Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Armenian News... A Topalian... ARMENIAN FCTS ABOUT THE HOLY CITY

June 29, 2017
Fascinating Armenian Jerusalem
Armenian-related facts about the Holy City which most Armenians don’t know
By Jirair Tutunjian , Toronto 

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.

Here are ten such salient facts.

The name is wrong. The actual name of the cathedral is Sts. Jameses because two saints bearing that name are buried in the cathedral. The first is St. James (known as ‘Klkhatir’ to Armenians), the brother of St. John. The second is St. James, the brother of Christ. He was the first bishop of Jerusalem. The “first” St. James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa. While his head is buried in the cathedral, the rest of his body is in distant Santiago de Compostella in Galicia, in northwest Spain. How the saint’s body wound up in that remote spot is another story, if not fable and legend. The “St. James” is popular because it’s easier to pronounce and to write than Sts. Jameses.


The first known monument to the Unknown Soldier was built by the Armenians in the city’s Musrara neighborhood, northwest of the city walls. It is located in the funerary chapel of martyr St. Polyeucte, an Armenian officer of the Roman XII legion. The 6.30 meter by 3.90 meter mosaic is made up of forty medallions which contain storks, partridges, geese, ibis, eagles, and ostriches and interspersed flowers. The mosaic includes, in Armenian, the inscription: “To the memory, and for the salvation, of all those Armenians whose names are known to the LORD.” It’s believed the mosaic was made sometime between 527 to 565 in the age of Emperor Justinian of Byzantium.

Maymar Sinan (1489-1588), the Armenian engineer-architect from the Agirnas village near Caesarea, was responsible for building the wall. As chief architect of the Ottoman palace, he was in charge of the construction of more than 300 structures—mosques, hospitals, public kitchens, schools, mausoleums, baths, palaces, mansions, bridges, aqueducts, and caravansaries. He circled (in the mid-1530s) Jerusalem with the 4 kilometer walls including 34 watchtowers and seven gates.

For centuries the Turks denied Sinan’s Armenian origin. In recent years they’ve somewhat relented and say that he was Christian. Evidence that Sinan was Armenian is the letter he wrote to the sultan asking him not to exile his family to Cyprus when the Turks were shipping the Armenians of his hometown to the Mediterranean island.


At the main entrance to the Armenian Convent there’s an Arabic writing etched in stone. It’s a declaration which guarantees the integrity of the Armenian holy places and exempts Armenians from head tax. Many people, including professional guides, wrongly believe the words are those of Prophet Mohammed granting protection to the Armenians of the Holy Land. Others believe the words belong to Omar Ibn-Khattab, the conqueror of Jerusalem. Still others maintain that Salah Eddin Ayoubi or Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Aziz is the author of the decree. However, the actual guarantor was Egyptian Sultan al Zaher Abou Said Chakmak (1437). Some scholars believe he was of Armenian origin and was related to Armenians who were prominent in the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt.


Although Queen Melisende of Jerusalem, the greatest Crusader female personality, had an Armenian mother and strengthened the Armenian presence in the Holy Land, few people know about her or that she is buried in the Church of Virgin’s Tomb (“Asdvadzamayr” in Armenian), adjacent to the Garden of Gethsemane. Her mother (Queen Morphia, the second Armenian queen of Jerusalem) is also buried in the underground church at the foot of Mount of Olives. Queen Melisende was born (1105) and raised in Urfa/Edessa. She came to Jerusalem with her family at the age of ten when her father, the ruler of Urfa, became King Baldwin II, the second Crusader king of Jerusalem. Her mother tongue was Armenian and she received Armenian upbringing while in the Armenia city of Urfa.

Queen Melisende was the eldest of four sisters. She was tall, had dark eyes and brows. She was described by a contemporary chronicler as “beautiful, wise, sweet and compassionate”. Others described her as a willful ruler who didn’t suffer fools gladly. She was passionate about horse riding and was resented by some Crusaders because of her gender and her half-Armenian origins. While married to Count Fulk, she shared the throne with her husband. After the early death of her husband during a hunting accident, she became regent and sole ruler.

A talented diplomat, she avoided conflict with Muslims. She was interested in the arts and in urban development. The Holy Sepulcher was reconstructed through her intercession. She also built the Bethany Abbey for nuns, the St. Anne Church, three covered bazaars, and a scriptorium for the production of illuminated manuscripts. She was also instrumental in the expansion of the Armenian Quarter. Melisende spread her influence through the arranged dynastic marriages of her two sisters to Crusader royalty. She died in 1161 following a stroke.

