14 Best Things To Do In Jerusalem

Depending on who you speak to, you’ll get lots of different explanations as to why Jerusalem is so important, who the city belongs to and even what the most important place in the city is. One thing everyone can agree on though is that Jerusalem is one of the oldest and most important religious cities in the world.

Jerusalem has a history that spans across millennia, a lot of which is there to explore and experience in the city, making it not just an important spot if you’re religious but also if you have even the slightest interest in history.

One of the biggest surprises of visiting though was definitely seeing how the city’s varied history brought together three distinctly different religions and how the city is important to each one. Typically religious sites in most other places across the world tend to be more important to just one religion, not several all at once and especially so not with how important and highly revered the city is to each religion.

 

Then there’s how beautiful it is too! In some ways, it feels like walking back in time with buildings here that are thousands of years old – except, of course, updated and preserved for modern times.

Suffice to say, a visit to the city is one that you absolutely have to add to your travel plans. Oh, and while you’re here, I’d recommend getting a guide.  You can easily explore without one but there’s so much detail to the city (for instance, the Via Dolorosa below) that you might perhaps otherwise miss if you just wanted around for the first time without know where you’re going to.

Rather than carrying on about how amazing the Jerusalem is, let me show you exactly what I mean, as well as the very best things to do in Jerusalem when you visit.

1.) Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered to be the holiest site in the world for Christians and is reported to be built on the place that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered to be the holiest site in the world for Christians and is reported to be built on the place that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The building as it stands was built and destroyed several times over thousands of years with what exists now being a rather huge and impressive church.

Given its huge significance, be prepared to queue here if you want to see most of the main sights in the church with some queues lasting hours – especially so the queue to see Jesus’s tomb where he resurrected from.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is also the most important and final spot on from the Via Dolorosa pilgrimage (which I’ll explain further below).

2.) The Western Wall or The Wailing Wall

The Western Wall is actually what’s left of an ancient temple of Jerusalem and is a hugely hallowed site for people of the Jewish faith, Christians and Muslims. The wall was first constructed around 19BCE and is easily one of the oldest places to visit in Jerusalem.

When you visit, there are separate sections for men and women – with men having to cover their heads; women don’t have the same requirement though they need to cover their shoulders and legs.

There’s a whole etiquette to visiting which, while not enforced (e.g. taking a few steps away from the wall, walking backwards so you don’t turn your back to it) is greatly appreciated as this is an important and much-revered site in Jerusalem (having a guide here was invaluable because the knowledge and details provided here really helps you understand why the Western Wall is so important to so many people).

3.) The Temple Mount or Haram esh-Sharif

Haram esh-Sharif is considered to be one of the holiest sites in Jerusalem – revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for multiple reasons. I’d attempt to go into each one but I feel like Wikipedia might best serve this purpose as it’s far too long and too detailed to get into here.

It is worth noting that this is one of the harder places to visit in Jerusalem due to its huge importance, making it reserved more for prayer than anything else.

In modern times (i.e. these days), the stunning Dome of the Rock stands proudly on this site and is the most iconic landmark in the city. The central dome of this church glitters with gold and the colorful tiled exterior walls are absolutely beautiful. 

4.) Dome of the Rock

As mentioned before, the Dome of the Rock is actually on the Temple Mount and is an intricately designed Islamic shrine, which – in addition to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

If you want to visit, be prepared to queue as admission is only allowed in at certain times (it’s used otherwise for religious purposes) and as such, be prepared to set aside a fair bit of time to explore it properly.

5.) Armenian Quarter

Jerusalem has played host to a large Armenian community for many years and this quarter is packed full of charming ancient architecture and historical buildings.

Armenians also know quite a thing or two about pottery and ceramic works so this is a great spot to visit to grab yourself a souvenir. (By the way, there are 4 quarters in total in Jerusalem – the Armenian quarter, the Christian quarter, The Jewish quarter and the Muslim quarter).

The center of the Armenian Quarter is located on the Armenian Patriarchate Road and spreads outwards to include the churches of St. James and St. Mark. This is a fantastic part of the city that is often explored less than the more well-known sites.

6.) Via Dolorosa

 

Another hugely important site for those of the Christians the world over, the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of Sorrow is reported to follow the route that Jesus Christ took when carrying the cross to Golgotha. It follows all the 14 stations of the Cross and when you’re here, you can follow this same route, ergo why this is a hugely important site for Christian pilgrims.

On Fridays, you can actually follow a procession that is led by Franciscan monks through the Via Dolorosa. If you’re there on any other day (or to make the most of this route), it is worth having a guide who can point out each station as you go along.

7.) Christian Quarter

Situated north of the Jaffa Gate and centered around the impressive Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Christian Quarter is an absolute must.

