A Look at Jerusalem’s Armenian History at TCA Program


By Kevork Keushkerian

ALTADENA, Calif. — Tekeyan Cultural Association’s Glendale-Pasadena Chapter organized a lecture about “Today’s Armenian Community in Jerusalem.” It took place on Sunday, March 26, at Tekeyan’s Beshgeturian center.

Asdghig Khanjian, a committee member, delivered the welcoming remarks and then introduced the lecturer, Dr. Minas Kojayan. The latter had spent the last two and a half years teaching Armenian language and history at the St. James Brotherhood Seminary and the Holy Translators School at the Armenian Convent in Jerusalem.

Kojayan was born in Beirut, Lebanon. He first studied at the Roupinian Elementary School and then at the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s Hovagimian-Manoogian Secondary School.

Before going to Armenia for his advanced studies, he lived in Paris, where he spent a year learning French. He obtained his Master of Arts Degree from the University of Yerevan in 1974 and his Doctorate from the same university in 1981.

Kojayan taught Armenian language and literature at the AGBU’s Melkonian Educational Institute in Nicosia, Cyprus, from 1978 to 1991. He was later transferred to Los Angeles, where he taught the same subjects at the AGBU’s Manoogian-Demirdjian Secondary School in Canoga Park.

Kojayan was the editor in chief of Nor Or weekly newspaper for several years. He has written four books and continues to be actively involved in the Armenian community of the greater Los Angeles area.

Kojayan spoke about the Armenian community in Jerusalem and showed a slide presentation depicting the religious sites under the Patriarchate’s jurisdiction. A question-and-answer session followed.

He said that Armenians in Jerusalem fall into three categories: the locals, the old folk (kaghakatzi) and the immigrants. The locals and the old folks, who amount to between 8,000 to 12,000 people, live rent free in the Armenian Convent, whereas the immigrants from Russia, who amount to between 9,000 and 11,000 people, live in Tel Aviv and do not speak Armenian as they have descendd from a generation of mixed marriages. The latter hardly get involved in any Armenian cultural events and activities in the community, he added.

Aside from those Armenians, there are about 10 Armenian families living in Bethlehem and a few in Haifa, where Armenians have a convent and a church. Armenians also have a church in Jaffa, which is in close proximity to Tel Aviv.

Next, Kojayan discussed the student bodies of both the St. James Brotherhood Seminary and the Holy Translators’ School. He said that the Seminary has 33 seminarians of whom 31 are from Armenian, as it is hard to have students from the Middle East, due to political polarization between Israel and the Arab countries. As to Holy Translators’ K-12 school, there are a little over 150 students, of whom 35 percent are non-Armenians.

Kojayan then talked about the challenges that the Patriarch and the Brotherhood have to face on a daily basis. The ultra-orthodox Jews put a lot of pressure on the Armenian community, since many of them want to capture our lands and drive us away. The Brotherhood has a lot of real estate all over the West Bank and Israel proper. The Armenian convent has one of the richest collection of religious icons, including artifacts and ancient hand-written Bibles in its various churches, the treasury, and the museum.

The Patriarch is in a precarious situation, in the sense that his election has to be approved by the governments of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. He has to be a real politician and a flexible diplomat, careful not to hurt any side. He must also be able to pursue the interests of the Brotherhood of Saint James and the affairs of the Armenian community.

Kojayan was in Jerusalem when the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulture was opened for necessary renovations. It was high time as the tomb had last undergone renovations 500 years ago. The share of the Armenians in the expenses of the renovation was estimated to be 1.25 million euros.

A letter was mailed to President Serzh Sargsyan for help and fortunately, the president extended a helping hand, but the amount arrived channeled through the Holy See of Echmiadzin, as a religious organization had to be the sponsor.

The slide show was a walk through the narrow streets of the Armenian convent, especially the living quarters of the seminarians and the families, the clubs and the interior of the churches. The main emphasis was the 12th-century Cathedral of Saint James, which was named after two saints: James, disciple of Jesus and son of Zebedee and James, the brother of Jesus.

Another monument shown was dedicated to the 23 victims of the Battle of Arara, which is erected in the St. Savior (Sourp Prgitch) Armenian cemetery, outside the walls of the Armenian Convent. These victims were part of the French Armenian Legion that fought in 1918, from September 19 to 25.

Then question-and-answer session followed, but the highlight of the evening was the video of the title song from the film “The Promise” on the screen that filled everybody’s heart with pride. This film, about the Armenian Genocide, will arrive in movie theaters starting April 21.