The original cathedral, which was destroyed by the Persians in the 7th century, was built in the 4th century. The present building dates from the Crusader era and is in many ways a replica of the Haghpad Cathedral in Armenia. The convent’s roots also go back to the Crusader era. However, most of the convent land were acquired and developed in the 17th and 18th centuries through the donations of wealthy Armenians in the diaspora and pilgrims. A number of prominent buildings (Gulbenkian Library, Sts. Tarkmanchats Secondary School, Jarankavorats, the defunct printing press) were built in more recent times. The seminary, across from the main entrance to the convent, was built in the 1970s.

Why do Armenians of Jerusalem celebrate Christmas on Jan. 18 when the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates that feast on Jan. 6? Depending on the source, there are two answers: the Armenian Church of Jerusalem uses a different church calendar from that used by the Armenian Apostolic Church. The second explanation? There was a time, nearly two centuries ago, when Jerusalem Armenians and the local Greek Church celebrated Christmas on Jan. 6. This resulted in huge crowds of pilgrims (Armenian, Greek, and Russian) crammed, at the same time, in the Nativity Church to celebrate Christ’s birth. The simultaneous celebrations resulted in a cacophony of competing hymns, discomfort for all and in the occasional fight. To resolve the problem, the Armenians delayed their celebrations to Jan. 18 but in lieu received certain rights from the Greek Patriarchate.

The Latin (Catholic) Patriarchate of the Holy Land has a distinctive cross which is known as the Jerusalem Cross. It comprises of a square cross with four smaller crosses over and below its horizontal arms. Although the Catholic Patriarchate has made it its “logo”, the cross is of Armenian origin.

In Eastern Armenia, long before the arrival of the Crusaders to the Middle East, Armenians etched the identical cross on rocks, churches and monastery walls. The four small crosses symbolized the four disciples who wrote the New Testament. These ancient crosses can still be seen in the Republic of Armenia. When following the Seljuk invasions a significant percentage of Armenians moved to Cilicia, they took the cross design with them. A number of Armenian Cilician noblemen adopted it as their flag. The Crusaders saw the cross while passing through Cilicia on their way to the Holy Land. After conquering Jerusalem, they declared it their flag. In time the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem appropriated the cross as its own.

Another proof of the cross’s Armenian roots: across from the entrance to the Sts. Jameses Cathedral, visitors can see more than half-dozen khachkars (stone-crosses) embedded in a high wall. They have four small crosses around them. One of these khachkars has A.D. 965—more than 130 years before the arrival of the Crusaders to Jerusalem.

The second-largest collection of Armenian illuminated manuscripts is at the modest St. Thoros Church located in the lay residential district of the Armenian Convent. The 4,000-manuscript collection, which includes works by such masters as Toros Roslin and Sarkis Pitzak, is the second-largest after the one in Yerevan (10,500). At one time there were 100,000 Armenian illuminated manuscripts: most were burned by the Turks.

After the fall of Sis in 1375, King Levon V (the last king of Armenia), his family and his retinue were taken prisoners by the Memluks and incarcerated in Egypt. Years later, when several European noblemen paid the ransom demanded by the Memluks, King Levon was released. After acting as governor of Madrid for a few years, he settled in Paris as a permanent guest of the king. During the years King Levon was incarcerated in Egypt, his wife Mariyoon (the last Armenian queen) and daughter Penna settled in the Armenian Convent of Jerusalem where they died a few years later. They were buried side by side, next to the pillar facing the chapel of St. James (“Klkhateer) northwest of the cathedral.

During his “retirement”, King Levon tried to arrange peace between France and England hoping to launch another Crusade after the two neighboring countries had made peace. But the kings of France and England were not interested in a peaceful solution to their conflict. King Levon died in 1393 in Paris and was buried in the same mausoleum where French royalty were buried. After the French Revolution, the royal remains were reburied at the St. Denis Cathedral outside Paris. More than a century after King Levon’s death, King James I of England, who was a distant relative, acquired the title of “King of Armenia”.

Challenges of Armenian Jerusalem 
TORONTO—(June 8) Armenian Jerusalem faces many serious challenges, said Dr. Minas Kojayan at a gathering here attended by a wide-cross section of Toronto Armenians. The speaker has spent most of the past two years in Jerusalem as editor-in-chief of the Patriarchate’s “SION” journal and as teacher at the seminary and the Sts. Tarkmanchats High School.

A resident of Los Angeles, Armenologist, veteran teacher, and former editor of, Dr. Kojayan drew a grim picture about the future of the community and the Patriarchate unless the Armenian nation steps in to support the precious, 1,500-year Armenian presence in the Holy City. While Armenians are justly proud that the Armenian Quarter makes up one-sixth of the Old City of Jerusalem, most Armenians are unaware of the plight of the Armenian community, said Dr. Kojayan.