Within the confines of this quarter is a swath of beautiful architecture from various ages, and a myriad of bustling Souks, markets, and pleasant cafes. Notable sites include the Ethiopian Monastery, the Church of St. John the Baptist and the Protestant Christ Church.

8.) The Tower of David

This complex actually has no connection to King David and is also known as the Citadel. Built in 24 BC, this ancient structure has stood proudly for thousands of years and was erected by the notorious King Herod.

Within this structure is the interesting Tower of David Museum that displays the history of the city and its evolution.

It is also possible to climb to the rooftop of the citadel for fantastic views of Jerusalem across to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (Highly recommend it, it’s one of the best views of the city and really helps you get a sense of where everything is.)

9.) Muslim Quarter

If you are looking for a place to shop and experience local life, the Muslim quarter is one of the best places to visit. It’s perhaps the busiest of all the quarters with its bustling markets, busy restaurants and refreshing juice spots to cool off in the heat (it was sooooooo hot when we visited).

Starting at Damascus gate, the Muslim quarter is bursting with activity and is a fantastic place to find a bargain, haggle with the locals or visit the historic Pool of Bethesda.

10.) The Cardo

I was so fascinated and excited about this one as I’d just a few months before, seen the oldest mosaic map in the world (in Jordan) which referred to this spot.

The Cardo essentially was like this long as grand walkway with Roman columns adorning the path and a market bustling all around. The map in Jordan (the Madaba map) even showed the Cardo with the columns it would have had back then.

While you’re there, to get a sense of what this once bustling part of the city looked like, keep an eye out for the mural depicting the old city of Jerusalem.

11.) Jewish Quarter

The Jewish quarter is where you’ll find some of the most important spots to visit in the city e.g. Western Wall and the Cardo, amongst others.

Now while you might not necessarily notice when you switch from one quarter to another here, you do notice a big difference in how the quarters are organized. The Jewish quarter being, perhaps with the exception of the Armenian quarter (and the main sight in it – the Western Wall) being fairly quiet compared to say the busier Muslim and Christian quarters.

If you’re looking for a break from the crowds, this is easily one of the best parts of the city to explore.

12.) Mount Zion

Another hugely significant religious site, Mount Zion is the place where Christ held the Last Supper and where the Virgin Mary lived during the later years of her life. For the Jewish community, this is also the place of King David’s Tomb.

Located on this hill today is a variety of stunning shrines and churches; furthermore, you can also see the expanse of the city on a clear day.

13.) Kidron Valley

Located between Mount Zion and Mount of Olives; this is one of the most ancient parts of Jerusalem. This is the area that both Muslims and Jews believe that the Last Judgment will take place.

Archaeological excavations have found structures dating back as far as 4000 years old and various tunnels and temples are open to exploring such as Warren’s Shaft, Hezekiah’s Tunnel and the Pool of Siloam.

14.) Jaffa Gate

This ancient gate used to be one of the 7 gates into Jerusalem and is quite the architectural masterpiece to behold. It was built in the 1500s and was done in an L-shape as a defensive measure to help slow down attackers.

It’s easily one of the best things to do in Jerusalem you want to get a sense of what it looked like centuries ago and can be done either as you enter Jerusalem or indeed, as you leave.

Taking In The Sunrise On The Top of Masada & Dead Sea

The Sunrise On The Top of Masada & Dead Sea

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF MASADA

 

I love a historical destination with a great story, and that’s exactly what Masada provides. Masada’s legacy is shared primarily through details  provided by Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, the commander of the Jewish forces during the First Jewish-Roman War from 66-73 AD who made it his mission to share Masada’s tragic ending.

Visiting Masada, the ancient fortress built atop a mountain plateau in modern day Israel, is a life-changing experience. No caveats necessary.

There’s simply nothing like visiting an ancient mountaintop fortress that overlooks the Dead Sea. It doesn’t feel real. But because of its isolation and the arid desert climate, the fortress once occupied by King Herod is a remarkably well-preserved relic of humanity’s ancient past, one you can climb to on the same paths used by visiting dignitaries and invading Roman troops.

Masada was most likely built between 37 and 31 BC by Herod the Great. While Josephus’ writings claim Hasmonean king Alexander Janeus built the site decades earlier, there is no architectural evidence that any type of construction was built earlier than Herod’s fortress. Herod ordered the development of the fortress because its geographical position made it a terrific strategic location for him. Masada sits on a plateau that is part of a cliff jetting more than 1,300 feet into the air. Around Masada are smaller but difficult to navigate cliffs with only three narrow paths leading to its gates. From the fortress Herod would be able to see enemies approaching from long distances, and the limited access served as an additional level of protection.

