Today, we are not the descendants of the Genocide survivors. We are the direct victims of the Genocide. We are living in agony and pain.
Today, we are bleeding anew watching the mass graves through different media means. It’s a reminder of our graves, our over one million and a half graves.
We are no longer asking anyone to recognize our pain, our torture. We are suffering in silence. We are dispersed. We eat, we drink, we dance and we sing. But we are tortured souls in bodies perpetually suffering as our grief is continuously denied amid tormenting silence.
Yes, we are alive and deceased. We seek reclamation for our agony to cease but to no avail.
We learn of others’ pains being attended and cured. We hear about the half million deceased by an invisible enemy who have been acknowledged and their families solaced.
In 1915 a million people were brought through what is now Turkey and walked to their deaths near Deir-al-Zour in modern Syria. One hundred years on, only a handful of survivors remain to tell the stories of the Armenian genocide, which they witnessed.
A hundred years after the Armenian genocide, filmmaker Diana Markosian found two survivors who witnessed deportation, death, and denial of the events of 1915. Together they journeyed back to the past.
I was never interested in pursuing work on the Armenian genocide. When I started this project, it was still just a vague historical narrative. I knew that, in 1915, the Ottomans initiated a policy of deportation and mass murder to destroy their Armenian population. And that, by the First World War’s end, more than a million people were eliminated from what is now modern-day Turkey. But I had no idea of the personal toll the genocide exacted on my own family, or the sense of connection I would slowly come to feel through making this piece.
I am Armenian, but I was born in Moscow and raised in America. For most of my life, I struggled with my Armenian identity, partly because of the history one inherits. It is something I understood but never fully embraced. Then a year ago, I happened to be in Armenia when a foundation approached me, requesting help in finding the remaining genocide survivors. I pursued voter registrations online to see who was born before 1915, and then traveled cross-country to find them. That’s how I met Movses and Yepraksia — who lived past their hundredth year.
When I met them, they shared with me memories of their early homes. Movses was born in the village of Kebusie in Musa Dagh Mountain not far from the Syrian border. Yepraksia lived in a small village near Kars on the Armenian border. They hadn’t seen their home since escaping a century ago. I wanted in some way reunite each of the survivors with their homeland. I decided to travel back Turkey to re-trace their last memories.
When I told the survivors I would be visiting their native land, each one asked me to fulfill a wish. Movses, from Musa Dagh, drew a map of his village, and asked me to find his church and leave his portrait on the footsteps of what are now ruins. He hadn’t seen his home in 98 years. In his village, I found everything he had described to me: the sheep, the fruit he remembered eating, and the sea. I even found the ruins of what was once his church. Yepraksia, from a small village in Kars, asked me to help her find her older brother who she separated from after 1915.
Once I returned to Armenia, I created billboard-sized images of the survivors’ homelands as a way of bridging the past and present. All these years later, upon delivering the image, the survivors grabbed on, as if by holding the image close they would be taken back to a place they called home many years ago. This is a story of home — everything they had, everything they lost. And what they have found again.
Assistant Producer: Vahe Hakobyan
Sound Recordist: Harutyun Mangasaryan
Field Producer: Arevik Avanesyan
Colourist: Boyd Nagle
Video Editor: Andy Kemp
Filmed, Produced and Directed by Diana
The song “Who is beautiful, beautiful” loved by Armenians is one of the beautiful works that we always listen to with pleasure and great love. Over the years, this song based on Levon Mirijanyan’s words has been developed by various Armenian artists and presented in a unique way (recently the song was also presented in reggae style), but now it is also performed in Armenian by members of the famous American band Pink Martini.
Armenia isn’t on many people’s list of countries to visit. However, if you are considering visiting Armenia soon, you will probably have a few problems finding correct and reliable information. Why? There aren’t many people traveling to Armenia and even less writing about it. That’s why after visiting Armenia we built this list!
