Armenian Jerusalem
ingeniously creative

Artists, singers, craftsmen, tradesmen, thinkers - all

walks of life

  Unlike their compatriots in the diaspora, where the seductive arms of assimilation have succeeded in denuding Armenians of their ethnic entity, the kaghakatsis and Venketzis of Jerusalem have been able to resist its charms and retain the purity and independence of their blood. There have been instances of intermarriage with their neighbors, mostly Christian Arabs, but these have been few and in most cases the offspring of such marriages have been firmly absorbed into the Armenian fold. One or two Armenian girls have broken from the fold and acquired Moslem husbands - in at least one case, the Moslem husband has had no qualms about his children going to an Armenian school or even transmogrifying his Moslem surname with the addition of the distinctive Armenian patronymic "ian." And lo and behold, Bitar becomes Betarian! On the other hand, one rarely hears of an Armenian (or Christian) male wedding a Moslem girl. Not because of the lack of eligible brides, or the impossibility or impracticability of a romantic interlude, but simply because it is anathema for a Moslem girl to marry outside her religion. Although the code of laws enforced by Israeli courts in Arab lands it has occupied has practically eradicated the pernicious "tradition" of honor killing among an Arab society growing in sophistication as it becomes more exposed to Western ideals, the stigma and alienation attached in such a mixed marriage is enough to deter the most ardent wooer. Before the Israeli juggernaut swept over Jerusalem, Armenians had been living under the sway of the Arabs who have had a noticeable influence on their way of life. The Israeli presence did awaken them to the unlimited possibilities available from a different, more Westernized perspective, but the old traditions and mores had been too deeply ingrained to be easily uprooted. The Arab influence pervaded many aspects of Armenian life, including their cuisine and social mannerisms. Arabic became the Armenians' second language: the kaghakatsis spoke it fluently but the Vanketsis have always been struggling with it because coming late on the scene, they had less contact with and exposure to the Arabs. On the other hand, the Vanketsis were at ease with Turkish which had been their second tongue before their arrival in the Holy Land. At home, almost all the kaghakatsis spoke in Arabic! Inevitably, the Armenians interjected their conversations with linguistic expressions adopted from Arabic and Turkish, thus enriching their vocabulary and expanding their literary horizons. I can remember scores of Arabic (and a few Turkish) proverbs I learned at home and in the streets, but hardly a dozen in Armenian. As a matter of course, some of the juiciest dealt always dealt with the lower parts of the human anatomy. And quite a few descended to the levels of sheer vulgarity. If you were unhappy with your portion of a pie or cake, you would protest that it was as small as the female reproductive organ of a crab. Two inseparable friends, applied specifically to gossiping females, were described as two bottoms in one panty. Whenever I kissed my grandparents' hands (this tradition, too, has dropped by the roadside), they would bestow this blessing upon me: "may the earth you touch turn into gold." The Jewish influence has been salubrious, and the affluence made possible by the higher standard of living is appreciated by modern Armenians. But they still find it difficult to make Jewish friends. For many, it is easier to communicate with the Arabs. Perhaps this is the result of the Arab conditioning process. Perhaps they find Israelis "cold." Even so, the Armenians cannot help feeling a begrudging admiration and sympathy for Israelis. They share a similar history of persecution, if nothing else. Israel's superior technology and the sheer endurance of its people never stops acting as an incentive for Armenians.    The young adventurers and their chaperones usually came back with their pot of gold, but disaster overtook a distant uncle of mine. His son was hit by a train. He buried the youth in a foreign land and returned home empty-handed, a broken man.      The years rolled by. Radio and TV invaded the Armenian Quarter, and the lure of tempting places and distant fortunes gripped the young. The concept that Jerusalem was merely a temporary sojourn intensified, particularly among the young. They believed that this was merely a way station, that their future, or that of their offspring lay either in America or Australia, or perhaps Armenia. The older generation could only moan and grieve and pine, too deeply rooted in tradition to ponder any move themselves.     
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