Armenian Jerusalem
A child’s perspective
Jerusalem Armenians have had their share of poets, troubadours and story-tellers, but although records or anthologies of the accomplishments of previous generations are non-existent, memories still linger among their descendants, some of these very vivid. Among one of the most intriguing skills the old ones proudly possessed, and displayed at the drop of a hat, was the manufacture of tall stories. Audiences even had a special appellation for the practitioner of this kind of art: "Abu 'l Haul," the Arabic name for the Sphinx at Giza in Egypt. The reference or connection is not clear - the word "Haul" (as in 'hole') literally signifies terror or great dismay, and "abu" (literally, 'father') is an attributive construct carrying the meaning "of", "owner of". Most of these accounts detailed exaggerated first person exploits but some were based on fairy tales whose origins are unknown. There was the story of the three friends each of whom had a unique talent, including invisibility, which enabled them to garner vast riches. Another, rated M, told of a man who complains to a rooster: "Isn't it a shame that your crowing at dawn wakes people up from their beautiful sleep?" and when the rooster concurs, he promptly wrings its neck. Stories of ghouls and other unclassified fiends and monsters abounded - including the bear that devoured every creature around him, but spared his mate. The songs were haunting melodies of love and nostalgia for the Armenian Quarter had tasted an inordinate slice of humanity's painful woes, one of the most tragic the death of the pretty stewardess, Hoppig Ohannessian, in a plane crash. Among the current crop of writers and philosophers, more attuned to the nuances of perpetuity, poetry in the classic sense has been a more or less rare indulgence. Dr Abraham Terian and Prof Haig Khatchadourian have attained international renown with their brilliant insights while on a more modest note Kevork Jinivizian, resident poet of the Armenian Quarter over the past half century and veteran subeditor of the Patriarchate's official organ, "Sion," has produced handfuls of poems in Armenian. One of his anthologies is called "Streams of tears." Although a healthy crop of teachers and educators was available to cater to the kaghakatsi young, few have availed themselves of the academic opportunity to pen down their thoughts, dreams or stories. Novelists have therefore remained an endangered species. Abraham Kankashian, a universally popular and inspired teacher, would only produce one slim volume of short stories, "An Armenian Medley." John Rose, whose mother was a midwife serving in the Armenian Quarter, has penned a touching reminiscence of life there. Journalism has attracted a number of kaghakatsis. In recent days, Aram Belian attained to the post of editor of Israel TV's Arabic section after editng the now-defunct Jerusalem Times, while John Zakarian found his vocation on a local paper in the US, with a string of awards to his credit. The Armenians of Jerusalem have always been good with their hands. Whether it's jewellery, masonry, ceramics or metalworking, the output of their multifaceted imagination has astounded the world.