50 Travel Tips About Armenia | Armenia And The Locals
#1 Armenia isn’t a “tourist ready” country, but that’s probably just another thing that makes it even more interesting! This doesn’t mean that tourists aren’t welcome since we were always pleasantly received in Armenia. However, the country still lacks many infrastructures to receive big amounts of tourists.
#2 Barely anyone speaks English, only Russian and Armenian. We believe it’s the least English-speaking country we have been to… Communication can be very difficult, though it’s manageable.
#3 Armenia is a very dry country, at least in the Summer. Yellow is the prevailing color and makes it quite scenic 🙂 There’s something about it that’s soothing…
#4 It’s very mountainous or else wouldn’t be a Caucasus country… The mountains aren’t as high as its neighboring Georgia but the whole country is marked by mountains, gorges, and valleys.
#5 There are more Armenians outside Armenia than in the country! In fact, there are almost 3 times more Armenians outside Armenia (8M) than living in Armenia (3M)! This happened due to the Armenian Diaspora.
#6 During WWI the Ottoman Government (nowadays Turkey) killed 1-1.5 M Armenians in what it’s called the Armenian Genocide or Armenian Holocaust. Until today Turkey does not recognize what happened as a Genocide.
#7 Armenia is considered the first Christian country! Christianity was implemented as the state religion in 301 A.D. Though it was introduced in Armenia even earlier, during the 1st century by Christ’s disciples Bartholomew and Thaddeus. They are known as the “Illuminators of the Armenian world”. Even today Armenia is still a very conservative and religious country, 95 % of the population is Armenian Apostolic.
#8 Armenia (and Georgia) connects Europe and Asia. For centuries was a center of trade between continents and the epicenter of many wars! It has been attacked and invaded by the Greeks, Mongols, Persians, Turks, Russians, etc…
#9 However, today Armenia is a geopolitical hotspot! It has no access to the ocean and has a conflict with many of their neighboring countries. It has no relation with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Iran to the south mostly supports their fellow Islamic countries. This leaves only Georgia, who wasn’t too happy with their support to Russia during the recent war…
#10 All this made Armenia’s economic struggle and made Armenia’s transition to a market economy more difficult. Though, Armenia is still a very poor country!
#11 However, don’t feel discouraged Armenia is a stable and safe country. Moreover, it feels safe… As a tourist, I always felt relaxed and comfortable, almost as in Georgia or Western Europe.
Travel In Armenia And The Tourists
#12 Armenia is one of the least touristy countries in Europe. Out of the few tourists they host, even fewer are western backpackers… We only saw a handful of them.
Armenia has so many cool things to do and see, yet has so few visitors…
#13 Even in the peak season, in the biggest tourist attractions, we only saw a few tourists and no queues. It was great not being overwhelmed by people everywhere we went
#14 If you are planning an overland trip be aware that Armenia borders are closed with both Turkey and Azerbaijan. If you want to go to any of these countries your best option is to go through Georgia.
#15 While traveling through Armenia, one thing will catch your eyes… Half the country seems to have been abandoned to their own fate… There are way too many half-deserted towns with buildings falling apart.
#16Yerevan is the exception, the center is much more developed than the rest of the country. It’s known as the pink city because of the color of the stones of the beautiful old and new buildings. Yerevan is a buzzing city and very pleasant to walk around both during the day and at night!
#17 If we had to choose the best travel attraction of Armenia, that would be the Tatev monastery and the Wings of Tatev aerial roadway! The Tatev monastery is amazing and situated in an incredibly scenic mountain range, which you can appreciate from the Wings of Tatev.
