Armenian Jerusalem

For the Armenians of Jerusalem, descendants of a race

of mountainous warriors, but imbued as they have

become with the Middle Eastern ethic of sentimentality,

a child is their literal treasure on earth.

               No   vestal   "gouyces"   could   have   been   more   ethereally   graceful   and exquisite    than    the    bevy    of    white-garbed,    tremulous    graduates clustered   around   the   creaking   platform.   No   aspiring,   "ishkhan"   could have   been   more   handsomely   resplendent   in   his   brocade   finery,   or more   masculine   and   self-possessed   than   the   young   men   who   hovered protectively around them.                There   they   stood,   clutching   their   diplomas   in   one   hand,   their dreams   in   the   other,   with   the   huge   cutout   painting   of   Saint   Mesrob towering    over    their    heads,    listening    with    rapt    attention    to    the exhortations   of   their   indefatigable   principal   and   spiritual   adviser, Bishop   Gyuregh   Kapikian,   who   had   seen   them   developing,   year   by year,     *from     helpless     crawling     larvae     into     dazzlingly     arrayed butterflies, waiting impatiently to try out their wings.                Despite   the   traumatic,   often   violent   discombobulations   in   the political   arena   of   the   region,   Kapikian   had   been   able   to   steer   his charges,   through   a   treacherous   minefield,   to   this,   their   moment   of greatest glory: Graduation Day, at the St. Tarkmanchatz.                They   still   had   to   face   another   heavy   barrage   of   examinations   (the crucial   London   University   General   Certificate   of   Education,   GCE),   and although   these   are   uncompromisingly   demanding,   the   Tarkmanchatz hopefuls had been gearing up for them for quite a while.                The   maudlin   tradition   of   the   "Amaverchi   Hantess"   has   survived   for over   half   a   century   and   has   been   an   endless   succession   of   bright   stars tossed   into   the   darkness   of   a   befuddled   world,   illuminating   it,   even   if briefly, with the fire that informs the Armenian soul.                And   as   he   has   done   for   the   duration   of   his   lengthy   tenure, Kapikian   has   consecrated   the   day;s   festivities   to   the   memory   of   some glorious   episode   culled   from   the   pages   of Armenian   history.   This   year Graduation   Day   coincided   with   the   the   70th   anniversary   of   the   battle of Sardarabad.      Sardarabad . .               The   word,   with   its   quadruple,   resounding,   throaty   'A's   evokes   such a   multitude   of   passionate   emotions   in   all   Armenians   -   this   was   the original,   crucial   battle   of   Avarair,   all   over   again,   fought   against   a most   bloodthirsty   enemy   whose   sole   aim   was   nothing   less   than   the total   annihilation   of   the   proud   Armenian   race,   descendants   of   the immortal Haig who had vanquished the tyrannical Pel.      "When there is no way out at all,      "And when all hope is lost,      "Then may madmen find a way ...                "This   was   how   the   day   of   the   great   battle   of   Sardarabad   dawned" as Edgar Hovhannesian sang.                Bands   of   desperate Armenians,   led   by   their   priests,   scurrying   from town   to   town,   village   to   village,   street   to   street,   mobilizing   every man,   woman   or   child   able   to   bear   arms,   for   the   battle   that   would decide the fate of their fatherland.                "Armenians   have   always   won   their   victories   with   their   deaths,"   as Gevorg Emin says in his "Seven Songs About Armenia."                Every Armenian,   no   matter   what   spot   on   earth   he   may   call   home, lodges   in   his   soul   the   undying   flame   immortalizing   the   endless   litany of    martyrs    and    heroes    that    have    illuminated    the    pages    of    the illustrious history of this nation.                    And    the    tiny    community    of   Armenians    in    Jerusalem    is    no exception.    In    fact,    despite    the    sometimes    acrimoniously    morbid spate   of   ill-feeling   that   factional   politics   have   since   time   immemorial spawned   among   them,   the   hardy   relics   who   continue   to   wage   their inexorable   battle   for   survival   here,   remain   one   of   the   most   dynamic and tenacious of all the "bantukhds" of the diaspora.                