- There are few places in the Diaspora today where Armenians have
had such a central role as in Jerusalem. The fact that any serious
study about the Holy City cannot avoid reference to the Armenians
is in itself evidence of this special position. The Arab-Israeli
conflict and now the death of Yassar Arafat have made the UCLA conference
on Armenian Jerusalem, November 6-7, all the more timely and captivating.
- "Armenian Jerusalem and Armenians in the Holy Land" was the fifteenth
in the conference series on Historic Armenian Cities and Provinces
organized by Professor Richard Hovannisian, AEF Chair in Armenian
History at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Beginning
in 1997, the first twelve conferences dealt with Western Armenia
and the once-Armenian-populated regions of current-day Turkey: Van/Vaspurakan
to Constantinople, Smyrna/Izmir, the Black Sea communities, and
Caesarea. Hovannisian has already edited and published the first
five volumes in this series-Van/Vaspurakan (2000), Baghesh/Bitlis-Taron/Mush
(2001), Tsopk/Kharpert (2002), Karin/Erzerum (2003), and most recently
Sebastia/Sivas and Lesser Armenia (2004), each between 300 and 450
pages and with many relevant photographs.
- The last two conferences, devoted to New Julfa and the other
Armenian communities of Iran, moved the focus of the series to areas
outside of historic Armenia. The conference on Jerusalem continued
this exploration. Its honorary president was His Beatitude, Archbishop
Torkom Manoogian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, with co-sponsorship
by the UCLA International Institute, Center for Near Eastern Studies,
and Center for European and Eurasian Studies.
The Conference and an Azeri News
- Before describing the conference, it is instructive to note an
episode of the continuing anti-Armenian distortions, this one so
ridiculous as to be pathetic. The Azeri "Assa-Irada" news agency,
in a release dated November 9, hastened to "honor" the conference
with its attention by issuing a brief report. According to that
news item, a "well-informed source" let it be known that a member
of the Institute of History of the Armenian Academy of Sciences,
Dr. Albert Kharatyan, had referred to Armenians as "the first inhabitants
of Jerusalem and that the city was a part of "Great Armenia." Of
course, there was nothing remotely resembling such a statement by
the Armenian historian, and this disinformation can only be ascribed
to the Armenophobic imagination of the "well-informed" source.
- With this, we might also call upon the Armenian media to be more
circumspect in judging and taking at face value what the Azeri and
Turkish press write about individual Armenian scholars or others.
And it would be most desirable that the Armenian media be present
or have reporters at such important conferences at the UCLA series
to give first-hand accounts and descriptions.
The Opening Session, November 6
- When Professor Hovannisian opened the conference
on Saturday morning at 9:30 with his introductory presentation on
the history and significance of Armenian Jerusalem, the UCLA Court
of Sciences Auditorium, which seats more than 450 persons, was filled
to capacity and this strong attendance continued to the end of the
day. On Sunday afternoon, despite the inclement weather, most of
the auditorium was again occupied.
- The paper of Professor Nina Garsoian (Columbia University, Emerita),
read by Dr. Sergio La Porta, dealt with the
seventh century text of the Vardapet Anastas, who wrote that while
in the Holy Land he had visited 70 Armenian monasteries and communities.
Although some scholars have considered this text to be a fabrication
or else greatly exaggerated, Garsoian uses Greek and archeological
sources to demonstrate that the basic text regarding the Armenian
and Caucasian Albanian presence in the Holy Land in the sixth and
seventh centuries is sound.
- Dr. John Carswell (Malaga, Spain, formerly
University of Chicago and A.U.B.) described with many personal anecdotes
and color slide projections the Armenian mosaics and ceramics of
Jerusalem. While conducting his field work in Jerusalem, he photographed
some 2,000 examples, some of which were published in his two-volume
study. He also discovered two eighteenth-century chronicles that
describe the events in Constantinople and Jerusalem at the time.
