Armenian Jerusalem
“Medz pag”, the St James courtyard
It was a great honor to be part of the 90th Anniversary Celebration of the Jerusalem Armenian Benevolent Union. I spoke briefly about the history of the kaghakatsis, the Native Armenian Community of Jerusalem. There is no Christian History of Jerusalem without the presence of Armenians in the Holy City. Since the year 70 AD with the capture and destruction of the Temple by Roman Legions under Titus, the upper city with Herod's Palace was given to the Armenian Legionnaires. And the main street on Mt. Zion was called after them "Ruda Armeniorum". Which is the Current Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road and the St. James Compound including the Armenian Quarter, which covers an area of 300 acres constituting 1/6th of the area of the Old City. Before and after the conversion of the Armenians to Christianity in 301 AD, many Armenian monks and pilgrims came to the Holy Land and established monasteries and shrines on the dominical sites. During the Arab conquest in 636-38 AD the Armenians had 70 churches through-out the Holy Land and a large community in Jerusalem with their own Bishop (Abraham) who had previously met with the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca and received a special protection and favors from the Muslims and Omar Ibn El Khatab who entered Jerusalem in 638 AD and honored the promise of the Prophet and granted the Armenians a Covenant (Firman) as the protected people under the Dhimma and Bishop Abraham became the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem separate from the Greek Patriarchate. The Armenian Community in Jerusalem flourished during the Crusader Kingdom from 1099-1187. Three Armenian Queens, the wives of the Crusader Kings in Jerusalem, were pious benefactors especially Queen Melisende. She built several churches including the famous St. Anne and the main Market Place (Souq El Attareen) and is buried in Gethsemane within the Church of St. Mary's Tomb. According to historians during the Crusades there were more than one thousand Armenian families living in the Holy City and more than 500 Armenian monks and priests constituted the St. James Brotherhood. The civilian Armenians were mostly high ranking military men, merchants, builders and artisans. The present day Jerusalemite kaghakatsis (Lay Residents) trace their ancestry to those families. Through the past centuries, the Armenians of Jerusalem have become the guardians of the Holy places and protected the rights and privileges of the Armenian Church in the Holy Land. The kaghakatsis had several Bishops who became Patriarchs of Jerusalem, to mention a couple of them, Abraham of Jerusalem from 1180-1191, Garabed of Jerusalem from 1238-1254. Giragos of Jerusalem from 1846-1850. The Armenians of Jerusalem suffered like all the other Christian denominations during the harsh and cruel 400 year rule of the Ottoman Turks from 1517-1918. Bribery was rampant and the Sultans infringed on the rights and properties of the weaker Christian Denominations. Under the heavy burden of taxation many churches were confiscated. With the decline of the Ottomans many European countries such as France, Britain, Russia, Austria and Germany exerted pressure on the Turks and each country started to carve up lands and build European style compounds around the city. It is worth mentioning that as the Armenian Patriarch Gregory the Chain Berar was touring the Armenian Provinces and raising funds to pay the debts and taxes, in 1740 a kaghakatsi priest, Hanna Vartabed, a capable administrator and politician, was able to negotiate with the authorities and save many properties of the Armenian Church. Living in Jerusalem during the Ottoman rule was not easy. Jerusalem was neglected by the Turks. In 1844 the total population of the city was less than six thousand, of which 1500 were Christians, 400 Armenians and the rest Jews and Muslims. Disease was rampant due to the lack of fresh water and sanitation. The city gates closed at 6:00pm. Those who couldn't get in were left out to the mercy of vagabonds and packs of vicious Judean Hyenas. Because of the Crimean war Christian