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
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In   the   almost   geographical   middle   of   the   Armenian   Quarter   of   the   Old   City   of   Jerusalem,   at   the junction   of   the   alleys   that   lead   to   the   Armenian   Convent,   the   Jaffa   Gate   and   the   Jewish   Quarter,   resounds an exotic appellation, its origins shrouded in mystery. Residents had given the spot the nomenclature of “Bab el Tahouneh,” the gate of the flour mill. Ever   since   we   were   little   urchins   running   the   gamut   of   the   Armenian   Quarter,   we   were   familiar   with the   term,   but   neither   the   terminology   nor   the   history   were   familiar   to   us.   The   provenance   was   a   large unknown. Perhaps, the name had connotations to the adjacent bakery, with its piles of flour bags. One   day,   in   the   early   50s,   a   huge   fire   broke   out   behind   the   bakery.   What   caused   it,   hardly   anyone remembers.   But   it   was   certainly   something   unheard   of   in   the   relative   tranquility   and   somnolence   of   the Quarter. It   was   a   favorite   after   school   meeting   place   for   all   the   young   men   of   the   Quarter.   They   would congregate   there   with   their   dreams,   bravado,   bullshit,   and   just   plain   camaraderie,   with   no   ulterior   purpose, like   saving   the   world,   or   finding   the   elixir   of   life,   but   just   spending   some   prime   time   bonding   before   that term had become social or psychological currency. Of   course,   we   little   ones,   had   no   place   in   that   congregation.   If   we   had   the   effrontery   to   bust   in,   or creep in, we would be busted right out, shooed away unceremoniously. “Doon   k’nah,   ( go   home )”   we   would   be   told.   No   argument,   such   as,   “how   come   my   brother   can   stay and   I   can’t?”   (skimming   over   the   fact   that   that   brother   was   much   older   and   therefore   an   acceptable candidate for the congregation) would be entertained. All   we   could   do,   was   hover   around   the   periphery,   and   enjoy   as   best   we   could,   the   ambiance.   And   once   in   a while, the happy chance of being asked to run an errand for one of the tribe elders. Sometimes,   the   tenor   of   the   talks   verged   on   the   vociferous,   but   no   harsh   words   were   ever   exchanged. No    fists    ever    raised.    This    was    one    homogeneous    assembly    of    gregarious    youth,sometimes    boisterous, sometimes thoughtful. They   would   be   standing   right   in   front   of   the   workshop   run   by   the   enterprising   Bedros,   who   managed   to turn   out   workable   clones   of   British   submachine   guns,   the   Tommygun   and   Stengun,   for   the   use   of   the defenders of the Armenian compound, as Arabs and Jews fought their internecine war of 1948 Bedros   would   later   become   the   unsung   hero   of   the   compound,   his   remarkable   feat   disarming   a   missile that   had   landed   in   the   kitchen   of   one   of   the   Patriarchate’s   seminary   dormitories,   and   bodily   carrying   it bodily   down   more   than   two-score   steps   for   disposal   in   one   of   the   many   empty   wells   in   the   Patriarchate Convent. I   was   standing   only   a   few   feet   away   when   the   missile   landed.   It   was   a   dud.   Had   it   not   been,   more   than a   dozen   people,   some   of   them   refugee   occupants   of   the   dormitory,   others   neighbors   or   visitors,   would   have been lost that day. I   remembering   wondering   at   how   the   diminutive   Bedros   was   able   to   heave   the   missile   gently,   put   his arms around it, and carry it away. The missile was actually taller than him!