- Professor Abraham Terian (St. Nersess Seminary,
New York), a native of Jerusalem, described the rich manuscript
collection of St. James Monastery. The collection of some 3,900
manuscripts has now been catalogued in eleven volumes by the late
savant, Archbishop Norayr Bogharian. Stating that first written
source about Armenians in Jerusalem is from the sixth century, the
speaker described the important translations that have taken place
and the rich tradition of manuscript production.
- Dr. Claude Moutafian (University of Paris)
discussed the relations between the Armenian lords and the kings
of Jerusalem in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. He related
how Armenian princesses of Cilicia, such as Arda, Morphia, and Melisande,
through marriage became the queens of Jerusalem. It is likely that
they sponsored or supported Armenian initiatives such as the twelfth-century
restoration of St. James Monastery. He also attempted to date the
scepter that has been ascribed to the Cilician King Hetum and to
determine whether this belonged to Hetum I or Hetum II, both of
whom lived in the thirteenth century.
- Professor Sergio La Porta (Hebrew University
of Jerusalem) explored the relationship between the Armenian Patriarchate
of Jerusalem and Greater Armenia in the fourteenth century. The
accommodation of certain Roman Catholic rites by the Catholicos
of All- Armenians, who then resided at Sis in Cilicia, caused a
strong reaction from among the traditionalist bishops in the east.
Resistance was also shown by the Armenian clergy of Jerusalem. The
prelate, Bishop Sarkis, refused to accept the compromising stance
of the church council at Adana in 1307, and in 1311 broke with the
Holy See in Cilicia, formally establishing the Armenian Patriarchate
in Jerusalem under the protection of the Mamluk sultans. Steadfast
allegiance to the traditional Armenian faith subsequently resulted
in the election of Jerusalem Patriarch Boghos Garnetsi as Catholicos
of All- Armenians in Sis in 1418.
From Medieval to Modern Jerusalem
- The afternoon session on November 6 began with the presentation
by Dr. Roberta Ervine (St. Nersess Academy)
on one of the most dynamic leaders of Jerusalem, Patriarch Krikor
Baronder (Grigor Paronter), who reigned from 1613 to 1645. During
his tenure, the Ottoman Empire was in crisis, which also impacted
the Armenian people and Armenian Jerusalem. Even before entering
into religious service, Baronder, a native of Gandzak in Eastern
Armenia, had campaigned to eliminate the burdensome debts of the
patriarchate. He was able to secure major contributions, not only
from Van, New Julfa, and Aleppo but also from places such as Amida,
Urfa, and Bitlis, virtually encouraging their competition to erase
the debt. During his thirty-two-year patriarchal reign, Baronder,
expanded the Armenian presence in Jerusalem, acquiring new properties,
organizing pilgrimages, and creating a spiritual atmosphere within
- Dr. Albert Kharatyan (Institute of History,
Yerevan), speaking in Armenian, reflected on Armenian-Greek church
relations during the second half of the seventeenth century. The
period was characterized by sharp disagreements and competition
relating to the respective rights of the churches in the holy places
as well as to issues such as the liturgical calendar. For a brief
time, in 1657-1658, the Greeks were even able to take control of
St. James Monastery by bribing the Turkish officials. The difficulties
were compounded by the turmoil within the Armenian Patriarchate
of Constantinople, which at that time had jurisdiction over Jerusalem.
Ultimately, it was Krikor the Chain-Bearer (Grigor Shkhtayakir,
1715-1749) who delivered the Jerusalem Patriarchate from debt and
restored it to its previous position.
- Professor Christina Maranci (University
of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) gave an illustrated talk on the sixth century
Armenian mosaic floor that was discovered near the Damascus Gate
in 1894. The large mosaic has give rise to scholarly debates regarding
the depiction of various animals and their significance. Linking
the mosaic with similar (but different) Greek and Jewish models,
the art historian speculated that it could possibly be associated
with death rituals.
