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#1 Arvestaked

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Posted 28 March 2005 - 01:01 PM

The Jerusalem Report
March 21, 2005


When the Vaults of the Armenians Open


by J.L. Barnett



In the summer of 1989, while walking with a heavy backpack through the Old City, I met a man named Alfonso, who offered me help with my bag, which was stuffed with old rugs and silks and fine burnished copperware that I had bought in Damascus. Alfonso was a Franciscan monk from Rome who had recently arrived in Jerusalem, at the end of a five-year pilgrimage by foot from India. A man of short stature but incredibly powerful build, Alfonso was the extrovert's extrovert.

Over the strongest of Turkish coffees, Alfonso told me how he had left his native Roman Church, less over doctrinal issues than social and ethical considerations, and how in the end he had elected to convert to Armenian Orthodoxy. He said he had felt at home in Armenia, where he had lived for many months before coming to the Holy Land. His quick mastery of the Armenians' script and spoken language was impressive, his knowledge of their history encyclopedic.

In the fifth and sixth centuries, rivalries between the Eastern and Western churches, based in Constantinople and Rome respectively, led to a dramatic and clear schism between the two. The Eastern churches (Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian and Malabar Jacobite and Armenian) developed a monophysite view of Jesus - the belief that he was of one composite form, both human and divine simultaneously, in much the same way that body and soul are combined in man. This was formally and eternally denounced as a heresy at the Council of Chalcedon, in 451, causing a fracture between the two Orthodoxies that exists to this day.

The final break between the Eastern and Western churches came during the Crusader period: In 1204, the marauding knights from the West looted, sacked and destroyed Christian Constantinople, the center of the Eastern faiths, an event that left a still-gaping wound in the Christian world.

The Armenian Quarter is like a miniature fortress. It is surrounded by a thousand-year-old wall that itself encases buildings that are more like buttressed castles than residences, churches, convents, libraries, shops and schools. Its architectural and spiritual focal point is the Cathedral of St. James, a building of veritable treasures and secrets.
Named after two saints of the same name, both said to have been martyred and buried on this site, it is the second holiest site in the Armenian world, after the city of Etchmiadzin, in Armenia itself. The latter is the place where Jesus was revealed to Saint Gregory, the force behind making Armenia the first Christian country, at the turn of the 4th century CE. Gregory became the first spiritual leader of the church, the catholicos, and today, the city continues to be his official seat.

James, the brother of Jesus (who has been much in the news in the past two years, after discovery of an ossuary that was said to have been inscribed with his name, and which was subsequently declared to be a fake), is said to be buried under the high altar of St. James's Cathedral, and James the Apostle, brother of John the Evangelist, was beheaded on this spot on the orders of Herod Agrippa in 44 CE. In a glorious side chapel, covered from floor to ceiling with mother of pearl, fayence, lapis lazuli and precious gemstones, his embalmed head lies in a silken gold-thread sack, directly below an intricately crafted silver grill.

Over the years, I have been taken through no fewer than 22 discreetly hidden doors, which lead to rooms of all sizes, fanning out in every direction from the central area of the cathedral. In this labyrinth of side chapels, services take place at seemingly random times, following a wonderfully varied musical tradition that includes Eucharists, dirge-like incantations and joyful praise.

One recent evening, I received a phone call advising me to come immediately to the church, a medieval structure built upon extensive Georgian church remains that were in turn built upon Byzantine remains.
It was the Feast Day of Saint Macarius, one of the 10 early Christians beheaded in Alexandria during the 3rd-century persecution of Roman emperor Decius, and the patriarch, as he does sometimes, had called for a full ceremonial procession.

The church's main room, its floor covered with hundreds of magnificent oriental rugs, was packed. Its beautiful blue wall tiles glittered under the flicker of a myriad of candles, which hung from enormous lanterns suspended from chains that disappeared into a darkened domed ceiling.

Exactly 100 bearded, black-robed and hooded monks were lined up, in dignified silence, acting as solemn sentinels for the forthcoming procession, which commenced with three thunderous bangs on the stone floor.

As the procession began - led by 24 monks in glittering cloaks, each one carrying jewels worthy of a monarch - I understood that my evening caller had done me a fine favor. The Glorious Treasury of Saint Menas, one of the most valuable and jealously guarded in all of Christendom, had been opened, its contents handed out for use in the service.