 

Two events defined Masada between 66 and 74 AD: the Great Revolt and the Siege of Masada. Prior to 66 AD Masada was controlled by the Romans, as it had been since Herod the Great ruled there. The Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans was led by Eleazar Ben Yair and the Sicarii. The Sicarii were a group of Jewish extremists who fled from Jerusalem and ultimately settled at Masada after taking possession of it following the Great Revolt. More and more of the Sicarii relocated to Masada in the years after the revolt as they were run out of Jerusalem due to ongoing conflicts with other Jewish groups.

 

By 72 AD, Masada had become the last Sicarii stronghold in the region and home to almost 1,000 people. With plans to take the fortress back, the Romans constructed a wall and built camps around Masada; they also built a ramp and a tower with a battering ram to breach the walls. As it became clear that the Romans siege would succeed and the Sicarii would be either enslaved or killed, Eleazar Ben Yair delivered speeches to his people and convinced them it would be better to die in honor than it would be to surrender and live in shame and humiliation. Judaism prohibits suicide, and so a small number of people were selected to murder almost the entire community, ensuring only one final volunteer would have to commit suicide. When the Romans arrived, they found the Sicarii destroyed everything except for food, which presumably they intentionally saved to prove they died not of starvation but because they chose to sacrifice themselves. According to Josephus in The War of the Jews, VII:

“[The Romans] were at a loss to conjecture what had happened here, encountering the mass of slain. Instead of exulting as over enemies, they admired the nobility of their resolve and the contempt of death display by so many carrying it, unwavering, into execution.”

Not all stories have a happy ending.

Masada’s history since the Siege has been far quieter with significantly less bloodshed. The Romans stayed there only through the 2nd century AD, after which time a Byzantine monastery was founded in the 5th century and abandoned just two centuries later. Masada was rediscovered in the 19th century, with explorations and excavations marking much of the last 100 years. Today, Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

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THE DEAD SEA

The Dead Sea, known in Hebrew as Yam Ha-Melakh (the Sea of Salt) is the lowest point on earth, surrounded by the stunning landscape of the Negev Desert. The shores of the Dead Sea are the lowest point on the surface of the earth, and the saline water of the lake give lead to the name because no fish can survive in the salty waters. The other result of the salty water is their renowned health and healing properties and the unique feature that one can float naturally in them.

The Dead Sea represents the lowest elevation  on Earth; it stands more than 1,400 feet below sea level. Herod the Great once used it as a health destination, as the salt and minerals from the water carry some solid health benefits. To this day many people flock to its shores to float, cover themselves in mud, or simply admire it. Those shores are a little harder to reach each year; they have been receding for decades, which is causing an environmental impact on the surrounding region. This is in part due to large sinkholes that have formed in its vicinity, which impacts the rate at which groundwater is replaced by freshwater—freshwater is a primary factor in the receding shorelines. While plans are in place to restore the balance, success is not guaranteed. Not far from the Dead Sea are the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found; although you likely won’t stop and won’t have the chance to visit them, most tours will point them out as you drive past them.

Experiencing the Dead Sea is pretty straightforward. In some ways it’s a lot like visiting a beach; you can pick a spot with a chair or two, unload your belongings, and head into the water. From there, it’s a swim unlike any other you may have taken before. As soon as I waded into the water I could feel the salt water pushing my body up, and it took some effort to keep my feet on the sea floor. Once Adam and I were waist-deep, we submerged a bit and really felt the water’s efforts to force us into a floating position. I love to swim; I have dived into the warm waters off the coast of Bermuda and Florida’s Tarpon Springs, and I have cannonballed into the icy Southern Ocean in Antarctica. Floating in the Dead Sea was nothing like those experiences. The water was exceptionally hot—almost uncomfortable as we stood ankle-deep and started our walk out to deeper sections—and it’s not really designed for swimming. Given how it pushes you up to the surface, it’s best to just let the water do what it does best and force you into a relaxing floating position. We were happy to enjoy the sensation for a little while, smiling as we heard similar exclamations and observations from fellow travelers around us. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is a great way to end a day trip in Israel!

 

Memories from Old City of Jerusalem – Israel

The Old City of Jerusalem is one of the most intense places on Earth! At the heart of the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian religions, this one-kilometer, walled-in area in the center of Jerusalem is beyond words and cannot be missed. The Old City is home to the Western Wall (aka Wailing Wall and in Hebrew Kotel). This is the last remaining wall of what was once the Jewish Temple and is today the holiest site in the world for Jews.

Above the Western Wall lies the Dome of the Rock, which is important for Muslims as the site where the prophet Muhammad is said to have risen to heaven.

 

Just a few minutes’ walk away lies the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where some believe Jesus was crucified and buried.

The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters; The Jewish Quarter, The Armenian Quarter, The Christian Quarter, and The Muslim Quarter. The walled city is entered by one of seven entry gates, although the busiest for tourists is the Jaffa Gate next to which is the Tower of David Museum, providing the history of Jerusalem within the Old City Walls. Each quarter has its own unique atmosphere and observations, sites and smells, and experiences.