The Modern Period
- Following an intermission, the conference moved on to the modern
period. Dr. Emma Kostandyan (Institute of
History, Yerevan), speaking in Armenian with an English summary,
examined the linkages between the beloved Armenian church leader,
Khrimian Hayrig and Jerusalem. Khrimian visited Jerusalem in 1852,
based on which he wrote in the well-known "Hrivirag ergrin Avediats"
(Passage to the Promised Land). While Khrimian was the Armenian
Patriarch of Constantinople, he communicated frequently with Jerusalem,
and these letters have become an important historical source. Then
in 1890 the Turkish authorities exiled to Jerusalem where he remained
until he was elected Catholicos of All-Armenians in 1892, after
which he continued to show deep concern for the welfare and activities
of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
- Dr. Robert Krikorian (George Washington
University) spoke about the Armenian volunteer movement and the
Armenian Legion during World War I. The Armenian Legion played a
significant role in the liberation of Palestine under the joint
Allied command of General Allenby. The Armenian volunteers distinguished
themselves in the hard-fought battle of Arara, which was a turning
point that brought the end of Ottoman rule in Palestine. Interestingly,
Armenian volunteers hastening to Artsakh in1988 and thereafter were
inspired by the volunteer movement and the example of the Armenian
Legion, whose feats were related by natives of Musa Dagh who had
repatriated to Armenia.
- Professor Vahram Shemmassian (California
State University-Northridge) reported with facts and figures on
the Armenian deportees and survivors who ended up in Palestine during
World War I. After the British occupied the region, some 4,000 of
these people were transferred to Port Said. By the fall of 1919
most of then had been able to return to their native towns and villages-at
least for the time being.
Armenians Jerusalem in the Twentieth
- The conference continued on the UCLA campus on Sunday afternoon.
Dr. Vartan Matiossian (Del Salvador University
and Hovnanian School) spoke on the two driving forces during a "golden
age" (1921-1939). These were the successive patriarchs Eghishe Turian
and Torkom Kushagian. The presentation began with reflections on
the establishment and the history of the Armash Seminary where Turian
was the dean for a long time and Kushagian was his student and successor.
During their Jerusalem years, the two dedicated patriarchs were
able to revive the traditions of Armash, making Armenian Jerusalem
the spiritual and cultural center of the Diaspora and the workplace
of such noted intellectuals as Hagop Oshagan and Shahan Berberian.
- Columbia University Ph.D. candidate Bedross Der
Matossian, a native of Jerusalem, used charts and graphs
to synthesize the history of the Armenian community of Palestine
from 1917 to 1948. By the time of the Arab-Israeli war in 1948,
the number of Armenians in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Bethlehem, and
elsewhere had grown from 3,000 to more than 15,000. This gave to
the community a new and different cultural, educational, athletic,
and political life.
- Professor Osheen Keshishian (Glendale College),
also a native of Jerusalem and editor of the "Armenian Observer,"
spoke about the literary life of Jerusalem, discussing the work
and activities of a number of important cultural figures, such as
Turian, Oshagan, Berberian, Eghivart (Archbishop Eghishe Derderian),
Shen-Mah, Anel (Dr. Garo Garabedian), Vahram Mavian, and others.
His presentation included first-hand observations and impressions.
- Professor Nurith Kenaan-Kedar (University
of Tel Aviv) made her presentation by video, in which she described
the Armenian ceramic art in Jerusalem, which was brought to the
Holy Land by masters from Kutahia. With beautiful visual images
and illustrations, she described the history and production of the
Balian, Ohannesian, and Karakashian families. The tradition of the
Kutahia tiles has being perpetuated and embellished by three generations
of the Balian and Karakashian families. Marie Balian in particular
has caught the eye of Israeli and Palestinian society and has dedicated
a large recent creation to the elusive vision of peace.