#18Mount Ararat is a very important part of Armenian National identity, however, it’s nowadays part of Turkish territory! Though you can see it from Armenia and it’s an incredible view that allows some amazing pictures particularly from Khor Virap! Unfortunately, when we were closer to it, there was a strong fog ruining the pictures
#19 Sevan Lake is the biggest lake in Armenia and occupies 5% of the territory! We read how beautiful it was and that it’s a beach destination within Armenia… Well, the lake is impressive and being 1900-meters high makes it rather unique, however, most of the surrounding felt abandoned! it definitely wasn’t a place where we wanted to beach…
#20 Moreover, the town of Sevan itself was probably the worst place we have been in Armenia! Felt completely abandoned and with nothing to do… I would suggest visiting the lake as a stopover on a road trip, but nothing more!
#21 Armenia is the place to go if you want to see unique monasteries in a beautiful setting, usually hidden away in the Mountains.The most interesting we visited were Noravank, Tatev, and Geghard. Khor Virap isn’t that impressive by itself, but the view of Ararat is incredible! We also went to Etchmiadzin, which is supposedly the first cathedral ever built (between 301-303)!
Food And Drinks In Armenia
#22 Armenian food is pretty cheap, even in restaurants. With 5-10 Euros one couple can have a very good meal at a nice restaurant.
#23 However, it isn’t easy to find quick meals or fast food. Definitely, the country isn’t prepared for travelers… We ended up going to supermarkets and buying supplies to being able to eat “on the road”.
#24Lavash is the staple bread in Armenia. When you ask for bread, usually you get Lavash. It’s a soft, thin flatbread. “Lavash, the preparation, meaning, and appearance of traditional bread as an expression of culture in Armenia” was inscribed in the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
#25 The best things we tried in Armenia were Zhingyalov hats and Dolma. Zhingyalov hats are flatbread stuffed with finely diced herbs and green vegetables. Dolma is a dish of minced meat wrapped in grape leaves.
#26 Be careful when you ask for a Lemonade! It may not be what you expect… We learned that, in Armenia, a Lemonade is Soda, and it doesn’t have to be a Lemon Soda! You can easily have a pear or Tarragon (Yeap…) Lemonade! 🙂
#27Fruit (fresh and dried) is very good in Armenia, particularly peaches and figs! You will also see lots of melons and watermelons… Enjoy them, it’s a great way to eat some healthy food during the trips!
Money And Expenses In Armenia
#28 Overall Armenia is a very cheap country to travel in! Food, accommodation, fuel, and tickets to attractions are all very inexpensive. Overall, in 5 days we only spent 190 Euros, which means less than 20 Euros per person per day. This doesn’t include the car rental!
#29 You can withdraw money from almost any ATM with your foreign card, without extra fees! It’s similar to Georgia and very different (better!) from SE Asia! Note: We are talking about the local ATM fees, not the fees charged by your bank… those depend only on your bank!
#30 The problem is that in most places it can be difficult to find ATMs! I would advise you to take a few extra Eur/USD just in case you need an alternative… The exception is Yerevan, where there’s ATM everywhere like you would expect in a big capital city.
#31Accommodation is also very cheap! It’s fairly easy to find a private double room in a nice guesthouse under 20 Euros. Most of the times we ended up paying about 15 Euros per night.
#32 Expect to pay an added service fee of 10% in every restaurant. That information is usually on the menu. Besides, even with this small added tax, meals are very cheap in Armenian restaurants.
#33Cash is King in Armenia. Many places only accept cash, even some that have Visa’s and Mastercard’s signs (no internet, no service or any other problem).
Most supermarkets and big restaurants/hotels are exceptions. Almost every guest house will have to be paid in cash and you can’t even pay with a card when booking.
How To Travel In Armenia
#34Roads in Armenia are terrible, much worse than in Georgia. They are full of potholes, even some of the main roads that connect the country. Also, be aware that just because a road is considered a highway or a main road doesn’t mean that is any good, or even paved… You may need to drive gravel in places you won’t expect it!
#35 Therefore, you cannot blindly trust Google Maps (or maps me) expected time or you’ll be in for a bad time! In our experience, add 30 – 50% to the ETA to be safe…
#36 However, you don’t have to drive a 4 x 4 / SUV! It will make your journey more pleasant and allow you to go to more extreme places, but most of the usual destinations can be reached with a normal car. We did it with a small Toyota and it was OK.