No   matter   how   disparaging   their   shortcomings,   or   how   scabrous their   conduct,   these   incorrigible   larrikins   continue   to   keep   the   flame alight.                Walking   through   the   history-encrusted   alleyways   of   the   St.   James compound,    you    breathe    that    rarefied    air    that    has    invigorated interminable    generations    of    your    forefathers,    with    its    distinctive Armenian   aroma:   the   black-scarved   "barays"   exchanging   the   latest round   of   gossip,   the   staple   Sunday   shish   kebab   party   against   the background   of   a   mellifluous   rhapsody   by   some   "ashough"   bewailing   his lost   love,   the   heady   incense   and   soulful   tunes   of   the   Badarak   wafting on   the   breeze,   that   seems   to   encapsulate   the   eternal   wanderlust   of the   Armenian   and,   above   all,   wallowing   in   the   invigorating   luxury   of an   extravagant   inundation   of   Armenian:   hearing   Armenian,   thinking Armenian,   speaking   Armenian,   in   an   oasis   of   self-assertion,   standing out   among   the   babble   of   alien   tongues   that   makes   Jerusalem   so special.                "No   man   who   does   not   know   the Armenian   language   can   ever   be   a real Armenian,   or   share   in   the   glories   of   his   people,   or   be   a   part   of   its history,"     Archbishop     Karekin     Kazanjian,     the     Grand     Sacristan, reminded the graduates as he bade them farewell and godspeed.                He   needn't   have   worried.   The   Tarkmanchatz,   despite   some   quite glaring   anachronisms,   makes   sure   its   students   receive   a   thorough drilling   in   their   mother   tongue   and   an   all-round   indoctrination   in   the religion and history of their forefathers.                    And    Graduation    Day    is    nothing    if    not    a    grand    triumphant testimony   to   that:   for   two   hours,   the   captive   audience   sat   enthralled (there    was    the    usual    quota    of    bored,    restless    souls    yearning    for release),   listening   to   a   rolling   litary   of   orations,   speeches,   songs, poems, delivered in uplifting Armenian.                Perhaps,   the   most   haunting   memory   people   took   back   with   them was   the   Farewell   Song,   lyrics   by   Yeghivart   (pen-name   of   Patriarch Yeghishe Derderian), music by Ohan Durian.                In   a   haunting   cadence,   it   mourns   "the   golden   days   of   our childhood,   the   beautiful   days   that   we   lived   at   the   Tarkmanchatz."                 There   were   few   dry   eyes   when   the   nine   ex-students   together   sang "Mnak   Parov"   for   hardly   anyone   remained   unmoved   by   the   old   familiar strains   that   he   or   she   himself/herself   had   sung,   only   yesterday,   it seemed.                But   long   before   it   was   over,   each   of   the   nine   had   spent   wakeful nights   pondering   his/her   prospects   for   the   future.   For   whiz   kid   Elie Kahvejian,   the   world   will   be   a   silicon   chip,   while   Sarkis   Ishkhanian will   shoulder   a   camera   and   follow   in   his   father's   footsteps.   Sarkis Djernazian   has   his   heart   set   on   going   to Armenia,   but   his   parents   are against   the   idea,   and   like   Seven   Panosian,   he   will   most   probably   end up   as   a   jeweler   or   goldsmith,   Lili   and   her   sister   Dalila   Chavoushian, will   join   the   inexorable   exodus   to   the   States,   but Azniv   Baghdasarian, who    ran    away    with    an    armful    of    distinctions,    will    join    a    local university.    Seta    Ajemian    is    keen    to    take    up    graphic    arts,    and Jacqueline   Hagopian   (with   several   distinctions   to   her   credit),   has   the option   of   going   back   to Australia,   where   she   was   born,   to Yerevan,   on a   full   scholarship,   or   to   a   local   art   academy. And   for   Marta   and Aster Getaneh,   the   two   Ethiopian   sisters   who   are   also   graduating   this   year, it is the Egyptian skyline which beckons.
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