Armenian Jerusalem
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.
Jirair Tutunjian explains that “while many Armenians know that the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City covers one-sixth of the city, many Armenians, including even some living in Jerusalem, don’t know the many Armenian-related facts which make our presence in the Holy City so significant.” And proceeds to regale us with intriguing and amazing tidbits about our beloved city.
It was a bleak December night, with the rain and the wind chasing each other across the walls of the Old City. Entwined in a spirited saraband this harsh winter, the roiling twins played havoc along the cobblestoned alleys and domed rooftops and ran rampant in the open spaces. In a corner of the school playground, in the ancient monastery of the Armenians of Jerusalem, a forest of tall trees stood silent sentinels, in age-old defiance against the ravages of nature.
The Armenians of Jerusalem mourn the loss of another of its blythe spirits, Dickran Dickranian. He was ever the epitome of the cultured gentleman, A gentle soul helfpul and considerate, a warm, cheerful presence in the Armenian Quarter ofJerusalem. He left the city of his birth when quite young and spent most of his adult life in the USA. He is the brother of leading Armenian educator Yeghya Dickranian, deputy principal of the Sts Tarmanchats parish school.