Due to war, the intifadas, daily conflict between the two warring parties, and discrimination, the once-flourishing community has dwindled to fewer than 1,000 people, including the clergy. Because of lack of job opportunities, Armenians continue to emigrate and those who stay have few children. After they graduate from university, Armenians find almost impossible to find job because of their ethnic identity. The Sts. Tarmkanchatz Secondary school, which fifty year ago had more than 600 students, has fewer than 150 and 25 of those are either children of mixed marriages or are non-Armenian. Unless there’s a special occasion or banquet, the three clubs are mostly empty.

From 1930 to 1967 the major source of seminarians, and hence clergymen, were Lebanon and Syria. Following the Six-Day War in 1967, that source dried up because Lebanese and Syrian Arabs can’t immigrate to Israel. As a result, now most of the seminarians hail from Armenia. On the average, only one in ten seminarians opts to become a clergyman. The rest return to Armenia or try to emigrate west. With fewer than 30 clergymen, the Patriarchate faces a daily challenge to perform services at its churches or at houses of worship where it has the right to officiate.

The Patriarchate has ambitious but practical plans to open a museum for Armenian artifacts and a gallery to display modern Armenian art. These two major projects will offer two benefits: a regular revenue stream and the promotion of Armenian identity and art. But to proceed with its plans, the Patriarchate needs funds. So far it has been unable to interest Diaspora benefactors to support the projects.

Another potential source for substantial revenue is the conversion of the Cows’ Garden (“Goveroun Bardez”), across from the Armenian Convent, to a large parking lot. However, it can’t proceed because of Israeli government bureaucracy. Dr. Kojayan didn’t say so, but it’s well known that the municipality of Jerusalem will not grant permit for the proposed parking lot unless the Patriarchate “donates” part of the Garden to the city. Apparently, this is standard procedure for a government which makes no secret its intention to Judaize the Holy City.

A few years ago the municipality forced the patriarchate to “lease” land east of the Armenian Quarter and built a parking lot for people heading to the Western Wall. The Armenians soon learned that the parking lot, which they owned, was for the exclusive use of Jews.

More recently, the government confiscated the Armenian Patriarchate St. Philippos Springs and the huge tract of land around it. According to city hall, the land had “archeological value” thus it comes under the supervision/jurisdiction (read ownership) of the municipality.

A few years ago, when Israel was building its “Security Wall”, it sliced the Armenian-owned Baron Der orchard and confiscated land on both sides of the wall.

The Patriarchate is also involved in conflict with some members of the city’s Muslim community who want to build a mosque on Armenian land. The land, south of the Armenian Quarter, did have a mosque which was built illegally during Ottoman rule. The mosque was destroyed during the Arab/Jewish wars. The Patriarchate says it will not allow the rebuilding of the mosque on Armenian Patriarchate land and explains that the previous mosque was built illegally. The Patriarchate’s decision has negatively impacted relations with the Jordanian government.

And on and on continue the challenges the isolated and dwindling Armenian Jerusalem faces.

According to Dr. Kojayan, the best action Armenians around the world can take is to visit Jerusalem as often as possible. They can thus demonstrate their support of the Armenian presence in the Holy City. By visiting the Armenian Convent they would be sending a message that while the community is small, it is not alone…that eight million Armenians are watching its welfare.

To facilitate the visit of Armenian pilgrims and tourists, the Patriarchate has in recent years converted a number of convent residences to guest houses. More are planned in upcoming years.

Dr. Kojayan warned that Armenians can lose the Armenian Quarter and the Patriarchate if they are not on their guard. He pointed out that several times in the past three hundred years the Armenian Convent was almost lost because of debts and usurious Ottoman taxes. While the Patriarchate has no debts now (its current revenues cover its expenses), it faces threats of different nature. These threats are not as naked as those posed by the Ottomans but nevertheless are as mortal.

The Armenian Quarter, which includes the St. James Cathedral, two churches, more than 4,000 illuminated manuscripts, a high school, a library with 200,000 books, three clubs, a seminary and about 400 rooms, is the result of a collective effort by the Armenian nation. For more than a millennium Armenian pilgrims have journeyed to the Holy Land and donated money and myriad gifts to the convent to guarantee its perpetuation. By visiting Jerusale. m now Armenians would be following the footsteps of their forefathers who undertook the dangerous and costly journey by caravan in past centuries. 

The Tekeyan Cultural Centre was packed for Dr. Kojayan’s presentation. The Q & A was followed by further one-on-one questions by attendees who wanted to know more about the Holy City and what else they could do to help the Armenian Jerusalem overcome its challenges

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