Thursday, 31 January 2008


Arthur Hagopian

AZG Armenian Daily

Armenian Genocide

The tiny community of genocide survivors and their descendants living
in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, has taken a
bold and determined step toward ensuring that their unique place in
the history of this immortal city, is not irretrievably lost.

With the perennially relentless threat of assimilation and attrition
dogging their footsteps, the "Kaghakatzis" - literally, city or native
dwellers - are caught up in a brain drain that could, they fear,
make their decreasing number dwindle even further.

Community leaders voice their fears more bluntly.

"What we are facing is extinction and oblivion," they say.

Kaghakatzi Armenians are a genealogical oddity: every single member
of the community is related to everyone else in the community, either
directly or indirectly.

Takoug Khatchadourian (nee Kevorkian) is the sister-in-law of the
famous composer Ohan Durian. But she is also the aunt (on the father's
side) of Hagop Hagopian (originally Hovsepian). That makes Hagop's
sons and daughter kin to Durian.

At their peak, the Kaghakatzis numbered in the thousands. Now they
are down to a few hundred.

But this tiny enclave whose members have been making their home in the
cobblestoned alleys of the Old City for centuries, have enriched the
variegated tapestry of Jerusalem with their blend of unique culture,
their traditions, their arts and crafts, their cuisine.

For generations, many of the houses in the Armenian Quarter would
have been inhabited by the same family.

The slipshod nature of the Ottoman art of masonry is evident in
the meter-thick earth walls and the ramshackle foundations. Little
allowance has been made for sunlight and ventilation and the wall
plaster cakes continually, as the walls shed their whitewash under
the onslaught of humidity.

The houses are blessed twice every year (at Christmas and Easter)
by the parish priest, "and that is perhaps what helps to make them
safe and habitable," quips one resident.

The Kaghakatzis have played, and continue to play, a leading role not
only in maintaining and perpetuating, the Armenian presence in the Holy
Land, but also in helping to make this world a better place to live in.

"True, we occupy a coveted niche in the history of the Old City, but
unless we take prompt measures to preserve our entity, our history
will no more be known," community leaders warn.

With the timely launch of the enterprising Kaghakatzi Family Tree
Project, this threat of extinction will hopefully be safely removed,
project organizers say.

The project has so far collated genealogical details of over 800
Kaghakatzi 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.

The organizers pin their hopes on validating their data by tapping
the vast archives of the Armenian Patriarchate of St James, which
date back some centuries.

"Old birth, death and marriage certificates would be our principal
source of information," say the organizers.

And old family photographs.

The organizers concede that there are plenty of gaps in the Kaghakatzi
family tree database that need to be filled.

"For instance, we may have the name of a grand-grandmother, but no
one remembers her maiden name, or the date of her birth," they note.

The information gathered so far is housed in a main computer database
that will make it possible to print out or display pages of selected
branches of the tree or an "all-in-one" showing the whole sprawling
network of relations, in an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file.

A secondary, backup computer database using different software,
has also been created.

A unique domain name for the project has now been registered and the
project enshrined on the internet at:

The initial, modest family tree project begun last year has been
growing by leaps and bounds. The organizers note that the website will
not only host the family tree of all the Kaghakatzis, but also their
history and way of life, and a record of their achievements, and will
include photos, artwork, anecdotes, traditions, proverbs, cuisine, etc.

"We need all the help and support we can get," the organizers note.

"This is a labor of love, and we try to keep expenses to an absolute
minimum, " they say.

"However, we do need to constantly update the software and hardware,
pay our internet service providers, and so on," they add.

"And we need more genealogical data. Without the help of contributions
from every single living Kaghakatzi, wherever her or she may be,
we cannot hope to complete the record and make this vital community
project succeed," they point out.

They invite anyone possessing information of any nature on the
Kaghakatzi Armenians to contact them at

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