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Est proident Foreword...

 1 Perching on a wall

2 Early dawn in the Old City

        You walk along the twisted, cobblestoned alleys of the Old City, and

you are transpoted in time. There is a palpable ambience that holds you in

its embrace. Uunder every cobblestone carpeting the ancient alleys, lies a

tale to be told, of heroes and villains, of tears and laughter, of love and

hope, of glory and disaster. And you would never get lost in the Armenian

Quarter, for every household had its own personal signpost, a nickname

based on some distinct incident or characteristic: "dar el 'ajayez," the home

of the old ones; "dar el tasseh," the house of the bowl; "dar el hattiti," the

houose of the iron bolt . . .”

  But the Kaghakatsi have a stronger claim to a cherished niche in the

annals of the Old City: their claim to immortality will probably be ensured

not solely by virtue of their expressive history, but by an anthropological or

genealogical rarity: every single Kaghakatzi is related by blood to another

Kaghakatzi.

    The whole Kaghakatzi community is a spiderweb of family relations. If you are not my cousin, you are my cousin's cousin. It would not be uncommon for two Kaghakatzis from totally different families to stumble upon a common ancestor going back several decades or even a century or more. Along the way, this lively community (at its peak it numbered 1,000) has given the world photographers, teachers, artists, writers, scholars, craftsmen, philosophers and musicians, among others, paramount among them the composer Ohan Dourian.     Attrition has seriously depleted their ranks over the years, and only a handful of stalwarts now remains to man the fort and hold the flag.      "We are few, what's left of us, but we carry in our genes the long cherished memories and traditions of a glorious past. And the hope is always that we shall pass these on to our children," as one Kaghakatsi resident noted.      I was born in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem as the winds of war were marshaling their forces for the launch of another world calamity, World War II. I was the second son in a family of eight, a new generation of descendants of a proud heritage whose roots hark back ten centuries before the beginnings of Christianity when Tigranes the Great swept over the land and paved the ground for a later colony of Armenians.     At some stage, my ancestors conceived the ceremony of Holy Fire Saturday to commemorate the resurrection of Christ. The highlight was a race carrying a torch said to be lit from a miraculous fire that descended into the Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Witnessing this event became the apogee of every pilgrims dream.      [The first mention of the ceremony was made by a pilgrim around 870 CE]    The tradition is being kept alive to this day, with the right to carry the torch passed on down the generations, to be inherited by my own family. As a young man, some of my most vivid memories are of running with the torch past hundreds of eager hands, hot wax dripping down my arms as I sprinted up the steep stairs to the top of the Rotunda to pass on the torch to the Armenian Patriarch.      It is said that you cannot go back home. But when Jerusalem is your home, you can always return to it, because you carry it in the heart. As I retrace my steps along the cobblestoned alleys of the Old City, I am overcome by a maelstrom of feelings, a mixture of awe and nostalgia. Mingled with that is the sense of the time continuum and the ethereal touch of imperturbability that Jerusalem can inspire.      Jerusalem, city of gold, city of light, city of mystery.     It is not possible to talk of Jerusalem except in superlatives.      Jerusalem is not a city. It is an experience. Although its back alleys are filthy, the crowds noisy and pushy, the merchants importunate, and sometimes downright mendacious, all is forgotten and forgiven when you stand before the majestic Western Wall, climb up to the golden Dome of the Rock, or wonder at the mysterious ladder at foot of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And when you sit down to a plate of "musabbaha" (hummus with chickpea and parsley) or munch on a hot crunchy falafel or partake of the mouth-watering sweet "kenafeh" (a filodough pastry with sweetened cheese in rose water with a garnish of pistachios), you get a sense of the tendrils of affection the world feels for what could have been a demi- paradise.     And then, despite the intifadas, the house-demolitions, and the relentless wrangle of politicians and generals, you meet its amiable and friendly people in the street, and get a taste of the gaucho camaraderie of Christian, Jew and Moslem alike, and you realize this is a people who know the meaning of real and lasting friendship.      This is our story, the Armenians of Jerusalem. I am Armenian. My name, before any  anglicized transmogrification, is Harutiun. Which translates as resurrection. A very common Armenian name.     It was bestowed upon me by a dowager aunt whose father bore the same name. Though he was most commonly called Arteen [detemining how this has become a diminutive or derivative of "Harutiun" would tax the efforts of the most proficient etymologist], a sobriquet my elders saddled me with as well.     