 

 

In the Jewish Quarter, for instance, the narrow alleyways are lined by the homes of Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jewish families and Yeshivas (schools for Torah study). Walking around, you can observe the residents of the Jewish quarter go about their daily lives. There are teenage students in the Yeshivas who are often here from around the world, children playing outside schools between lessons, men rushing around between places of worship – and of course, many people praying at the Western Wall. The houses of the Old City – and the Jewish quarter, in particular – are hotly contested real estate, and for good reason. They command spectacular prices on the rare occasion that they trade hands.

The Jewish Quarter’s narrow alleyways open up as you reach the Western Wall Plaza and the wall itself. At times of Jewish festivals, the wall can be crowded, and observing the tourists brushing alongside daily prayers here is an interesting site. Anybody can go up to the wall, although men and women have separate areas. Men should cover their heads (there are paper kippahs available), and women should wear modest clothing. It is customary to place a small prayer on a piece of paper within a crack on the wall. Amazingly, the vast Western Wall represents just a tiny percentage of this elevation of the Temple, and the Western Wall Tunnels, accessed via the plaza, allow visitors to see even more of the wall underground. Also interestingly, within the Muslim Quarter is whats known as the Little Western Wall where the wall is once again exposed and visible. This is argued to be holier than the iconic section of the wall because it is closer to the ‘Holy of Holies’ – the holiest part of the Temple.

The Muslim Quarter is a huge contrast to the Jewish Quarter. Its streets are busier and more crowded, with vendors – especially within the famous Shuk – selling all varieties of products. In contrast to the other quarters where shops are generally selling religious or tourist-appealing products, here the Shuk is literally an ancient shopping mall in the 21st century where one can practice their bartering skills and buy almost anything imaginable. As in the Jewish Quarter, and the rest of the Old City, tourists wandering the streets of the Muslim Quarter find it hard to imagine how the locals go about their everyday business so normally in what is such an intense place. Kids play in the street, and men sit out in cafes smoking nargila (hookah or shisha).

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

 

The Dome of the Rock sits above the Western Wall Plaza, and while non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the building itself, tourists are able to tour the compound and nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Moving into the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, there is yet another change. Home to about 40 holy sites to Christians, in the streets here you will see priests and pilgrims from around the world. This quarter was constructed around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have been crucified and buried. Within this hot patch of real estate, even the Church is divided, with different parts controlled by different Christian sects, meaning that there are often disputes over maintenance and some parts are in poor condition.

The Armenian Quarter is one of the four sections within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The other Quarters are the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Quarters. The Armenians have the smallest section in the Old City and take up 14% of the total area of the Old City. The Quarter is home to approximately 2,000 people many of whom are connected to the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Armenians have their own distinct language and culture and are ethnically neither Arab nor Jewish.

The Armenians originated from Turkey, the Caucasus Mountains and Iran. Soon after Jesus’ death the Armenians were converted to Christianity and ever since then have been making pilgrimages to the Holy Land.  Armenian monks arrived in Jerusalem in the 4th century AD. Jerusalem’s Armenian community is considered the oldest living Armenian Diaspora community in the world.

Armenians have had a strong presence in the city since at least the fourth century, when Armenia became Christian. Their quarter is said to be the oldest living Armenia diaspora community. Thousands of displaced survivors of the Armenian Genocide relocated to this part of Jerusalem in the 20th century.

Narrow Alley in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem

Armenians displaced from the former Ottoman Empire because of the genocide brought with them a special type of Turkish-style ceramic, which has since become synonymous with Jerusalem and Armenians. It’s now used for all the street signs in the Old City and is also sold in many stores. Explore the walled Old City of Jerusalem, and you’ll soon spot beautifully crafted ceramic street signs spread through the area.

The Armenian compound is enclosed by an inner wall within the Armenian Quarter and includes St. James, a convent, school, churches and residences. Along the walk from the Jaffa Gate past the Zion Gate and to the Jewish Quarter are many small shops displaying the beautiful hand-painted Armenian pottery which is made locally. Armenian ceramics can be seen adorning many parts of the Old City including the Dome of the Rock and neighborhood street signs.

 

10 Most Beautiful Churches in Armenia That You Must Visit

Armenia being one of the oldest countries in the world was also the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion back in 301 AD (that’s more than 1,700 years ago!). Its millennium old monasteries can usually be found situated on highlands among-st picturesque landscapes where they are less vulnerable to attacks. Armenia, also known as the “land of churches”, has around 4,000 monasteries and churches. Here’s our curated list in random order for the 10 most beautiful churches in Armenia that you must visit at least once in your life!