#37 If the roads terrible, drivers are even worse… mostly because they are impatient and will overtake you in the craziest places. We think they are more reckless than actually aggressive. Anyway, it can be dangerous and if you are driving you should be aware of it. Our experience driving in Angola was very, very useful 🙂
#38Fuel is very cheap at half the price of western Europe countries, which is great for road trippers!
#39 In Armenia you can (or may really need to) fill up your car in these pumps… how cool is that? 🙂
#40 Armenia is part of the silk road and one of its most famous passes was the Selim pass (now called Orbelian’s pass). The scenery is amazing and the road is actually good and enjoyable to drive in. Selim pass goes as high as 2410 meters!
#41 If you are planning to drive in Armenia please note that there are way too many speed cameras on the main roads! In almost every small town you’ll see one, or several! We didn’t get any ticket, however, be careful because they usually enforce the speed limit.
#42 If you are planning to bring a car from Georgia to Armenia you will need a cross-border authorization to cross the border to Armenia. It’s a document from the car rental authorizing you to take the car to Armenia in Georgian and translated to Armenian! It will cost at least 50 USD and you’ll probably need to request it 1 or 2 days in advance.
#43 Additionally you will also need to buy car insurance in Armenia, but you’ll need to buy it in Armenia. Right after crossing the border you’ll find many places selling insurance. Just stop and buy it. It’ll probably cost 10-15 USD.
Other Travel Information About Armenia
#44 In Armenia you’ll find free WIFI everywhere, restaurants, bars, hotels, guesthouses, and even some tourist attractions! However, if you want you can also easily buy a sim card close to the borders. We didn’t buy and didn’t miss it!
#45 Armenia uses the power sockets and plugs of type C and F, with a standard voltage of 230 V and a frequency of 50 Hz. Type C plug is usually called the Euro socket as it’s used in almost every country in Continental Europe. If you need to buy an adapter, we recommend this one.
#46 Do you need a visa to enter Armenia? Probably not. The citizens of many countries are exempted from visa: the US, most EU, the UK, Australia, etc.. Curiously, not Canada… Both Canadians and Indians need a visa on arrival. Nevertheless, have a look here for the lists of countries that exempted countries, visa on arrival, and visa requests.
#47 If you can buy products on the side of the road. This way you will get great products at very reasonable prices and it will directly help the local economy! Fruits, nuts, honey, and wine are some of the great things you can buy…
#48 Be aware that the working day starts very late… There’s nothing open before 9:00… However, at night many things come to live, particularly in Yerevan.
#49Crossing borders between Georgia and Armenia is perfectly easy and fairly quick. One time took us 30 minutes, the other for almost 2 hours. But most importantly it was peaceful and without any “problems” from the Police. We were particularly worried about the Brava Border (because it’s very small) but it was very simple and without any trouble!
#50 If you want to travel to a country that it’s still off the radar of tourism, visiting Armenia is probably one of your best options! It’s safe, cheap, relaxed, fairly easy to travel. It has many interesting destinations and unique culture and history!
Tall and slender like a poplar tree, do not bend under the force of the wind. All the doors are open, I’m standing in my garden with my feet soaked in dew, looking at you – and I say to myself: “Beloved, please stay with me forever, because life without you is impossible for me.”
Tchinares… Eres esbelto.
Alto y esbelto como un álamo, que no se inclina ante la fuerza del viento. Todas las puertas están abiertas, estoy parado en mi jardín con los pies empapados de rocío, mirando hacia ti, me digo a mí mismo:
“Querida, por favor quédate conmigo para siempre, porque la vida sin ti es imposible.”