Contemporary Jerusalem and Its Challenges
- The final session on Sunday focused on the contemporary situation
in Jerusalem. Mrs. Sylva Natalie Manoogian
(UCLA) described with power-point projections the plans for renovation
of the Patriarchate's Gulbenkian Library, a project that has been
in progress since 1995. She has personally been involved in the
work and hopes that before too long the library will again be open
for use by students and scholars.
- Dr. Sossie Andezian (National Center of
Scientific Research, Paris) has been conducting research on the
Armenian community of Jerusalem for the past five years. She stressed
the importance of Jerusalem for Armenians worldwide. The events
of the past years have made that role all the more critical. The
local Armenians, because of the absence of pilgrims in recent times,
have become something like "permanent pilgrims." She explained that
there is tension and mutual dissatisfaction between the lay and
religious components of the community. The Patriarchate has been
firmly situated for centuries and the holy character of the city
has safeguarded the position of the Armenian Church. But things
have been changing during the past decades as the result of more
stringent state policies. The state police can now even enter within
the walls of St. James Monastery, and Armenian properties can be
expropriated if deemed necessary for considerations of national
defense. It is interesting that Armenians who lost all their properties
as the result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war have seldom complained
about this injustice, but they are outraged and ready to mobilize
when the issue comes to the holy places and properties belonging
to the Armenian collectively. The speaker concluded that Jerusalem,
as the holy city of three great religions, is an international area,
where issues require an international political settlement, and,
therefore, the internationalization of the city can stabilize and
improve the Armenian condition.
- Kevork/George Hintlian (Christian Heritage
Research Institute), who was scheduled to speak on new directions
of research on Armenian Jerusalem and the Holy Land, instead opened
the floor to a discussion about the current situation. Having served
as the secretary of the Armenian Patriarchate for many years (like
his father before him), more recently he has become an unofficial
spokesman for the community. During his intense half-hour exchange
with the audience, Hinlian spoke cautiously yet with urgency about
the prevailing conditions. "We are facing an extremely fateful situation
regarding the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem. Negotiations will be
conducted during the next ten years. We need to enlist international
lawyers. The challenge we face is a global solution that can be
imposed on us. The defense [of Armenian rights] cannot be left to
seventeen members of the St. James brotherhood. People of middle
age have left. But there are still thousands of people who are bonded
with Jerusalem." In reply to questions about disturbing reports
about difficulties encountered by the Armenians and especially the
Armenian clergy, he stated: "What we are observing is not an anti-Armenian
attitude but rather an anti-Christian one."
- The Armenian Jerusalem conference was an extremely important
milestone in the UCLA series organized by Richard Hovannisian. In
his concluding remarks, Professor Hovannisian
noted the difference between this conference and many of the preceding
ones was that Jerusalem still has a living, although weakened, Armenian
community whereas many of the cities and provinces of historic Armenia
have been completed denuded of their Armenian element. He announced
that this series will be interrupted so that on the occasion of
the ninetieth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide an international
conference may be organized at UCLA on April 2-3, 2005.
- The twenty conference participants were honored by the
Srpots Tarkmanchadz School Alumni Association at an opening
dinner reception on Friday evening, November 5, and by
Mr. and Mrs. Alec and Alenoush Baghdassarian of the Armenian
Educational Foundation on Saturday, November 6.
- Immediately following the close of the conference on November
7, many of the participants attended a reception on the UCLA campus
marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Society
for Armenian Studies (SAS). The program honored
the founders of the SAS : Nina Garsoian, Richard Hovannisian, Dikran
Kouymjian, Avedis Sanjian, and Robert Thomson. The master
of ceremonies for the event was UCLA Narekatsi Professor Peter Cowe.
Hovannisian gave a synopsis on the formation of the Society thirty
years ago, and additional comments were made by the current SAS
president, Professors Barlow Der Mugrdechian of California State
University-Fresno, Robert Hewsen, Rowan State University (emeritus),
and R. Hrair Dekmejian (USC).