Armenia was the first nation-state to convert to Christianity, in 301.
Even before the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, Armenians were making pilgrimages to Jerusalem. They became adept at never taking clear sides with the various factions and faiths of the city.
Early Armenian patriarchs even journeyed to Mecca to ensure that their rights in Jerusalem were protected by their Muslim overlords.
Thus, over the centuries, they have become the ultimate Jerusalem survivors.

Never being in conflict meant that this community became a magnet for enormous wealth from the large and cultured Armenian diaspora.
Additionally, tens of thousands of gifts have been bestowed upon the Armenian Patriarchate by monarchs and military leaders, sheikhs and caliphs, patriarchs and czars, aristocrats and pilgrims. Hence, the illuminated manuscripts of the library-church of St. Theodorus constitute one of the most important ancient Christian libraries in the world; the treasury is the envy of the Vatican; the reliquary is a virtual directory of the early saints; and perhaps most impressive of all, there's a sense of pride and majesty that make the Armenians the princes among the seven principal patriarchates of Jerusalem.

That night, I was given a rare glimpse of some of the treasures being used. (The only time they are regularly brought out of the locked cellars beneath the cathedral where they are normally stored, is during Holy Week.)

An exquisite cloak 12 feet long was worn by one church official, its train held by six choir boys from Armenia - an 1804 gift from Napoleon Bonaparte to the patriarch during his Middle East campaign.
It glinted with the famed Napoleonic honey bee symbols, made up of diamonds and emeralds stitched on to each corner.

Next came 17 monks, each carrying a red velvet cushion upon which sat a crown, tiara or diadem, and then dozens of other officials carrying golden chalices, old silken fabrics, bishop's miters from the august heads of previous clerics, swords, shields and a whole panoply of saints' remains - a hair from the beard of Vincent, the patron saint of vineyards; a toe bone of Crispin, guardian of shoemakers; the mummified tongue of Ursula of Antioch, a saint invoked for those who pray for a good death; the cranium of Dympra of Byzantium, patron saint of the insane; the staff of Menos from Benevento, whose virtues were praised by St. Gregory the Great; and finally, a tiny golden vase said to contain milk from the breast of the Virgin Mary herself.

It was an awesome scene: the singing, the heavy smell of frankincense being cast around the church by incense lanterns made of metalwork so intricate it looked like lace; the costumes, the solemnity of the procession, the dull thud of the wood and iron banging from outside.
(Bell-ringing is not practiced at St. James, in remembrance of the Muslim ban on bells within Jerusalem until 1840. The ban followed the enforced demolition of the Holy Sepulcher belfry in the 14th century, meant to make the church lower than the nearby mosque's minaret. A bell-less belfry led to use in their place of wooden planks to summon the Christian faithful to prayer, a custom the Armenians continue to this day.)

But church services and mysterious ceremonies are not all there is to the Armenian Quarter and its community. I see many likenesses between the Jews and the Armenians. The latter are an old people, numbering about 3 million worldwide, with their own language and culture, and they too are masters of survival as a minority within an often hostile host society. They are refined, cultured, sophisticated, materially successful and always, wherever they are, with their hearts stubbornly yearning for their ancient land.

As with the Jews, too, the suffering of the Armenians has been great.
April 24 is the Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Holocaust of 1915-1918, when millions were either massacred or forced into exile by the Turks.

Those massacres brought the largest wave of Armenians to Jerusalem since their original arrival in the 4th century. In the 1920s they enjoyed a tremendous revival under British Mandate rule, when they applied their famed skills in ceramic tile and pottery work to decorating churches, synagogues and mosques alike. To this day, Armenian pottery is one of the city's most recognizable crafts.

Again like the Jews, this people treasures one thing above all else - scholarship. The Armenian Quarter is home to many seminaries, convents and monasteries, and there is constant traffic between Jerusalem and the various Armenian communities throughout the world.

Most of the quarter's 500 residents (along with Jerusalem's 2,500 other
Armenians) lead quiet practical lives in regular trades and professions.
All over Israel, the Armenian Church has real estate holdings - they are reputed to be the third-largest landholder in Jerusalem, after the Israeli government and the Greek church.