..je te regarde en me disant: ” ma bien aimee, restes toujours a mes cotes car la vie sans toi est impossible ”
One of the musical instrument accompanied is called ” Duduk ”
The duduk (doo-dook; Armenian: դուդուկ) is an ancient double-reed woodwind flute made of apricot wood. It is indigenous to Armenia. It is commonly played in pairs: while the first player plays the song, the second plays a stready drone, and the sound of the two instruments together creates a richer, more haunting sound.
The unflattened reed and cylindrical body produce a sound closer to a clarinet than to more commonly known double-reeds. Unlike other double reed instruments like theoboe or shawm, the duduk has a very large reed proportional to its size. UNESCO proclaimed the Armenian duduk and its music as a Masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005 and inscribed it in 2008. Duduk music has been used in a number of films, most notably in The Russia House and Gladiator.
Aram Kasabian – Lead Guitar Sevan Manoukian – Drummer Hratch Panossian – Bass Samer Khoury – Violin Tony Amer – Saxophone Haim Cohen – KeyBoard Albert Panikian – Trumpet Nicole Del Sol – Percussion Dana Debos – Trombone
Breeze is gently unmatched,
Mountains go down to sit on your door.
Sirutsd burning like a knight,
Tours will give your garden door.
And you khskem night and day.
Come alone or Yar Yar soon -shut garden,
I look upon you satisfy my longing,
I am afraid that your longing to die.
Spring’ll come to your garden,
Blbul like parvem your rose.
Your Shahen I Yar thousand games
I came to your door die in your life.
And you khskem night and day.
Come alone or Yar Yar soon -shut garden,
I look upon you satisfy my longing,
I am afraid that your longing to die.
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‘We are third-class citizens,’ says Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem
‘If Israel recognizes the Armenian genocide it won’t be the end of the world,’ says the new head of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem, which dates back to the 4th century. It might even help making the community feel less cut off from the rest of the city and country.
On a recent afternoon in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Armenian Patriarchate’s new leader was treated as royalty. Black-robed priests and pilgrims young and old, visiting from Armenia, snapped photos and grinned excitedly, as they waited in line to kiss Archbishop Nourhan Manougian’s hand during a reception.
Elected the 97th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem in January, Manougian is now one of the top Armenian Christian leaders worldwide, in a community scattered over the globe. In Jerusalem, where the Armenian Christian presence dates back almost 1,700 years, he is also one of the most powerful Christian clerics. The Armenian patriarch shares oversight at the ancient Christian holy sites with the Greek Orthodox and Latin (Roman Catholic) patriarchs.
But despite the historical presence, the tiny Old City Armenian community often feels sidelined, Manougian told media sources. As the number of community members relentlessly shrinks, and is now only a few hundred, he worries if there will be future generations. Day-to-day life, he says, is also a balancing act, finding a place between the powerful Jewish Israeli and Muslim Palestinian communities. Israeli scholars echo the same concerns.
At the core of Armenian insecurities are successive Israeli governments that have ruled over them since 1967 but never officially acknowledged the 1915 Armenian genocide or its estimated 1.5 million deaths by Ottoman Turkish forces.
Many of Jerusalem’s Armenians, including Manougian, are the children and grandchildren of the survivors of the genocide. His father fled Armenia through the desert that became known as the “death fields,” as he headed to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Born in Aleppo in 1948 and orphaned by age 5, Manougian grew up in that city, with poor relatives and the stories of the survivors around him. After seminary and ordination, serving Armenian Christians took him from Lebanon, across Europe and the United States, and to Haifa, Jaffa and finally in 1998, to Jerusalem.
Here, Armenians believe that Israel’s silence on the events of 1915 is based on maintaining favor with Turkey. “If you ask me, [recognizing the genocide] is what they have to do,” said Manougian of Israel. “What if they accept it? It won’t be the end of the world.”
Manougian also felt marginalized by Israel, while waiting five months for the state to officially recognize his title. Manougian was elected after the 2012 death of Patriarch Torkom Manoogian. Palestinian and Jordanian leaders recognized him days after the January election. Israel did not do so until June 23.