pilgrimages were cut short and poverty and despair fell on the Jerusalemites. With the rise of the Arab Revolt in 1830's against the Turks by Muhammad Ali of Egypt and the Western powers intervened in support of the Sultan who obliged his Western friends by granting them privileges in the Holy Land. For example in 1859 the Russian Emperor Alexander the II on 18 acres of land outside the city built the Russian compound. Franz Joseph of Austria built the Hospice on the Via Dolorosa. The French, the British, the Germans and American missionaries built churches, hospitals and colonies outside the walls of the city. Sir Moses Montefiore in 1860 built the windmill and the Jewish compound on the hill across from the Jaffa Gate. This construction boom was a blessing to the members of the Armenian community. Many of the kaghakatsis were master craftsmen, carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, who earned good money over the years and saved enough to build homes in the new suburbs and move out of the Old City. At the turn of the 20th century the Armenian community was one of the most dynamic and progressive communities in Jerusalem. Kaghakatsis held prominent positions in government, banking, trade and other professions. Here are some examples just to mention a few. Governor's Office: Boghos Efendi Zakarian (Deputy to Mutassarrif), Sahag Efendi Nerssessian (Chief of police) & Hovaness Khachadourian (Chief Tax collector). Consular Officers: Hagop Pascal (Vice-consul for Austria & Hungary), Haroutune Torossian (Vice-consul for Prussia), Hagop Serabyon Mouradian (Consular Agent for the USA) & Simon Frederick Mouradian (Vice-consul for Germany). Banking: Levon Kevorkian, Khachadour Krakerian (Ottoman Bank Managers), Hagop Kevorkian, Apraham Moukhtarian, Hovsep Simonian (Banca di Roma), Vahe Zakarian, Hagopos Mergerian & Khachadour Gazmararian (Barclays). Merchants: Megurdich Kaplanian, Garabed Zakarian, Kevork Mergerian, Boghos Mergerian & Hovaness Garabed Gazmararian. Money Changer: Kevork Torossian, Giragos Giragossian & Anton Minassian. Physicians: Vahan Kalbian, Vahan Pascal Mouradian Armenag Khachadourian & Krikor Krikorian (Laboratoire). Pharmacist: Kevork Kaplanian, Hagop Kevorkian & Sarkis Badgerahanian. Photographers: Garabed Kevorkian, Hovaness Krikorian, Yeghia Hagopian, Hovaness Benneian & Sahag Sahagian. Postal Clerks: Artin Torossian (Post Master), Tavit krikorian, Michael Zakarian & Hovhaness Moukhtarian. Artists/Painters: Aram Khachadourian, Hagop Moukhtarian, Hagop Badgerahanian & Khachadour Koukeian (Olive wood carver). Tourist Agencies: Hagop Sarkissian (Cook Travels) & George Garabedian. Carpenters: Kevork Aghabegian, Hovaness Aghajanian, Hagop Dickranian, Apkar Hovsepian, Stepan Negoghossian, Hagop yeghyaian & Megurdich Minassian. Shoemakers: Boghos Kaplanian, Hagop Krikorian, Tateos Tateossian, Kevork Kaplanian, Hovsep Garabedian & Krikor Mnatzaganian. Tailors: Kapriel Aghajanian, Kevork Terzibashian, Hagop and Apraham Terzibashian, Mrs. Yeghnig Kankashian, Miss Serpouhi Mnatzaganian, Haroutune Babigian & Mrs. Zarouhi Elmezian. Watchmakers: Sarkis Baghdigian Sarkissian & Kevork Sarkissian. Barbers: Minas Andonian, Sarkis Kaplanian, Hovsep Kaplanian (Mazloum), Artin Koukeian, Zakar Zakarian, Boghos Jinivizian, Khachadour Manougian, Soukias Chilingirian, Apraham Sdepanian, Haroutune Benneian & Vart Aghajanian. Blacksmiths: Apraham Aprahamian (Razouk), Hagop Aghabegian, Nigohos Kevorkian, Hovaness Nazigian, Nazaret Benneian, Hagop & Apraham Bedevian. Note: Certain identical names represent successive generations in the same or different professions. (Regretfully many more names are left out) a full list is posted on the Armenians of Jerusalem website [http://armenian-]. Conclusion: In spite of the ongoing political crisis and turmoil in the Holy Land, the centuries old Armenian community continues to hold on to its traditions and contributions to the preservation of the Armenian Christian Heritage in Jerusalem under the patronage of the Patriarchate of St. James. David Terzibashian (April 29, 2015)
Photo Courtesy
2015 Celebrating  90 years of JABU From strenght to strength From strenght to strength