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

The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Calouste Gulbenkian

philanthropic foundation have pledged to support of efforts to preserve the

history and culture of the  Armenian community of the Old City.

The   kaghakatsis,   an   appellation   that   denotes   the   centuries-long   tenure   of   their   sojourn in    Jerusalem    (unlike    their    "Vanketsi"    cousins    who    sought    refuge    in    the    city    during    the massacres   and   settled   in   the   Convent   of   St   James),   have   amassed   a   vast   treasure   trove   of history as they enriched the city's unique fabric with their manifold contributions. But   despite   their   prowess   in   the   arts   and   crafts,   they   left   little   records   of   their achievements or even their existence. In   recent   years,   the   kaghakatsis   have   been   succumbing   to   the   relentless   encroachment of   attrition,   and   community   elders   fear   that   unless   prompt   measures   are   taken   to   preserve records   of   their   passage,   their   memory   will   be   lost   and   will   become   nothing   more   than   a faint footnote in the annals of the Holy Land. The   Armenian   Patriarch   of   Jerusalem,   Archbishop   Torkom   Manoogian,   who   has   spent   a lifetime   championing Armenian   literary   and   cultural   causes,   is   fully   aware   of   the   plight   of   his kaghakatsi congregation and keen to prevent such a catastrophe. He   wants   to   ensure   that   the   history   of Armenian   Jerusalem   is   engraved   in   the   memory of mankind for all eternity. The   Gulbenkian   Foundation,   which   has   been   the   Patriarchate's   stauchest   supporter ever   since   it   was   set   up   by   Calouste   Gulbenkian   (Mr   Five   Percent,   an   allusion   to   his   5% interest   in   the   Iraqi   Petroleum   Company),   helping   build   and   endow   the   Tarkmachatz   parish school    and    the    Gulbenkian    library,    has    told    organizers    it    recognizes    the    vital    need    for preservation efforts to succeed. The efforts are being spearheaded by the kaghakatsi Armenian Family Tree Project. While   the   Patriarchate   will   assist   in   the   computerization   of   kaghakatsi   genealogical records,   the   Foundation   will   donate   the   hardware   and   software   necessary   to   complete   the project. The   Family   Tree   enterprise   was   launched   a   year   ago,   and   ever   since   then   the   Patriarch has been following its progress closely. Project   organizers   state   that   without   the   support   of   the   Jerusalem   Patriarchate,   the project   would   not   get   off   the   ground,   particularly   since   St   James   is   the   repository   of   several centuries of genealogical information on the kaghakatsi Armenians. The   Patriarchate   archives   contain   ledgers   detailing   the   births,   baptisms,   marriages   and deaths   of   all   Armenians   in   Jerusalem.   The   records   are   enshrined   in   several   old,   "oversize ledgers with oversized pages," as Joyce Sulahian, assistant to the Patriarch, observes. According   to   her,   the   ledgers   have   become   brittle   with   time,   the   writings   sometimes obscured and illegible. "The    records    are    not    alphabetized    or    organized    in    any    way    to    facilitate    quick searches,"   Sulahian   says,   an   observation   seconded   by   David   Kaplanian   of   the   Patriarchate "Tivan" (secretariat).  Kaplanian   should   know.   He   is   reportedly   the   most   familiar   with   the   material,   spends long hours searching to find necessary information when needed, Sulahian says.  She notes that the handwriting, in faded ink, is often indiscernible. While   most   names   are   entered   in   full,   some   entries   refer   to   people   in   what   Sulahian says "a cryptic manner." Instead of a family name, what we have is a nickname, as in "Bulghurji Hagop".   The   tradition   has   survived   to   this   day,   for   the Armenians   of   Jerusalem   have   inherited   it and   have   become   adepts   at   this   proclivity   to   attach   descriptive   or   revealing   nicknames   to people. Typically,   most   of   the   epithets   are Arabic   not Armenian.   Because   of   his   kindly   nature, Hovsep   Toumayan   becomes   "Yousef   el   Hanoun."   and   he   would   henceforth   be   known   by   that appellation   only,   his   real   name   consigned   to   oblivion. A   long-story   teller   becomes   "Abul   Haul" (a   reference   to   the   Arabic   name   of   the   Sphinx).   The   courtyard   populated   mostly   by   old   folk becomes   known   as   "Dar   el   'Ajayez,"   or   house   of   the   old. The   wool   merchant Apraham   is   better known as "Ibrahim bayya' el souf." Khatcho   Kevorkian   is   so   tall   only   one   epithet   would   fit   him:   "Abu   Tarou',"   and   a   man overly   concerned   over   hygiene   is   dismissed   as   "Sawabini"   (derived   from   the   word   for   soap   in Arabic). The   project   organizers   would   like   to   computerize   all   the   information   in   the   ledgers, but the task of copying those pages seems daunting.             The   online   project,   a   non-profit   enterprise   (located   at   http://armenian-jerusalem.org ) whose   primary   aim   is   to   preserve   the   history   and   culture   of   the   Armenian   community   and create   an   all-in-one   family   tree   encompassing   the   kaghakatsi   who   have   been   living   in   the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, for over a millennium.                Over   the   centuries,   the Armenians   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 diaspora.                Their   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   the   city,   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," organizers   say,   adding   "the   next   generation   of   kaghakatsis   may   wonder   where   on   earth   did they come from, who were the kaghakatsis, what made them run?"                "The   armenian-jerusalem.org    project   will   ensure   that   their   history   will   not   remain forgotten, nor their songs unheard or their story untold," they say.
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