Initially, the patriarchate postponed Manougian’s inauguration, waiting for Israel to reorganize the government following its January 22 elections. But as months passed and the recognition application continued to be ignored, the patriarchate on June 4 held the inauguration anyway.
There is no law requiring it, but sending a formal letter of recognition is a Holy Land tradition dating to the Ottoman era, Manougian said. “The first [Israeli] letter was signed by Ben-Gurion.”
Old City Armenians live more closely with the Palestinians and say their relations with them are better than with official Israel or some of their Jewish neighbors. Bishop Aris Shirvanian says that “they don’t spit on us,” referring to a phenomenon sometimes encountered by Christian clergy in the Old City.
“We have no legal problems with them,” said Bishop Aris Shirvanian. But the Palestinians have also not recognized the Armenian genocide. “The whole of the Islamic countries do not recognize the genocide because Turks are Muslims,” he said.
Being Christian in Jerusalem is complicated, he added. “When you are dealing with two sides [Israelis and Palestinians], you have to not take one side against the other.”
First to adopt Christianity
Armenians have a long, continuous presence in the city, from at least the fourth century, after Armenia was the first nation in 301 C.E. to adopt Christianity as its official faith, said Yoav Loeff, a Hebrew University teacher of Armenian language and history.
Until World War I, most of the Armenians here were monks or other church people. After the war, the numbers in Jerusalem grew, as Armenians fled the genocide and developed a vibrant lay community here. There were also artisans who came to the city in 1919 under the patronage of the British Mandate to renovate the vividly decorated ceramic tiles on the Dome of the Rock. Their craft of hand-painting tiles and ceramics deeply influenced Jerusalem’s artistic heritage. This can be seen still today on signs and architectural facades, and in the pottery in Israeli and Palestinian homes. The patriarchate also opened a photography studio here in the 1850s, and the period portraits done by some of its photographers are still renowned.
Until the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, local Armenians lived mostly in Jerusalem, with some in Haifa, Jaffa, Lod, Ramle and Ramallah too, numbering about 25,000 in total, Manougian says. While the majority fled the war to surrounding areas − Ramallah, Jordan, Lebanon − a few thousand ended up in the Old City’s Armenian Quarter. But with growing economic and political tensions and lack of opportunities, most left over the years.
There are no official statistics, but historians estimate that there are some 3,000 people of Armenian descent in Israel, but most do not identify with the community, coming from the former Soviet Union and having married Jews.
The community’s center of life today is in the Armenian Quarter, which has an elementary school, middle school, high school, a seminary, the 12th-century St. James Cathedral, the Church of the Holy Archangels, and the Armenian manuscript library. But barely 400 Armenians live there now, down from around 1,500 in 1967, said Manougian.
“I’m afraid that if things go on like this, there won’t be any Christians left in this country,” he said, alluding to the wider phenomenon of an ongoing exodus of Christians of all denominations from the Holy Land. The city and state are not helping Armenians to flourish, he added. “Nobody knows anything about Armenia or Armenians … It’s not even on the list of their [concerns]. We don’t belong to the community − they don’t [accept] us as members. We are third-class citizens.”
Fueling this feeling are occasional spitting incidents. Last Year, for example, an Orthodox Jewish man spat at the feet of patriarch Manougian, during a procession of senior church clergy as they walked toward the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Bishop Shirvanian, who was present, said that such spitting incidents have declined during the past year, but “you never know when it will happen while walking down the street …. Most Jews are respectful, but some of the ultra-Orthodox are obstinately spitting.”
Freedom of movement in and out of the Old City is also unpredictable. Nestled inside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, the Armenian Quarter relies on the Jaffa Gate for access to the rest of the city.
