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Est proident Foreword...

 1 Perching on a wall

2 Early dawn in the Old City

Wafer-thin tendrils of rain cascade gently down in

the evanescent darkness of an early winter dawn in

the Old City of Jerusalem. The echoes of the

muezzin's call to prayer linger in the crisp air.

Shreds from a shroud of mist envelope the quaint

houses and meandering streets, billowing out upon

the nearby hills, and veiling the city from view.

      In the streets, no one is stirring yet, save for the odd stray cat out on a scavenging spree. No smoke rises from chimneys and no lights show in the windows.      The mist envelops all, but through patches in its fabric, the sun's dew- drenched rays peer tremulously over the ancient walls of the city and bathe the squat domes, towering belfries and tapered minarets in a feeble glow. Gentle fingers pirouette across the parapets, stopping to knock softly against the city's eastern gates.      Cocooned behind the one-meter-thick walls of their houses, the residents of the Armenian Quarter slumber unconcerned, a stone's throw from one of the seven gates of the city and its 500-year-old Walls.      The curtains of the mist part as if reluctantly, to make way for a solitary figure, armed with a staff that towers above his diminutive figure. With labored steps, he plods slowly along the cobblestoned alleys, banging his staff in accompaniment.      He reaches a turning in the road, and pauses. The silence remains unbroken. He savors the gentle peace for a second, then resumes his waddle.      The thumping of his staff jolts me out of a hazy dream. I am only a few feet away from the street where stands. I pop out of bed, a mattress on the bare floor I share with a younger brother, shivering and still lost in the palisades of sleep.      The sudden move earns me a shove in the arm.      "Stop pushing!" he mumbles.      There it is again, right near the window, coming from outside house, the full impact deadened by the thick walls.      What is it? It can not be one of those ghouls or vampires old dudu Vartoug was always threatening us with, the ones that would shed their clothes and scamper up our nostrils if we misbehaved - because I can see the first tentative tendrils of daylight creeping across the window sill - and everyone knew that ghouls and vampires ran their rampages only at night.      And yet, who knew the mind of errant monsters? Perhaps one of them had yearned for a daylight tryst and was even now, on one of its wassails.       I sit shivering in the cold air.      And then, a heartbeat after silence re-establishes its reign over the street and the house, another sound, so totally unexpected, soars into the early dawn. I gasp! I can not believe my ears.      A song! Somebody is singing under our window, a voice so gentle yet so compelling, I can hear every word wafting on the dawn of the Sunday morning.      This is no ghoul or vampire, I try to reassure myself - no hellish creature could ever be endowed with such an angelic voice.      As I puzzle over the mystery, the alien melody pierces through my befuddled brain.      "Aravodyan looys e dzakooom. . . (in the morning, a light is born)"      Am I still dreaming, or did I really hear those words?      Thump!      Each verse is punctuated by another thrashing of the cobblestones of the twisting alley.      A gentle hand reaches out to me in the darkness.      "Go back to sleep, it's only the Jamgotch. Don't be afraid," my mother whispers to me, coming over and pulling me down. She pats me on the head, and kisses my forehead before moving back to her mattress.      But there is no more sleep for me. I am fully awake now, and I want to savor the full symphony of the mysterious town-crier outside our window.      I keep listening to the song, following it in my head, straining to hear the last echoes as the Jamgotch plods away with his staff and his song.      The echoes of that song, first heard more than 60 years ago, have reverberate in my memory long after the little child had been weaned on the lullabies of generations.      This was old man Khoren Aharonian, the Jamgotch, with the voice of an angel.      It would not be the first time I would hear it. For it would be repeated every Sunday morning as he pounded the cobblestoned alleys of the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, calling its denizens, the "Kaghakatsi", to prayer at their parish church, Hreshdagabed, the church of the Holy Archangels, which is situated on the site of the home of the high- priest Annas.       The edifice has been traditionally the parish church catering to the spiritual and religious needs of the Kaghakatzi community who look upon it as their own personal gateway to heaven.      "Kaghakatsi" is an appellation applied to the original, native Armenian residents of the Quarter who have been living there continuously for hundreds of years, their origins shrouded in mystery, but their forebears heathen colonists who had settled in the sleepy little village in Palestine that would later become a distant outpost of the empire carved out by Armenian emperor Tigranes II some 150 years before the birth of Jesus.        Tigranes invaded Syria and Palestine, extending his empire from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, and left behind sizeable garrisons and colonies of Armenians to hold the fort and show the flag.      When in 301 AD King Tiridates adopted Christianity as Armenia's state religion, the epoch-making move gave added impetus to an enthusiastic influx of Armenians eager to chase the lodestone of rejuvenation in the new faith, in the city of the Christ.      The colonies endured and flourished. Caught up in the zeal of the new religion, the Armenian pilgrims laid down streets and put up houses, established churches and monasteries, and created mosaics and institutions.       Out of that extended and fertile exuberance emerged a whole new compound, claiming over a quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem as its private enclave.      And over the years, in the middle of that enclave the Armenians crafted a magnificent church within a sprawling convent,  on the site of the encampment of the Xth Legion of Rome that had conquered Masada.      They called it St James, after the brother of Jesus, and shaped it into the most magnificent Christian edifice in the whole of the Middle East.      The pilgrims were lavish in their largesse to the church and the Patriarchate soon became a major repository of Armenian treasures. The Armenians gave free rein to their creative spirit, giving the city its first printing press and photographic studio.      In time, St James became recognized as the See of the Armenian Patriarchate and for over two millennia, it has been holding the fort, the most important spiritual fount of Armenians outside their homeland, adding to its variegated treasures, mementos of the caravan of Armenians who had lived, worked and died in the Old City of Jerusalem.      The 1915 Turkish massacres set in train a new influx of refugees - there was no place at the inn for these newcomers and the only solution was to let them share the domiciles of the priests and resettle within the sprawling convent ("Vank" in Armenian) of St James, and became called "Vanketzi" (the dwellers in the Vank, or convent), as distinguished from "Kaghakatzi" (the dwellers in the Kaghak, or city).      At their peak, the Armenians of Jerusalem numbered close to 15,000. Today, in the face of relentless attrition, their ranks have shrunk to a trickle.      Over the years, whether in peace or during turbulent times, Patriarchate scribes continued to keep a running commentary on the lives of the community and the congregation, tracing their lineage, encrusting their names and genealogical details into durable "domar"s.      On some of the  handwritten pages of these tomes the ink has faded - and many of the inputs are identified solely by their occupation: "Badgerahan" photographer, "sevaji" tailor,       The ink may have faded  but the memories remain fresh.       This was Jerusalem, at a window in time in 1948, before the hounds of war were unleashed by the Semitic cousins, the Arabs and the Jews, as they squabbled over what is arguably the most precious piece of contested real estate in the world.        
© 2017 arthur hagopian
The Beginnings    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, wending their way to the Holy City on foot or on the back of camels and donkeys, in long caravans that sometimes boasted 700 beasts of burden, braving unforgiving desert sandstorms or running the gauntlet of roaming bandits, in their relentless quest for spiritual rejuvenation.    Some of the conscripts and later pilgrims, among them my ancestors, stayed and prospered, in the process making Jerusalem what many unabashedly proclaim, the center of the world.     Their descendants gave the city its first printing press and photographic studio.    One of my great-grandparents was a prolific builder. The houses he and his fellow artisans built, with their distinctive meter-wide earthen walls, still stand.      I was born, and grew up, in such a house, in the Armenian Quarter, of the Old City.   This is my story, interwoven within the fabric of the saga of the Armenians of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem
Arthur Hagopian