1. Khor Virap Monastery

It’s no wonder why Khor Virap is one of the favorite attractions of most travelers in Armenia. The majestic Mt Ararat positioned right behind the church makes a fantastic backdrop for a panorama view of the church. The locals also believed that Mt Ararat protected the monastery against a strong earthquake in the past.

                               The absolutely stunning Khor Virap against the majestic Mt. Ararat.

It is believed that St Gregory the illuminator was imprisoned here in this dungeon was dug 7-8 meters underground for his preaching of Christianity to the people in Armenia. It was such a miracle that despite being imprisoned for 13 years, he was still alive when they found him. It turned out that throughout the years, there was this Christian lady who continued to give him some bread surreptitiously.

Tip: For those who are claustrophobic, it’s advisable to not enter the pit. It was quite challenging climbing down the vertical ladder into the pit.

The pit where St. Gregory the Illiminator was imprisoned for 13 years

2. Noravank Monastery

This monastery is most famous for its two-story church whereby you will have to climb up to the main entrance via a narrow staircase made from stones jutting out from the face of building.

 

 

3. Echimiazin Armenian Apostolic Church

This was the first cathedral that was ever built in Armenia and also the oldest cathedral in the world. Sadly the main church building has been under construction for the past few years, hence we were not able to get a nice shot of it. The photo below shows the main entrance to this Church. This place was also the headquarter for all the churches in Armenia.

And yes, this is the majestic view of the Echmiadzin church in summer when it was not under any renovation. Very beautiful right?

4. Zvartnots Ruins

Zvartnots is also known as the “temple of ruins” and it is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. This place was the first circular 3 story church built back in the 6th century which only lasted for 3 centuries before it was destroyed by an earthquake. Some of the pillars and the altar of the church were relatively well preserved and you could also still see its exterior circular architecture.  The Armenians later learnt to built more stable rectangular based churches instead of circular shaped

5. Geghard Monastery

This was one of the most interesting and unique monasteries that we’ve seen during our time in Armenia and also my personal favorite. This entire cave monastery was carved inside a rock mountain, how is that even possible back then with limited tools and technology?! Its name “Geghard” means spear and this spear was actually referring to the same spear that was used to pierce Christ after he was being crucified on the cross to check if he was still alive. Many pilgrims head here to see the relic of the “spear” and hence they eventually renamed the monastery to Geghard Monastery (Spear Monastery).

Can you imagine, this entire church was carved inside a rock mountain! Look at the details on the pillars and sides of the walls. Also, the                                                         exact spot where we were standing in the photo below was said to have the best natural acoustics ever. We did try humming a tune and it                                                     immediately sent tingles up our spine! The echo was unbelievable and even the slightest whisper could be heard clearly and beautifully!

 

Remember to try singing a tune at this exact spot if you ever get a chance to be here!

 

6. Sevanakvank monastery

Most people travel to this monastery situated on a hill adjacent to the beautiful Lake Sevan to get a glimpse of the unique green cross stone that was made from limestone. This place was originally built for the priests that have sinned as this monastery was isolated and far away from the city and women. Also, this was one of the only 3 churches in Armenia that has Christ illustrated on the cross stone.

 

The maze on the right of the photo used to be the dormitory for the monks

7. Tatev Monastery

Another stunning fairy tale like monastery that literally took our breath away. This was in fact Daniel’s favourite out of the lot that we’ve seen! But this monastery is definitely more beautiful during summer

During winter, the road that leads up to the spot where you could capture a nice panorama shot of the monastery was too slippery and                                                          dangerous.

                                                 Useful tip: During winter, the cable car that leads up to the monastery only operates on Sat & Sun.

This is the breathtaking panorama view that you can get when you travel here during summer. Super amazing right?! Photo not taken by us obviously since we were there during winter.

8. St Grigor Lusavorich

The St Grigor Lusavorich cathedral is also the symbol of the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity as a state religion in Armenia as well as a tribute to St Gregory, the illuminator, who was responsible for introducing Christianity to Armenia. This church is one of the newest church in Armenia and was built only around 6-7 years ago.

Useful tip: Visit this church twice! Once in the day and again at night. This church is particularly beautiful at night after being illuminated by the floodlights.

9. Odzun church

This church was different because of its pink felsite stoned walls. Most of the other churches that we’ve seen were grey/dark colored, so this was indeed quite refreshing for us! Especially with its picturesque setting of the magnificent ridge as the backdrop, this church quickly became one of our favorites.

10. Sanahin monastery complex

The Sanahin Monastery was very impressive because of its remarkable archways. The Sanahin was especially rich in Khachkars (cross stones) where more than 80 of them survived till date. If you’re visiting this complex, do remember to pay more attention to the intricate details on the khachkars. Most of these khachkars depict the traditional cross growing out of a grain with branches at its sides. According to our guide, this symbolizes “life”.