” ‘We are third-class citizens,’ says Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem
‘If Israel recognizes the Armenian genocide it won’t be the end of the world,’ says the new head of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem, which dates back to the 4th century. It might even help making the community feel less cut off from the rest of the city and country.”
Spitting on Christians in Jerusalem raises eyebrows
JERUSALEM — From his ceramics gallery along Armenian Patriarchate Road, Garo Sandrouni has a sweeping view of one of the Old City of Jerusalem’s longest thoroughfares, stretching from Jaffa Gate deep into the Jewish Quarter.
Jewish worshipers heading to and from the Western Wall jostle for space along the narrow passage with Armenian priests and seminarians, and Sandrouni says about once a week he finds himself breaking up fights between them.
Typically the skirmishes begin when a young yeshiva student spits on or near a group of teenage seminarians, who occasionally respond by beating up their attacker. Several years ago, a young religious man pulled a gun when Sandrouni moved to intervene in a fight.
“Most of the incidents that happen, unfortunately, they happen in front of my store,” said Sandrouni, who more than once has come to the aid of a yeshiva student bloodied after a run-in with a group of seminarians.
“Almost everybody, after the fight, they apologized,” Sandrouni said. “They say, ‘We are sorry. We didn’t know that their reaction would be so strong.’”
Attacks on Christian clergyman in Jerusalem are not a new phenomenon, and may result from an extreme interpretation of the Bible’s injunction to “abhor” idol worshipers. Five years ago, in what many say is the worst incident on record, a crucifix hanging from the neck of the Armenian archbishop, Nourhan Manougian, was broken in the course of an altercation with a yeshiva student who had spit on him.
Christian leaders stress that the problem is not one of Christian-Jewish relations in Israel. Most Israelis, they say, are peaceful and welcoming. In an interview with several Armenian Jerusalemites, they emphasized repeatedly that their relations with the largely religious community in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter are normal.
The assaults, according to George Hintlian, a spokesman for the Armenian community in Jerusalem, are carried out by people from the outside — visitors to Jerusalem from other towns, and even from abroad.
Several people familiar with the issue say the attacks recently have reached epidemic proportions — or at least enough that government officials and Orthodox rabbinic figures have begun to take notice.
A recent meeting between Foreign Ministry officials, the Jerusalem municipality and fervently Orthodox, or haredi, leaders resulted in a statement by Beth Din Tzedek, a haredi rabbinic tribunal, denouncing the phenomenon. In a sign of the ministry’s concern over the issue, both the meeting and the statement were publicized on the Web site of Israel’s diplomatic mission to the Vatican.
“Besides desecrating the Holy Name, which in itself represents a very grave sin, provoking gentiles is, according to our sages — blessed be their holy and righteous memory — forbidden and is liable to bring tragic consequences upon our own community, may God have mercy,” said the statement.
The incident that appears to have gotten the ministry’s attention occurred last September, when a pair of teenage Armenian seminarians reportedly fought with a young yeshiva student who spit on them. Police intervened, arrested the seminarians and referred the matter to the Interior Ministry.
According to Hintlian, the seminarians are now facing deportation — a decision the Armenians have officially protested. Carrying out the order would require the police to seize the boys from their seminary in the Old City, Hintlian said, which likely would result in a public relations disaster.
Though they may bear the brunt of the phenomenon, given the proximity of the Armenian and Jewish quarters, cases of spitting are confined neither to Armenian clergy nor the Old City.
Athanasius Macora, a Texas-born Franciscan friar who lives in western Jerusalem, frequently has been the target of spitting during his nearly two decades residing in the Israeli capital.
Macora, whose brown habit easily identifies him as a Christian clergyman, says that while he has not endured any spitting incidents recently, recollections of past incidents started flowing over the course of 30-minute interview.
In a sitting room at Terra Sancta College, where he is the superior, Macora recalled the blond-haired man who spit at him on Agron Street, not far from the U.S. Consulate. Another time, walking with an Armenian priest in the same area, a man in a car opened his window to let the spittle fly. Once it was a group of yeshiva students in the Old City, another time a young girl.
