1800's)   that   accommodated   about 50 people," Ruth explains.         Vanadzor's    population    expanded    rapidly    during    the    70    years    of Soviet   rule   because   the   Soviets   built   a   large   chemical   factory   and workers were needed.        "Therefore,   the   population   was   quite   deprived   of   any   traditional exposure to the national church," Ruth notes.        "On   our   frequent   visits,   we   felt   the   'Russification'   of   the   populace   in the    northern    part    of   Armenia.    Being    the    third    largest    city    with    a population   of   about   120,000   Vanadzor   was   deserving   of   its   own   large church.   Sarkis   and   I   agreed   that   it   was   vitally   necessary   now   that Armenia is free and independent," she says.        "For   70   years   these   people   had   been   denied   religious   freedom   -   now they are able to return to their spiritual roots and blossom," she adds.        Sarkis   and   Ruth   had   decided   to   build   the   church   some   years   ago when    they    met    the    Catholicos    of    all    Armenians    (the    Vehapar) informally   in   New   York   City   to   discuss   what   they   could   do   to   help   the people of Armenia.        "It   happened   that   it   was   the   day   of   our   39th   wedding   anniversary," Ruth recalls.        Part   of   the   entire   project   at   Vanadzor   was   the   setting   up   of   a   youth centre,   designed   to   accommodate   up   to   1,000   young   people   and   help them hone their skills in art, music, gymnastics and sports.        "It   will   be   supervised   under   the   Holy   See   of   Etchmiadzin   and   it   will join    the    network    of    Armenian    General    Benevolent    Union    (AGBU) sponsored    youth    centres    that    have    emerged    under    the    Vehapar’s watchful eyes in Yerevan since Independence," Sarkis says.        But   the   centre   will   also   house   a   kitchen   and   dining   room   for   seniors to   "enjoy   fellowship   and   a   hot   meal   will   also   be   provided   for   those   in need.”        “I   have   always   been   aware   that   one   is   remembered   after   death   by what   one   does   and   has   given   while   alive,   but   I   don’t   want   to   wait   for that day," Sarkis notes.        "I   want   to   give   during   my   lifetime   as   my   way   of   thanking   God   for what   I   have   been   blessed   with   and   to   also   see   the   fruits   of   my   labor," he adds.        To   see   Vanadzor   come   alive   spiritually,   will   be   the   culmination   of another of his and his wife's philanthropic efforts in the Motherland.        Vanadzor   had   originally   been   known   as   Gharakilisa   (Black   Church), in   memory   of   the   13th   century   church   of   black   stone   that   existed   upon a hilly terrain on the site.         "In    1826,    during    the    Russo-Persian    War,    the    city    was    totally destroyed.   It   enjoyed   some   renewal   when   the   railroad   to   Tbilisi   was opened   in   1899,   but   it   wasn’t   until   the   Soviets   brought   industry   to   the area    with    the    building    of    a    large    chemical    plant    and    textile manufacturing   that   the   population   began   to   rapidly   increase,"   Ruth adds.        In   1935,   the   Soviets   renamed   the   city   Kirovagan   after   the   Russian Soviet   leader   Sergei   Mironovich   Kirov   but   following   the   collapse   of   the USSR   and   the   establishment   of   the   Republic   of   Armenia,   it   re-assumed its historic appellation.        Sarkis   has   also   been   instrumental   in   helping   restore   the   museum   in Etchmiadzin   that   was   built   in   the   days   of   the   great   Armenian   Vehapar, known as Khrimian Hayrig, a century ago and never put to use.        The   site   will   now   house   some   of   the   Arshile   Gorky   collections   and be open to the public.        But   perhaps   the   crowning   moment   of   Sarkis   Bedevian's   life   came when    he    was    invited    by    the    Vehapar    last    September    to    act    as Godfather   during   the   blessing   of   the   Holy   Muron,   in   the   enactment   of one of the Armenian church's most sanctified ceremonies.        The   memory   will   be   with   him   every   time   he   sits   down   to   ponder what     new     endeavour     he     could     launch     to     help     his     struggling countrymen.