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Armenian Jerusalem
Elia Kahvedjian's adept fingers could tease the strings of his banjo and mandolin into seductive dances and renditions, just as skillfully and felicitously as they could coax his treasured Hasselblad and Leica into turning out irresistible photographic compositions. A legend in his time, the mild-mannered Armenian photographer of Jerusalem, survived a horrendous ordeal of starvation, torture and genocide, and a run in with nefarious cannibals, by dint of sheer guts, determination and luck, to leave an indelible imprint on the cultural history of the Holy City.        Jirair Tutunjian, a Jerusalemite who currently lives in Canada, has kindly contributed this review. He says: “[Some time ago], historian George Bournoutian of Iona College in N.Y. visited Toronto to talk about the exciting chapter of the New Julfa merchants, who travelled across Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dutch Batavia and to the Philippines before Europeans monopolized the East-West trade. After the speech, I bought from Mr. Bournoutian a rare copy of "The Travel Accounts of Simeon of Poland." Mr. Bournoutian had annotated and translated the book from Armenian. What intrigues us most is Simeon’s accouont of life in Jerusalem in the early 17th Century.           For most of the world, Calouste Gulbenkian will always be known as Mr Five Percent, the man who held that much stock in the Iraqi Petroleum Company. But for Armenians in general, and their Old City of Jerusalem in particular, the name Gulbenkian evokes notions of a much grander and more lasting perspective: this is the family that has, for over two centuries, held Jerusalem above all their joys, lavishing upon it veneration, affection and largesse that can never be quantified.             Robert Marashlian has been writing poetry for as long as he can remember. But somehow he never got around to having any of his work published. Until now. New York publisher Vantage Press has now made that dream of his come true. The new poetry anthology is entitled "The Odyssey of Life." "The poetry of Robert Marashlian is frequently a criticism of contemporary society's beliefs as well as the way we now live. His work reflects his feelings toward the outstanding events of our times, not to mention his profound appreciation of life," according to a book review.                The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has spearheaded the publication of an English translation of a virtually unknown Armenian medieval epic that graphically expresses the yearning of the first people to convert to Christianity for salvation and paradise. The translation into English, the first ever, was the work of the noted Armenologist, Michael Stone, director of the university's Armenian studies program, balancing literary felicity with faithfulness to the original, uncovering medieval Armenian poetic tradition through its more than 6,000 gracefully translated lines. Stone’s work has brought alive the brilliance of paradise, the wickedness of Satan, and the inner struggle of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, in his rendition of the early 15th CE epic "Adamgirk: The Adam Book of Arakel of Siwnik."                 The checkered history of the Armenians in Jerusalem, with their remarkable achievements [among them the setting up of the city's first photographic studio and printing press] have been relatively well documented over the years by Western scholars fascinated by this remote remnant of an exotic race.  Although diaspora Armenians themselves have been demonstrably lax in chronicling the endeavors of their compatriots in Jerusalem the gap left by such illustrious historians as Hovhanissian, Ormanian, Savaleantz and Sanjian has been admirably filled by objective observers, particularly from Europe. A definitive account (if there ever can be one) by a native Armenian Jerusalemite is long overdue, the lapse difficult to explain.           Although the Armenian connection with Jerusalem began some two centuries before the advent of Christianity, when the victorious armies of King Tigranes II swept across the land, extending an empire that encompassed much of the known world then, documentary evidence from that period is scant and fragmentary. The armies had left behind colonies of Armenians whose numbers were constantly replenished and augmented over the years, but few, if any, of the records they must have kept over the years, have survived.  One such exception is a letter from a Byzantine bishop, unearthed recently by leading Armenian scholar, Prof Abraham Terian.         The Armenians of the Holy Land have proved a fertile breeding ground for prolific artisans and craftsmen, philosophers and musicians, poets and journalists, but social historians rarely merit a mention. (Tourian and Ormanian were more interested in church affairs).   With the unfortunate result that the history of this vibrant community has never been fully documented, except for one or two books, the relatively recent John Rose  "Armenians of Jerusalem" and an earlier guidebook by the late Assadour Antreassian. Kevork Hintlian's heavily researched "History of the Armenians in the Holy Land" (1989, 2nd ed., Armenian Patriarchate Printing Press, Jerusalem) comes very close to redressing the balance.           IIt is a crying shame that a truly comprehensive and scholarly gratifying history of the annals of the Armenians of Jerusalem had not yet been penned before Haig Krikorian embarked on his 8-year long Herculean endeavor to produce his epic “Tales of the Armenian Patriarchs of Jeruslem.” It makes fascinating reading with its meticulous attention to detail and endless anecdotal forays.    
Since early childhood, Sarkis Antikajian had nurtured one paramount dream: to paint, to be an artist, to give expression to the creative urges in him by metamorphosing them into landscapes, portraits, still lifes.But the fact that he was growing up in a part of the world where art took last place to the struggle for survival, did not prove easily conducive to the realization of that dream. So he had to bide his time and be satisfied with continuing to study, hope and plan.