Within the Holy Sepulcher, in the Christian Quarter, the Armenians are key power brokers, controlling chapels, objects and the vast floor spaces between columns 8 and 11 and 15 and 18, out of a total of 20 columns and pillars that support the great Crusader rotunda of the church. This might seem trifling, but in the wider world of Orthodox Christendom, these are crucial symbols of worldly power in a church where every square foot is contested.

Some days ago I was back in the Armenian cathedral, having just attended a service in another hidden corner of the quarter - the Church of the House of Annas. Outside the house is a place of deep significance for Armenians, for there grows an olive tree that they believe is descended from the one Jesus was tied to when he was scourged prior to the Passion.

As I stared at this ancient tree, Bishop Gulbenkian, one of the quarter's 12 bishops, came over. We talked of that summer 15 years ago when Alfonso and I had wandered into the compound, and got to know many of its residents so well. His Grace Gulbenkian informed me, with some sadness, that Alfonso had returned the following year to the fold of his mother church in Rome, after only a short dalliance with Armenian Orthodoxy.

I left the compound through the Door of Kerikor, installed in 1646 and named for the patriarch of the day. As I left through the dark, brooding, vaulted porch of the door, gates were banged and bolted behind me as the quarter nestled down for the night.

Unlike the Old City's other three quarters, the Armenian Quarter jealously guards its privacy by remaining closed to visitors most of the time. It does, however, open the doors of its cathedral at 3 p.m.
every day, when visitors can enter the compound for the magic and drama of the afternoon Eucharist service. These few minutes in the Cathedral of St. James will imbue all who see it with a sense of the nobility of Jerusalem's Armenians - a tolerant and refined people with vast temporal and spiritual wealth, a tremendous sense of history, wielding legendary power, but doing so with the greatest of style and discretion. The Armenians are perhaps the embodiment of what a venerable Jerusalem community should be.

#2 Verginne

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Posted 10 April 2005 - 05:39 PM

Glad the author wasn't Armenian

Again like the Jews
Again like the Jews
Again like the Jews

How insulting mad.gif

#3 phantom22

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Posted 10 April 2005 - 05:56 PM

Verginne,

Get over it, they have paved the way for us, by establishing precedents.

Focus your energy on getting justice for Armenians.

Whenever someone mistakes me as a Jew, I take it as a compliment.

In Jerusalem, I could not differentiate between the Armenians and the Jews, except for the priests and the Orthodox Jews.

#4 TMNT

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Posted 10 April 2005 - 11:39 PM

QUOTE (phantom22 @ Apr 10 2005, 03:56 PM)
Verginne,

Get over it, they have paved the way for us, by establishing precedents.

Focus your energy on getting justice for Armenians.

Whenever someone mistakes me as a Jew, I take it as a compliment.

In Jerusalem, I could not differentiate between the Armenians and the Jews, except for the priests and the Orthodox Jews.


Just a note, the way you talk about how "great" it is to be Jewish or how ALL Armenians should whore themselves out to Israel, makes it seem like you have inferiority complex.

#5 phantom22

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Posted 10 April 2005 - 11:55 PM

Triangulation! Learned from Clinton, now being used by Bush.

It is imperative for the Turks that they keep the fires of Armenian-Jewish hatred burning. Without it, they are lost. They sense that their Jewish allies in the US are not as anxious to zealously help them this year, so it is imperative to get some Armenians riled up against Jews before April 24.

Same tactic used by the elder Bush bringing up, shortly before the 1988 election, the recidivist black killer released by Dukakis. Sharon also lighting a match just before his election against Barak, knowing full well that if he walked on the holy ground the Palestinians would go berserk.

Please, let's not bite the bait, like some stupid fish.

#6 kumkap

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Posted 11 April 2005 - 02:28 PM

QUOTE (phantom22 @ Apr 10 2005, 03:56 PM)
Whenever someone mistakes me as a Jew, I take it as a compliment.


when you have a chance take a look at some of the information here and then tell me if you would still take being mistaken for a jew as a compliment.