Judging by the few daguerrotype portraits of him that have survived, my namesake was one hell of a character:  aArms akimbo, bushy moustache bristling, “Arteen el Kawwas” stands aglow with his Ottoman scimitar, and awash in his sherwal,  bestriding the Armenian compound like a colossus, casting trepidation into the hearts of the congregation.     His primary duties were ceremonial, but he also acted as the bodyguard and gofer for the Armenian Patriarch. Stationed at the entrance to the Convent of St James, he would dare any "odar" (stranger)  to set foot within. Swishing his whip in the air, he would pave the way for pirests walking in solemn procession.      In later years, it was the Abul Hawa brothers, Mohammed and Ibrahim, from the Mount of Olives, who together assumed the office. Affable and courteous, the two lost no time learning the language of their employer and could successfully carry a decent conversation in Armenian.      Does anyone remember the ribald poem the hapless Michael Kostayan used to spout at the drop of a hat? It had been composed and taught him by the ragtag band of vagabond Kaghakatzi youth who delighted in teasing him, and began with the nonsense verse "Dokh kondeh dokh kondeh. . . " which rapidly deteriorated into faggoty droppings.      Where was Bedros, perhaps the most uncelebrated hero the Armenians of Jerusalem have ever produced, a man who without any protective armor, had disarmed and bodily carried away an unexploded missile that landed in somebody's kitchen during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The picture that lingers most is the sight of this diminutive man hugging the bomb to his chest as he manhandled it down stairs, stumbling blindly because the missile was taller than him.      Who will forget the avuncular Apraham Baba, towering over us, clad in an Ottoman "shirwal," (baggy trousers) as he sold us candy and trinkets from his shop which disappeared in a puff of smoke after a bomb landed there, or Megerditch the dairy farmer whose rantings at his Arab hired help punctuated our mornings? His spread is now a Jewish housing complex.      They, and the cavalcade of other intriguing characters that animated the idyll of this community (dubbed "Kaghakatzi," city or native dwellers) in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem, have long gone their way, but the memory lingers, and will linger as long as this tiny enclave remains on the map.      For under every cobblestone carpeting the ancient alleys, lies a tale to be told, of heroes and villains, of tears and laughter, of love and hope, of glory and disaster. And you would never get lost in the Armenian Quarter, for every household had its own personal signpost, a nickname based on some distinct incident or characteristic: "dar el 'ajayez," the home of the old ones; "dar el tasseh," the home of the bowl; "dar el hattiti," the door of the bolt . . .      But the Kaghakatzi have a stronger claim to a cherished niche in the annals of the Old City: their claim to immortality will probably be ensured not solely by virtue of their expressive history, but by an anthropological or genealogical rarity: every single Kaghakatzi is related by blood to another Kaghakatzi.      The whole Kaghakatzi community is a spiderweb of family relations. If you are not my cousin, you are my cousin's cousin.      It would not be uncommon for two Kaghakatzis from totally different families to stumble upon a common ancestor going back several decades or even a century or more. Along the way, this lively community (at its peak it numbered 1,000) has given the world photographers, teachers, artists, writers, scholars, craftsmen, philosophers and musicians, among others, paramount among them the composer Ohan Dourian.      Attrition has seriously depleted their ranks over the years, and only a handful of stalwarts now remains to man the fort and hold the flag.      "We are few, what's left of us, but we carry in our genes the long cherished memories and traditions of a glorious past. And the hope is always that we shall pass these on to our children," as one Kaghakatzi resident noted.       "It's unbelievable, the Kaghakatzis are all one big network of relatives," she enthused.      The ancestors of these people roamed the mountains of Armenia, and fought pitched battles against enemies who coveted that vital geographical crossroads, and who wanted to make my people worship their various deities in their pantheons.      In Jerusalem, they had created a new Armenia. It would not take too much to create a new Armenia: just let two Armenians meet anywhere in the world, Pulitzer Prize winner William Saroyan said, “and see if they will not create a new Armenia.”      At some stage, the Armenians of Jerusalem conceived the ceremony of Holy Fire Saturday to commemorate the resurrection of Christ. The highlight was a race carrying a torch said to be lit from a miraculous fire that descended into the Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Witnessing this event became the apogee of every pilgrims dream.     The tradition is being kept alive to this day, with the right to carry the torch passed on down the generations, to be inherited by my own family, the Hagopians. As a young man, some of my most vivid memories are of running with the torch past hundreds of eager hands, hot wax dripping down my arms as I sprinted up the steep stairs to the top of the Rotunda to pass on the torch to the Armenian Patriarch.     We do not know when the ceremony first took place, but the earliest mention was by a   pilgrim who chanced to witness it in 870 CE.        
© 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