 

 

Take My Heart

This is a very special piece with piano and Duduk instrument ( The Armenian duduk is one of the oldest music instruments in the history of mankind.)

 

The lyrics of this instrumental ” Take my Heart” is following:

“I wish you were a flower in my garden. I wish you were a bird flying over my garden. I wish you were with me, my love. Stay with me, don’t cause me too much pain. You may take my heart away if you wish, only please don’t leave me. Stay with me and I will do anything for you.”

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Arman Demerjian – duduk, lead vocals
Mihran Kalaydjian- Piano
Aram Kasabian – Lead Guitar
Hratch Panossian – Bass
Samer Khoury – Violin
Tony Amer – Saxophone
Haim Cohen – KeyBoard
Albert Panikian – Trumpet
Nicole Del Sol – Percussion
Dana Debos – Trombone
Roman Calote – accordion

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The duduk translates the pain and sorrow of the Armenian people and all that we went through…hearing the duduk sends shivers down my spine and through my soul, I think of my ancestors who perished during the Armenian Genocide and our lost lands…especially with “My Home”, this piece is a memorial to the Armenian Genocide, think of the Armenian families being massacred and forced from their homes onto the death marches and outright massacre.

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The Armenian Genocide – 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

 

The Armenian Genocide – 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

 

             

In April 1915 the Ottoman government embarked upon the systematic decimation of its civilian Armenian population. The persecutions continued with varying intensity until 1923 when the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist and was replaced by the Republic of Turkey. The Armenian population of the Ottoman state was reported at about two million in 1915. An estimated one million had perished by 1918, while hundreds of thousands had become homeless and stateless refugees. By 1923 virtually the entire Armenian population of Anatolian Turkey had disappeared.

The Ottoman Empire was ruled by the Turks who had conquered lands extending across West Asia, North Africa and Southeast Europe. The Ottoman government was centered in Istanbul (Constantinople) and was headed by a sultan who was vested with absolute power. The Turks practiced Islam and were a martial people. The Armenians, a Christian minority, lived as second class citizens subject to legal restrictions which denied them normal safeguards. Neither their lives nor their properties were guaranteed security. As non-Muslims they were also obligated to pay discriminatory taxes and denied participation in government. Scattered across the empire, the status of the Armenians was further complicated by the fact that the territory of historic Armenia was divided between the Ottomans and the Russians.

In its heyday in the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was a powerful state. Its minority populations prospered with the growth of its economy. By the nineteenth century, the empire was in serious decline. It had been reduced in size and by 1914 had lost virtually all its lands in Europe and Africa. This decline created enormous internal political and economic pressures which contributed to the intensification of ethnic tensions. Armenian aspirations for representation and participation in government aroused suspicions among the Muslim Turks who had never shared power in their country with any minority and who also saw nationalist movements in the Balkans result in the secession of former Ottoman territories. Demands by Armenian political organizations for administrative reforms in the Armenian-inhabited provinces and better police protection from predatory tribes among the Kurds only invited further repression. The government was determined to avoid resolving the so-called Armenian Question in any way that altered the traditional system of administration. During the reign of the Sultan Abdul Hamid (Abdulhamit) II (1876-1909), a series of massacres throughout the empire meant to frighten Armenians and so dampen their expectations, cost up to three hundred thousand lives by some estimates and inflicted enormous material losses on a majority of Armenians.

In response to the crisis in the Ottoman Empire, a new political group called the Young Turks seized power by revolution in 1908. From the Young Turks, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), Ittihad ve Terakki Jemiyeti, emerged at the head of the government in a coup staged in 1913. It was led by a triumvirate: Enver, Minister of War; Talaat, Minister of the Interior (Grand Vizier in 1917); and Jemal, Minister of the Marine. The CUP espoused an ultranationalistic ideology which advocated the formation of an exclusively Turkish state. It also subscribed to an ideology of aggrandizement through conquest directed eastward toward other regions inhabited by Turkic peoples, at that time subject to the Russian Empire. The CUP also steered Istanbul toward closer diplomatic and military relations with Imperial Germany. When World War I broke out in August 1914, the Ottoman Empire formed part of the Triple Alliance with the other Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, and it declared war on Russia and its Western allies, Great Britain and France.

 

                       

 

 

The Ottoman armies initially suffered a string of defeats which they made up with a series of easy military victories in the Caucasus in 1918 before the Central Powers capitulated later that same year. Whether retreating or advancing, the Ottoman army used the occasion of war to wage a collateral campaign of massacre against the civilian Armenian population in the regions in which warfare was being conducted. These measures were part of the genocidal program secretly adopted by the CUP and implemented under the cover of war. They coincided with the CUP’s larger program to eradicate the Armenians from Turkey and neighboring countries for the purpose of creating a new Pan-Turanian empire. Through the spring and summer of 1915, in all areas outside the war zones, the Armenian population was ordered deported from their homes. Convoys consisting of tens of thousands including men, women, and children were driven hundreds of miles toward the Syrian desert.

