Armenian Jerusalem
Ancestors of the Minassian clan

The Armenians of Jerusalem form four distinctive groups, each

as vibrant as the rest, yet all united by their common heritage

and their incontestable belief in a shared heritage.

     The language, too, is always the same.                That   is   not   to   deny   the   nascent   undercurrent   of   healthy   rivalry   that   each harbors.               The   two   major   groupings   are   the   native   "kaghakatsis"   who   live   mainly   in   the Armenian   Quarter   of   the   Old   City,   and   whose   ancestors   first   settled   in   the region   2,000   years   ago,   and   the   "Vanketsis"   who   live   within   the   precinct   of   the Convent   of   St   James   where   they   had   found   refuge   from   the   Turkish   genocides and pogroms.                On   the   cultural   level,   the   Kaghakatsis   congregate   around   their   Jerusalem Armenian   Benevolent   Union,   the   JABU,   while   the   Vanketsis   have   split   their activities   into   two   avenues   of   expression,   each   driven   by   a   varying   ideology. The    "Homentmen"    (allied    with    the    Tashnag    political    party)    pined    for    an independent   Armenia,   free   of   Soviet   influence   and   intervention,   while   the "Hoyetchmen"   had   been   comfortable   with   the   status   quo   in   Armenia   (prior   to Gorbachev's   coup).   Another   minor   splinter   group,   the   "Ramgavar,"   was   more   or less tenuously sympathetic to the Soviet line.                There   are   two   other   groupings,   the   Catholic   and   Protestant   Armenians, mostly   converts. The   Catholics   have   set   up   their   own   private   youth   club,   "Arax" (after a popular river in Armenia).                In   recent   years,   the   lines   of   demarcation   among   the   groupings   has   begun   to dissolve,   in   the   face   of   modern   challenges.   Rivalries   have   melted   away   and closer   relationships   established:   the   younger   generation   has   no   patience   with stultified   stances,   and   with   the   inception   of   social   networking,   they   are   more attuned to a more global outlook.                The   youth   clubs   have   their   own   scout   groups   and   cultural   programs. Among these,   thespian   aspirations   rank   high.      Among   their   more   ambitious   efforts, have    been    the    staging    of    classics    like    "Salome"    and    Bedros    Tourian's    "Sev Hogher"   (Black   Earth),   but   comedy   sketches   and   one-man   stands   have   been   the main fare on the dramatic menu.                World   famous   musician   Ohan   Dourian   has   often   regaled   audiences   with   his piano renditions, while Tavit Tavitian offered audiences his version of Czardas.                      Over    the    centuries,    the    kaghakatsi    have    enriched    the    Holy    City's multifaceted   ethnic   and   social   fabric   with   a   proliferation   of   talent,   vision   and hard   work,   creating   a   unique   culture   and   identity,   unlike   any   other   in   the Armenian   diaspora. This   tiny   enclave   whose   members   have   been   making   their home   in   the   cobblestoned   alleys   of   the   Old   City   for   centuries   for   over   2,000 years,   have   given   the   city   its   first   printing   press   and   photographic   studio,   and titillated    the    palates    of    aficionados    with    spicy    blends    of    their    irresistible cuisine.                 The    kaghakatsi    ancestors    were    great    teachers,    artists,    goldsmiths, carpenters,   story-tellers   and   family   men,   but   they   were   poor   record   keepers. Except   for   a   register   of   births,   deaths   and   certificates   maintained   by   the Armenian   Patriarchate   of   St   James   in   Jerusalem,   and   some   family   heirlooms, we   possess   no   archives   or   documents   detailing   their   way   of   life,   other   than word-of-mouth accounts.                True,   little   has   changed   in   the   Old   City   over   the   centuries,   but   memories also   dim,   and   the   next   generation   of   kaghakatsis   may   wonder   where   on   earth they came from: who were the kaghakatsis, what made them run?      A   "Family Tree   Project"   launched   a   few   years   ago,   now   part   of   the   expanded endeavour   that   will   encompass   all   Armenians   of   Jerusalem,   seeks   to   answer these   questions,   its   mandate   preserving   the   history,   culture   and   traditions   of the kaghakatsis who at their peak numbered over 25,000.                As   part   of   the   project,   efforts   are   being   made   to   trace   the   family connections    of    this    unique    entity    whose    members    are    all    related    to    one another,   in   one   long   unbroken   chain.   The   project   will   ensure   that   their   unique place in the history of the immortal city of Jerusalem, is not irretrievably lost.                The   Family   Tree   is   accessible   only   to   bona   fide   kaghakatsis   with   the   help   of a private key available here.               The   Family Tree   Project   has   so   far   collated   genealogical   details   of   over   3000 kaghakatsi    Armenians    from    among    the    members    of    the    score    of    leading “clans,”   relying   mostly   on   personal   reminiscences   and   recollections.   But   the years may have shrouded some of these in obscurity.                   While   the   project   pays   tribute   to   the   memory   of   those   who   have   gone before   us,   it   hopes   to   bequeath   to   future   generations   of   kaghakatsis   a   deeper sense   of   belonging   to   a   uniquely   cohesive   society   that   knows   well   the   meaning of sharing and caring.                   For   wherever   there   is   a   kaghakatsi   in   any   part   of   this   world,   there   is   a Jerusalem and an Armenia.
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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