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Armenians in Israel

Armenians in Israel

 The historic connection between the Armenian people and the Holy Land goes back to the days of Assyria and Babylon before the advent of Christianity. Even before the time of Armenian Kings, 3000 B.C from territory of Republic of Armenia has found many facts of trade relationship between Armenia and Mesopotamia And Armenian merchants had good friendship with Jewish merchants. At one time, Armenia and Palestine were part of the same empire. According to recorded history, the Armenian King Tigran II (95 to 55 B.C.), The Great "King of Kings," conquered most of the northern part of the Fertile Crescent including Syria and for a short time, extended his political influence over Israel which at the time was ruled by the Jewish Hasmonean kings. Armenian-Jewish relations date back to the time of Armenian emperor Tigran the Great, who, retreating from Judaea, took 10,000 Jews with him on his return to the Kingdom of Armenia. Jews had helped to Great "King of Kings," to build his new capital Tigranakert.

Large Armenian miniature (1430)KafaThe Armenian presence in the Holy Land dates back to the earliest years of Christianity, even before the conversion of Armenian King Tirdat the Third on or about 301 A.D. There is recorded historical evidence that as early as 254 A.D. bishops of the Armenian Church, in cooperation with bishops of the Greek Orthodox Churches in Jerusalem and Alexandria, Egypt, were actively engaged in the discovery and confirmation of Holy Places deemed to be related to the activities of Jesus Christ, and the construction of edifices for the preservation of these early Christian treasures.

Further, from the inception of Christianity, Armenian pilgrims began trekking to the Holy Land on spiritual journeys in steady and continuous numbers, braving disruptive political upheavals and other hardships. A large number of them chose to remain in Jerusalem, and to take up residence in the proximity of the sanctuaries owned by the Patriarchate (the Armenian Convent), with the St. James Cathedral as its centerpiece. Eventually, these areas near the Patriarchate, located in the southwestern corner of the Old City of Jerusalem, constituted the Armenian Quarter, which today takes up one-sixth of the geographic area within the walls of the Old City. The pilgrims also built houses, churches, and convents in other areas, some no longer standing, like the one at the Musrara Quarter, a stone's throw from the 15th Century walls of the Old City where, in 1991, archaeologists uncovered an incomparable mosaic, laid down by an unknown Armenian priest, Eustadius, in the 7th century. At its peak, the Armenian presence in Jerusalem numbered 25,000.

arm.quarterAccording to historical records, as early as the 3rd century A.D., the Armenian Church, under the uninterrupted leadership of successive bishops, not only maintained the integrity of the Holy Places, but also had a leading role in their protection and reconstruction following their repeated destruction by invading armies.

From the 4th through the 8th century A.D., monasticism took strong root in the Christian world, from the mountains of Asia Minor through the Holy Land, the Sinai Peninsula and the deserts of Egypt. Considered to be an honorable profession in the service of God, it attracted scholars, educators and artisans of all kinds. With the influx of thousands of monks and pilgrims from Armenian cities, Armenian monasteries were established in the Holy Land, particularly in the hills outside Jerusalem, near the Dead Sea, and the Sinai Desert in the south. The monks became an influential creative force and pioneered the enrichment of the Church with an invaluable trove of manuscripts and archives. The development of the Armenian Lectionary, consisting of a comprehensive anthology of Armenian church readings, hymns and celebration of feasts, liturgical calendar, and numerous saints' days, was a unique accomplishment. These elements and others have become an integral part of the tradition of the Armenian Church in the Holy Land thus making the Armenian Patriarchate a very unique institution throughout the world.

Because of the Armenian Church's enhanced prestige, the leading bishop of the Church was elevated to the status of Patriarch sometime in the 5th century A.D. The first formally recorded Patriarch of Jerusalem was named Abraham who, in the middle of the 7th Century A.D., received a charter and official recognition from the Arab Caliph Omar Ibn-Il-Khattab of the Omayyad (Damascus) Dynasty. The charter enumerated the rights and privileges of the Armenian Church in the Holy Land, guaranteeing its integrity and security.

The Cathedral of St. James, JerusalemOn the back wall facing the main entrance to the St. James Convent there is an elaborately carved inscription in Arabic which, loosely translated, warns all intruders: `This decree from our Lord Sultan and King Al-Daher Abu Sayid Mohammed, cursed be to all those and their sons through generations, and may Almighty God curse whoever harms or inflicts any injustice to this Holy Place. Abu Kheyer Razan hereby guarantees this to the St. James Armenian Convent in Jerusalem. In the year of Mohammed 854 (1488 A.D.)'. This and previous protective edicts have helped strengthen and perpetuate the integrity of the Patriarchate and have provided a basis for succeeding conquerors to honor these pledges.

The final and most important pledge was made by the written declaration of the Turkish Sultan, Abdul Majid, in 1852. This declaration officially established the principle of "Status Quo" (i.e. existing "as is" condition) in the Holy Places, which defines, regulates and maintains, without change, the proprietary rights in the Holy Places granted exclusively to the three major Christian rites--Greek, Armenian and Latin Catholic--thus making the Armenian Church equal in stature to the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches despite its relatively small size.

As a result of the "Status Quo", one interesting aspect unique to the Holy Places is the cadre of guards, caretakers, called "Kawasses" who were primarily Moslem, a choice seemingly inspired by logic. Not being Christian, they could impartially administer any Holy Place, thus eliminating points of contention between the three major Christian rites. Over the centuries, these functions were passed from father to son throughout succeeding generations. The Kawasses protecting the Armenian Patriarch have become such familiar figures over the past hundreds of years that the successive generations have learned Armenian and speak it fluently.