The deportations were disguised as a resettlement program. The brutal treatment of the deportees, most of whom were made to walk to their destinations, made it apparent that the deportations were mainly intended as death marches. Moreover, the policy of deportation surgically removed the Armenians from the rest of society and disposed of great masses of people with little or no destruction of property. The displacement process, therefore, also served as a major opportunity orchestrated by the CUP for the plundering of the material wealth of the Armenians and proved an effortless method of expropriating all of their immovable properties.

The genocidal intent of the CUP measures was also evidenced by the mass killings that accompanied the deportations. Earlier, Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman forces had been disarmed and either worked to death in labor battalions or outright executed in small batches. With the elimination of the able-bodied men from the Armenian population, the deportations proceeded with little resistance. The convoys were frequently attacked by bands of killers specifically organized for the purpose of slaughtering the Armenians. As its instrument of extermination, the government had authorized the formation of gangs of butchers—mostly convicts released from prison expressly enlisted in the units of the so-called Special Organization, Teshkilâti Mahsusa. This secret outfit was headed by the most ferocious partisans of the CUP who took it upon themselves to carry out the orders of the central government with the covert instructions of their party leaders. A sizable portion of the deportees, including women and children, were indisciminately killed in massacres along the deportation routes. The cruelty characterizing the killing process was heightened by the fact that it was frequently carried out by the sword in terrifying episodes of bloodshed. Furthermore, for the survivors, their witnessing of the murder of friends and relatives with the mass of innocent persons was the source of serious trauma. Many younger women and some orphaned children were also abducted and placed in bondage in Turkish and Muslim homes resulting in another type of trauma characterized by the shock of losing both family and one’s sense of identity. These women and children were frequently forbidden to grieve, were employed as unpaid laborers, and were required to assimilate the language and religion of their captors.

The government had made no provisions for the feeding of the deported population. Starvation took an enormous toll much as exhaustion felled the elderly, the weaker and the infirm. Deportees were denied food and water in a deliberate effort to hasten death. The survivors who reached northern Syria were collected at a number of concentration camps whence they were sent further south to die under the scorching sun of the desert. Through methodically organized deportation, systematic massacre, deliberate starvation and dehydration, and continuous brutalization, the Ottoman government reduced its Armenian population to a frightened mass of famished individuals whose families and communities had been destroyed in a single stroke.

Resistance to the deportations was infrequent. Only in one instance did the entire population of an Armenian settlement manage to evade death. The mountaineers of Musa Dagh defended themselves in the heights above their villages until French naval vessels in the eastern Mediterranean detected them and transported them to safety. The inhabitants of the city of Van in eastern Armenia defended themselves until relieved by advancing Russian forces. They abandoned the city in May 1915, a month after the siege was lifted, when the Russian Army withdrew. The fleeing population was hunted down mercilessly by Turkish irregular forces. Inland towns that resisted, such as Urfa (Edessa), were reduced to rubble by artillery. The survival of the Armenians in large part is credited not to acts of resistance, but to the humanitarian intervention led by American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau. Although the Allied Powers expressly warned the Ottoman government about its policy of genocide, ultimately it was through Morgenthau’s efforts that the plight of the Armenians was publicized in the United States. The U.S. Congress authorized the formation of a relief committee which raised funds to feed “the starving Armenians.” Near East Relief, as the committee was eventually known, saved tens of thousands of lives. After the war, it headed a large-scale effort to rehabilitate the survivors who were mostly left to their own devices in their places of deportation. By setting up refugee camps, orphanages, medical clinics and educational facilities, Near East Relief rescued the surviving Armenian population.

In the post-war period nearly four hundred of the key CUP officials implicated in the atrocities committed against the Armenians were arrested. A number of domestic military tribunals were convened which brought charges ranging from the unconstitutional seizure of power and subversion of the legal government, the conduct of a war of aggression, and conspiring the liquidation of the Armenian population, to more explicit capital crimes, including massacre. Some of the accused were found guilty of the charges. Most significantly, the ruling triumvirate was condemned to death. They, however, eluded justice by fleeing abroad. Their escape left the matter of avenging the countless victims to a clandestine group of survivors that tracked down the CUP arch conspirators. Talaat, the principal architect of the Armenian genocide, was killed in 1921 in Berlin where he had gone into hiding. His assassin was arrested and tried in a German court which acquitted him.

