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 Hagopia
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

     It was a bleak December night, with the rain and the wind chasing each other

across the walls of the Old City. Entwined in a spirited saraband this harsh winter,

the roiling twins played havoc along the cobblestoned alleys and domed rooftops and

ran rampant in the open spaces.

      In   a   corner   of   the   school   playground,   in   the   ancient   monastery   of   the   Armenians   of   Jerusalem,   a forest of tall trees stood silent sentinels, in age-old defiance against the ravages of nature.                But   that   night   in   the   end   of   the   year,   the   relentless   barrage   proved   too   much   for   the   aging   giant tree   that   towered   over   all   the   others,   and   with   a   roar   of   anguish,   it   toppled   on   its   side   and   came crashing down onto the cobblestones, writing finis to a glorious history of fortitude and endurance.                What   a   fall   was   there   that   night   -   it   was   more   than   just   a   conifer   that   fell.   The      unprecedented loss   was   grievous   for   the   denizens   of   the   convent,      for   more   than   anything   else   it   had   symbolized   lives   and   struggles,   the   triumphs   and   despairs   of   the   survivors   and   descendants   of   survivors   of   a horrendous genocide.                 It   had   witnessed   the   ragged   arrival   of   the   refugees,   their   grim   determination   to   hang   on   and   re- invent   their   shattered   lives   bolstered   by   their   faith   and   hope   for   a   better   tomorrow   for   their   children and their children's children.               As   little   ones   we   had   congregated   under   its   protecting   branches,   seeking   shelter   from   sun   and   rain   and   hatching plots to discomfit unpopular teachers.               And   we   left   our   marks   on   that   tree:   cartouches   and   love   hearts   carved   onto   the   bark.   Uncomplainingly,   the   tree tolerated the incursions on its trunk, amassing the memories into its cave of timeless chronicles.                For   over   a   century   and   a   half   the   tree   had   towered   resolutely   and   regally   over   the   school   playground,   as   nations went to war in two global conflagrations and spread havoc and devastation on the continents of the planet.                It   bore   witness   to   history's   most   inglorious   travesties:   the   eradication   of   teeming   cities   by   horrendous   bombs   and the genocide of two defenseless people.      Millions and millions of men, women and children, innocent victims of hearts gone mad, vaporized.                And   at   its   threshold,   the   Semitic   cousins,   the   Arabs   and   the   Jews,   raised   their   swords   and   spears   against   each other and shed their blood on the hallowed ground of the prophets.               That   it   escaped   unscathed   from   all   those   catastrophes   was   nothing   short   of   a   miracle:   despite   being   unprotected against   the   ravages   of   both   man   and   nature,   the   tree   held   its   ground   against   the   unrelenting   horde   of   daunting banshees: bombs and bullets, wind, rain and hailstones.                But   it   also   had   its   moments   of   glory:   it   was   there   when   a   few   paces   away,   the   first   sod   was   turned   for   the construction   of   the   school   and   the   library,   gifts   of   a   great   man   and   a   great   dynasty,   only   a   few   years   after   the   last Ottoman overlord had surrendered control of the city to the British Mandate.                It   had   been   there   when   the   second   Napoleon   of   the   French,   and   the   first   chancellor   of   Germany   strode   the planet like giant colossus.                It   remained   inviolable   until   the   very   end,   for   no   one   had   ever   had   the   temerity   to   climb   it.   Not   because   it   was unclimbable,   but   because   to   subjugate   its   majesty   to   groping   hands   and   uncouth   feet,   would   be   an   unthinkable violation.                Untouched   by   the   dubious   inroads   of   progress   and   their   resultant   ills   of   pollution   and   acid   rain,   it   retained   its vigor into its ripe old age over the decades.      Who planted that mighty legend? Who tended the sap through its youthful growth?                The   name   and   identity   of   the   gardener   with   the   magic   touch   are   lost   in   the   annals   of   the   Armenians   of Jerusalem.   Perhaps   somewhere   in   the   archives   of   their   Patriarchate   some   solicitous   scribe   has   jotted   down   the name   and   date.   Perhaps   the   revelation   is   inscribed   in   the   colophon   of   some   ancient   tome,   gathering   dust   in   some dark corner.                No   one   will   ever   know   -   but   everyone   will   mourn   the   passing   of   the   behemoth   conifer,   and   wonder,   when   will there be such another?