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 Hagopian
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            I   was   on   my   way   back   from   covering   a   press   conference   at   the   Sydney   Olympic   Park   when the mobile phone rang.     It was the sub editor, Denes Bolza.    "Arthur, did you ever know a chap called Mohsen Hijazi while you were in Jerusalem?"          "Sure,"   I   replied,   mystified.   "He   is   an   old   spice-merchant,   a   'attar',   in   the   Old   City.   Why   do you ask?"    "Well, looks like he's gone and got himself blown up," he said, matter-of-fact.   
     A pot of Zen, with liberal sprinklings of Sufism and Christian Mysticism, and a soupçon of Science Fiction        (But, in truth, nothing more than an irreverent paean of Zen).      It has been said that Zen began, or was born, with a  smile.         It was inevitable.      For unlike many other religions, philosophies and ways of life, it understands the  game, if not the meaning, of life, and can sit back and smile with gratification and irony, and perhaps,  some sadness
     It was an early dawn in Jerusalem.      The echoes of the muezzin’s call to prayer still lingered in the crisp air.      A   shroud   of   mist   had   descended   on   the   city,   billowing out upon the nearby hills, and veiling it from view. In   the   streets,   no   one   was   stirring   yet,   save   for   the odd   stray   cat   out   on   a   scavenging   chore.        No   smoke   rose from   the   chimneys   and   no   lights   showed   in   the   windows.      The mist enveloped all. But    through    patches    in    its    fabric,    the    sun's    dew- drenched   rays   peered   over   the   ancient   walls   of   the   city   and bathed    the    tall    domes,    towering    belfries    and    tapered minarets    in    a    feeble    glow.      Its    gentle    fingers    pirouetted across   the   parapets,   stopping   to   knock   softly   against   the city's   seven   gates   in   turn,   before   coming   to   rest   on   the double Gates of Mercy.      Beneath   the   walls   of   the   city,   at   the   feet   of   the   twin gates    through    which    the    promised    Messiah    would    enter Jerusalem    at    the    end    of    the    days,    lay    the    ancient necropolis, guarded by the tame jackal, Anubis.      Still   as   a   reclining   tombstone,   Anubis   crouched   near   a gaping   hole   in   the   soggy   earth,   waving   his   flail   in   confusion. Someone   had   come   during   the   night   and   dug   a   fresh   grave. He   had   no   idea   who   had   dug   it   or   who   it   was   meant   for.  
     In the heart of a labyrinth of quaint, serpentine streets and alleys, in the Old City of Jerusalem, one of the most dynamic people of the Middle East, the Armenians, make their home.      Claiming descent from the conquering armies of Tigranes II, King of Kings, Armenians have been living in Jerusalem for over 2,000 years.       Pagan idol-worshippers, they had left their home in the land where Noah’s Ark had come to rest, seeking the distant glory their emperor had promised them.       The invading army pitched its tents along the skirts of the Judean Hills through which the River Jordan meanders on its merry way to the Dead Sea. Some of the warriors and adventurers who tasted of the hypnotic waters of the river, fell under its spell, and decided to make their home in the region.       Three centuries later, in the year 301 of the Christian Era,  their original homeland, Armenia, abandoned paganism following the miraculous conversion of their king Tiridates . . .
       In the heart of a labyrinth of quaint, serpentine streets and alleys, in the Old City of Jerusalem, one of the most dynamic people of the Middle East, the Armenians, make their home.        Claiming descent from the conquering armies of Tigranes (Dickran) II, King of Kings,  Armenians have been living in Jerusalem for over 2,000 years.        Three centuries later, in the year 301 of the Christian Era, they abandoned paganism and adopted Christianity after the miraculous conversion of their king, Tiridates (Dertad), smashing their lifeless idols of gods and goddesses, and becoming the first nation on earth to accept the teachings of Jesus as their state dogma.        This seminal milestone in their history was to unleash a borderless tsunami of pilgrims . . .
     He came out of the west, riding a tiger, dressed in black, wearing no shoes.      “Who is that blue-eyed barbarian?” the people wondered.       But none dared approach him.       Only a little boy, newly out of his swaddles.       Hand outstretched, a finger pointing at the awesome figures of man and beast, the child walked forward on steady legs, to stand before the apparition.      “Can I ride on the horsey with you?” he asked.       The response was a bellowing laugh that shook the grounds and the mountains and cast fear into the hearts of the people.       “I have come across a hundred thousand miles to find the lotus blossom, and all I see in front of me is a sea of fools, led by a babe.
     It is done.      He is dead   and   buried,   mourned   by   the   few   who   had   come   to revere    him,    reviled    and    ridiculed    by    those    who    could    not understand   his   message,   and   hated   by   those   who   feared   his growing influence and power.       Like   the   one   who   had   come   before   him,   the   wild   man   of   the wilderness,   Yohanan   of   the   locusts   and   wild   honey,   this   one   too has been put to death to silence him.       We   have   wrapped   him   in   a   white   shroud,   and   placed   him   in the   tomb   Yosef   of   Arimathea   made   available   to   us,   watched   all the   time   by   the   Roman   cohort   lounging   suspiciously   outside, their   coarse   jokes   and   jarring   laughter   creating   a   discordant aura of vexation in the ominous air .        Panting   with   exhaustion,   and   soggy   under   the   drizzling   rain, we   put   our   shoulders   to   the   round   stone   and   heave.       There   are only   three   of   us,   two   of   the   less   fearful   of   his   Jewish   followers, and myself, the Armeni, always a stranger.       They push me away.       "Go   home,   old   man,"   hisses   Yonathan.        But   I   ignore   him.      I may   be   old   and   decrepit,   but   I   have   made   a   promise,   and   I intend to keep it.          "This is not for you, Yonathan," I respond
     A new miracle in the Holy Land.      The Palestinians and Israelis have finally agreed to turn their spears into pruning forks and their swords into plowshares, pledging to bring peace to the ravaged land of the prophets and put an end to dcades of bloodhsed that has seen brother raise arms agasinst brother.      But how did this happen?       And why now, when all efforts by some of the world's most persuasive and persistent diplomats and peacemakers had failed miserably in bridging the impassable divide barring the two semitic cousins?       Among the shadows of his early predecessors, a modest man who worships a God that is a close cousin of the Allah of the Arabs and the YHWH of the Jews, and who has been the driving force behind the miracle, sits in an ornate office, quietly sipping a lukewarm cup of tea  as he ponders the outcome of his historic achievement.      On the table in front of him lies a copper box, containing a mysterious illustrated manuscript.