Most of those implicated in war crimes evaded justice and many joined the new Nationalist Turkish movement led by Mustafa Kemal. In a series of military campaigns against Russian Armenia in 1920, against the refugee Armenians who had returned to Cilicia in southern Turkey in 1921, and against the Greek army that had occupied Izmir (Smyrna) where the last intact Armenian community in Anatolia still existed in 1922, the Nationalist forces completed the process of eradicating the Armenians through further expulsions and massacres. When Turkey was declared a republic in 1923 and received international recognition, the Armenian Question and all related matters of resettlement and restitution were swept aside and soon forgotten.

In all, it is estimated that up to a million and a half Armenians perished at the hands of Ottoman and Turkish military and paramilitary forces and through atrocities intentionally inflicted to eliminate the Armenian demographic presence in Turkey. In the process, the population of historic Armenia at the eastern extremity of Anatolia was wiped off the map. With their disappearance, an ancient people which had inhabited the Armenian highlands for three thousand years lost its historic homeland and was forced into exile and a new diaspora. The surviving refugees spread around the world and eventually settled in some two dozen countries on all continents of the globe. Triumphant in its total annihilation of the Armenians and relieved of any obligations to the victims and survivors, the Turkish Republic adopted a policy of dismissing the charge of genocide and denying that the deportations and atrocities had constituted part of a deliberate plan to exterminate the Armenians. When the Red Army sovietized what remained of Russian Armenia in 1920, the Armenians had been compressed into an area amounting to no more than ten percent of the territories of their historic homeland. Armenians annually commemorate the Genocide on April 24 at the site of memorials raised by the survivors in all their communities around the world.

 

 

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”  By – William Saroyan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Obama Hide Behind Erdogan’s Hypocrisy?

By Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA

Marketing/Media Writer, Strategist and Consultant

It’s that time of the year again when Armenians across the world—but especially in the United States—await the annual White House statement on the Armenian Genocide, which, since 1981, has never actually used the word “Genocide.”

This will be President Obama’s sixth such statement, the last five of which clearly veered from his campaign promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide and used euphemisms to characterize what actually happened and played into the an almost century-long campaign by Turkey to deny the events of 1915. Essentially, the president who campaigned for “change” himself became complicit in the crime of Genocide by unabashedly denying it as an apologist for Turkey.

This year, however, two recent statements make us wonder whether Obama’s April 24 statement will be different—different bad or different good?

Earlier this week, US Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern said that the White House was planning to issue a statement that would signal a change in US policy regarding the Armenian Genocide. He did immediately add that he was unsure whether the word Genocide would be used or not, signaling that whatever the vernacular not much change was coming down the pipeline.

Then on Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, issued a verbose and absurd statement, which in a nutshell was adeptly characterized by the ANCA as “repackaging denial.” Using the tried and true “shared suffering” argument articulated by Turkish officials for decades, Erdogan offered condolences to the descendents of Genocide survivors—almost a century too late.

In 2009, Obama chose Turkey as the destination of his first official visit and during public appearances urged the government and citizens of Turkey to come to terms with their past. Then in a defeatist move, the Obama administration took to pushing the State Department-crafted Turkey-Armenia protocols, which was inherited from the Bush Administration, but nevertheless was embraced by the then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Did Heffern preview a “change” in US policy based on his knowledge that Erdogan was about to issue an announcement? Does the Obama Administration view Erdogan’s feeble attempt at, once again, rewriting history as a sign that Turkey is heeding his call and coming to terms with its past?

One thing is clear: If any mention of Erdogan’s statement finds its way into Obama’s April 24 statement, then it cements the reality the US is unable to advocate for justice and human rights around the globe and is a victim of Turkey’s imposed gag rule on the Genocide, further perpetuating US’s complicity in the crime.

Will Obama hide behind Erdogan’s/Turkey’s hypocrisy? As Americans we hope that he will NOT!

 

 

The Ancient Ghost City of Ani

By Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA

The Ancient Ghost City of Ani

Situated on the eastern border of Turkey, across the Akhurian River from Armenia, lies the empty, crumbling site of the once-great metropolis of Ani, known as “the city of a thousand and one churches.” Founded more than 1,600 years ago, Ani was situated on several trade routes, and grew to become a walled city of more than 100,000 residents by the 11th century. In the centuries that followed, Ani and the surrounding region were conquered hundreds of times — Byzantine emperors, Ottoman Turks, Armenians, nomadic Kurds, Georgians, and Russians claimed and reclaimed the area, repeatedly attacking and chasing out residents. By the 1300s, Ani was in steep decline, and it was completely abandoned by the 1700s. Rediscovered and romanticized in the 19th century, the city had a brief moment of fame, only to be closed off by World War I and the later events of the Armenian Genocide that left the region an empty, militarized no-man’s land. The ruins crumbled at the hands of many: looters, vandals, Turks who tried to eliminate Armenian history from the area, clumsy archaeological digs, well-intentioned people who made poor attempts at restoration, and Mother Nature herself. Restrictions on travel to Ani have eased in the past decade, allowing the following photos to be taken.