Sometimes the assailants are clad in distinctive haredi garb; other times the attackers are wearing the knitted yarmulkes of the national religious camp. In almost all cases, though, they are young religious men.
A Franciscan church just outside the Old City walls was vandalized recently with anti-Christian graffiti, Macora said.
“I think it’s just a small group of people who are hostile, and a very small group of people,” Macora said. “If I go to offices or other places, a lot of people are very friendly.”
Meanwhile, the Beth Din Tzedek statement, and an earlier one from Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, have impressed the Christians and raised hopes that the spitting may soon end.
“We hope that this problem will be solved one day,” Sandrouni said, “for the sake of mutual coexistence.”
At birthplace of Jesus, only two people carry on tradition of ringing bells
BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK – A Palestinian college student is one of the last keepers of a fading tradition: ringing the bells of Bethlehem.
Khadir Jaraiseh climbs twice a week to the roof of the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born. He pulls the ropes of four bells in a rooftop tower for a total of 33 times to symbolize the number of years Jesus was believed to have lived.
Jaraiseh rings the bells for prayer services of the Armenian Apostolic Church, one of three denominations that administer the basilica, one of Christianity’s holiest shrines.
The Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox denominations at the basilica — each of which has its own set of bells — have switched to automatic bell ringers.
But there is something special about the traditional approach, said Jaraiseh, who uses both hands and a floor pedal to pull the ropes.
“I feel like I’m making music and talking to God,” said the 22-year-old, who has worked at the church for four years and is studying to become a tour guide. “There is nothing better than working in the place of Jesus’ birth.”
Jaraiseh rings the bells two days a week, and an older colleague covers the remaining five days. During the Christmas season, his task is particularly enjoyable, he said.
His rooftop perch offers a view of old stone houses and cobblestone alleys in the center of Bethlehem.
On Sunday, patches of snow were left on rooftops, remnants of a rare snowstorm that hit earlier this month. Much of the church was covered in scaffolding as part of urgent repairs of a leaking roof — the first face-lift in 600 years. Below, Manger Square was filled with tour groups, including visitors from India and Africa.
But the vista is disrupted by a string of Israeli settlements and Israel’s West Bank separation barrier in the background. Around Bethlehem, the barrier is made up of ugly gray cement slabs, one of the many manifestations of the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel portrays the separation barrier as a defense against militants, while Palestinians say it is an excuse for another Israeli land grab.
The conflict is ever-present in the Palestinian territories, even during the Christmas season. But tensions have dropped in recent years, the U.S. is making a new attempt to broker a peace deal, Bethlehem hotel rooms are booked through December and the number of visitors is rising steadily.
Jaraiseh said Christmas remains the highlight of his year despite the political situation. “We wait for it. It’s a happy day,” he said.
The Armenians mark Christmas on Jan. 19. The day before, Jaraiseh rings the bells for longer than usual while the Christmas Eve procession of the Armenian patriarch makes its way into church.
Though Jaraiseh is the bell-ringer for the Armenians, he is Roman Catholic and celebrates Christmas on Dec. 25.
The Greek Orthodox switched to a computerized system after their bell ringer died a few years ago.
“We just press the button, without any need to go up to the roof in bad or good weather,” said Issa Talgiyeh, a Greek Orthodox priest.
“This is much easier,” he said — though he acknowledged that the bells rung by hand sound more beautiful.
The Roman Catholics went the same route, using a generator to back up the system.
The Armenians initially had five bells that were installed in 1923. One was damaged during Israel’s 2002 siege of the church when Palestinian gunmen were holed up inside the shrine for 40 days.
Khat Joundourian, a senior Armenian priest, said his church decided to preserve tradition. “What if one day the computer (for the bells) doesn’t work or needs to be reset?” he said. “Would we skip the call to prayer?”