CHURCH_OF_HOLY_SEPULCHER_FROM_LUTHERAN_TOWERThroughout the ensuing decades the resident Armenian community continued to grow and prosper, yielding tradesmen and merchants who shared their prosperity with their Church by donating land and assisting in the construction of new churches, commercial buildings and housing. The need for printed materials in the Armenian language resulted in the establishment of the first printing press in Jerusalem in 1833 within the walls of the St. James Convent. The first issue of "SION", the official monthly publication of the Armenian Patriarchate was first distributed to the public in 1866. In 1841 the first Armenian Theological Seminary was founded just north of Jerusalem, in the town of  Ramle, and in 1845 that Seminary was physically moved to a newly-built complex within the confines of the Convent.

As World War I ended, and Palestine was liberated from the Ottoman Turks by the British, there was a large influx of Armenian refugees who were welcomed by the Patriarchate and settled in available facilities. With the increased population in and around the Patriarchate, children's education became a growing matter of concern. Fortunately, the Seminary afforded a ready-made system for the education of boys at the elementary level. This approach, by its nature, must have provided future candidates for the Seminary and subsequent ordination into the priesthood. However, without the inclusion of girls in the scheme, the endeavor was not deemed to be complete. Finally, in the 1860's, a small building was erected adjacent to the Seminary, thus creating the first girls' elementary school in Jerusalem. These schools continued to operate well into the early 1920's.

Armenian kidsIn 1925, through the efforts of the newly-elected Patriarch Yeghishe Tourian, a staunch believer in education, a unified elementary school came into existence. Patriarch Tourian set about modernizing the curriculum of the Seminary and acquiring highly-qualified instructors from the cadre of talented teachers and educators who had come to Jerusalem as refugees. He envisioned the construction and establishment of an educational institution under one roof to accommodate the growing number of children in the community. In 1929, the unified elementary school officially opened its doors. By consolidating disparate locations, including the St. Gayane Girl's School, this elementary school became the first co-educational institution in the Holy Land and was renamed School of the Holy Translators ("Serpots Tarkmantchats Varjaran") after the Sts. Sahag and Mesrob, the inventors of the Armenian alphabet in approximately 400 A.D. It is in existence today.

These organs of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem--the School, the St. James Cathedral, the Patriarchate, the Armenian Seminary, the  Galouste Gulbenkian Library, and the Edward and Helen Mardigian Museum - together with its custodianships of the Holy Places - form the core of the Armenian presence in Jerusalem today.

1921, the National Assembly was abolished and the Jerusalem Patriarchate re-asserted its independence in the conduct of its internal affairs. However, it continued to rely on the canonical and organizational guidelines of the 1881 and 1888 documents pertaining to the operation of the St. James Brotherhood with some modifications. Recent efforts in preparing a modern version of these documents have not come to fruition.

Armenian skautsDuring Ottoman rule the election of the Patriarch of Jerusalem was subject to the final approval of the sultan. With the British in control, the process for government ratification fell on the shoulders of the British King and his cabinet. At first, they did not know how to handle this new responsibly. However in time, special procedures and protocols were promulgated through the Commissioner in Palestine, which lasted until May 14, 1948 when the responsibility fell to the King of Jordan who controlled the Old City until 1967.

From 1948, after the elections of Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem by the principle of "Status Quo" all Armenian Patriarchs should be recognized by the leaders of 3 countries – Israel, Palestine and Kingdom of Jordan.

Now an Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem from the 22th of March 1990 - is Archbishop Torgom Manukian. 

 During the 1948 Arab/Israeli war some members of the community took refuge within the walls of the St. James Convent. Many others left the country for the safety of countries around the world (Soviet Armenia, the U.S., South America, Europe, Australia etc.).Thus some of the residences were forced to remain vacant becoming victims of vandalism. The greatest damage was inflicted on the entire Quarter during the 1967 war between Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan.

Tarekan joxovHaving been caught in the middle, the entire Quarter was the victim of bomb damage. The buildings housing the priests and the seminarians were damaged by mortar shells lobbed by both combatants and had to be completely evacuated.  The major part of the residential section was evacuated. Some were illegally appropriated by Jewish squatters. To this day the Patriarchate is attempting to throw them out to no avail. Some have been given long term leases since officially. Most of the residences belong to and are currently maintained by the Patriarchate. The Armenian Quarter is still on the maps; but its future seems to be bleak. The fact that it is adjacent to the Jewish Quarter in the east does not help much. It is feared that the Armenian Quarter is in danger of shrinking in the coming years. Armenians also lost a lot of their own land and in Israel and in Palestine. It was captured by the both sides. After wars and Continuously Palestine/Israeli conflicts and terror attacks - the situation in Armenian quarter is getting worse!

For example in 1948 the Armenian population in Jerusalem at its peak numbered more than 25.000.  Currently, about one thousand five hundred Armenians live in the Armenian Quarter. The total number of Armenians in Israel, with Armenians from The Former Soviet Republics and Armenians from Republic of Armenia and with the West Bank - is estimated to be about seven thousand. But an old Armenians whom are the part of generation of Armenians from the first centaury B.C with the survived Armenians after the Genocide (1915-22) together in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Ramle and Haifa are only about two thousand five hundred people. The most of them are keeping the Jordanian citizenship and don’t have Israeli one.  Rest of them families from former Soviet Republics. They are living in the center of Israel and in the southern and northern parts of Israel. They have an NGO – Union of Armenians in Petah-Tiqwa, “Nairi”.

The most important question for Armenian two thousand presence in Holly Land - is the status of Jerusalem and disport of Holy City. Under which country will be an Armenian quarter – that’s an important question for Armenian nation……..