If Americans Knew

No War for Israel

we are told that the jews are the most persecuted race in history because of age-old pernicious stereotypes about them as being greedy, devious, etc. but what is the first thing they do once they are given their own state: violently uproot another people and herd them into refugee camps as if they were animals in order to illegally appropriate, i.e.steal, land that they have hardly lived on in for more than 2000 years. i mean how does a polish or russian jew claim the right to live on land confiscated by a violent ethnic cleansing of another people over a thousand miles away? some 3000 year-old religious text that no one but they themselves attach any meaning to? i have never heard any kind of legitimate argument as to why the pre-1967 borders aren't good enough. that's because there is none, those were the internationally-recognized borders that should have been more than good enough. it's greedyness more than anything else. i mean they could have ended up with nothing at all, in fact i think at one point the soviets were talking about giving them a small piece of land near china (there was a jewish autonomous oblast in the ussr i think).

now of course some people will try to equate israel's occupation of palestine with armenia's "occupation of azerbaijan", but the two situations couldn't be more different. karabagh is a self-determination movement - a people who form the overwhelming majority in a well-defined political entity deciding they no longer wish to be ruled by a government that actively promotes their persecution. if armenians took areas outside of karabagh, i.e. aghdam, it was to use it as a bargaining chip. after 1967 the only self-determination and persecution there is to talk about in the case of palestine is that of the palestinians. then consider that the u.s. has done practically everything to abet this crime short of sending in its troops, although you might not even give them that given u.s. involvement in lebanon in '82.

one thing i must i say i am a little disappointed by is that i don't think any mainstream armenian organization has ever taken a stance on the palestinian issue (the antelias church has i think signed some declarations of the world council of churches on the issue affirming u.n. resolutions that articulate the palestinian right-of-return and illegality of the occupation). i know that the reason behind this is realpolitik, but the consequences are felt when for example edward said tells david barsamian in an interview that the reason he didn't sign an armenian genocide petition is because of silence from armenians organizations/intellectuals on the palestine issue. armenians expect others to be brave and stand up to the turks but don't show much spine when it comes to other people's issues.

#7 Vayri7X

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Posted 26 April 2005 - 02:26 AM

QUOTE (kumkap @ Apr 11 2005, 02:28 PM)
when you have a chance take a look at some of the information here and then tell me if you would still take being mistaken for a jew as a compliment.

If Americans Knew

No War for Israel

we are told that the jews are the most persecuted race in history because of age-old pernicious stereotypes about them as being greedy, devious, etc.  but what is the first thing they do once they are given their own state: violently uproot another people and herd them into refugee camps as if they were animals in order to illegally appropriate, i.e.steal, land that they have hardly lived on in for more than 2000 years.  i mean how does a polish or russian jew claim the right to live on land confiscated by a violent ethnic cleansing of another people over a thousand miles away?  some 3000 year-old religious text that no one but they themselves attach any meaning to?  i have never heard any kind of legitimate argument as to why the pre-1967 borders aren't good enough.  that's because there is none, those were the internationally-recognized borders that should have been more than good enough. it's greedyness more than anything else.  i mean they could have ended up with nothing at all, in fact i think at one point the soviets were talking about giving them a small piece of land near china (there was a jewish autonomous oblast in the ussr i think).

now of course some people will try to equate israel's occupation of palestine with armenia's "occupation of azerbaijan", but the two situations couldn't be more different.  karabagh is a self-determination movement - a people who form the overwhelming majority in a well-defined political entity deciding they no longer wish to be ruled by a government that actively promotes their persecution.  if armenians took areas outside of karabagh, i.e. aghdam, it was to use it as a bargaining chip.  after 1967 the only self-determination and persecution there is to talk about in the case of palestine is that of the palestinians.  then consider that the u.s. has done practically everything to abet this crime short of sending in its troops, although you might not even give them that given u.s. involvement in lebanon in '82.

one thing i must i say i am a little disappointed by is that i don't think any mainstream armenian organization has ever taken a stance on the palestinian issue (the antelias church has i think signed some declarations of the world council of churches on the issue affirming u.n. resolutions that articulate the palestinian right-of-return and illegality of the occupation).  i know that the reason behind this is realpolitik, but the consequences are felt when for example edward said tells david barsamian in an interview that the reason he didn't sign an armenian genocide petition is because of silence from armenians organizations/intellectuals on the palestine issue.  armenians expect others to be brave and stand up to the turks but don't show much spine when it comes to other people's issues.



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