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Armenian Culture, Science and Education Development Foundation
12/01/2016

The Marvelous Armenians of Jerusalem

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As we are in the week of the Orthodox Christmases (January 6th and 7th, depending on the branches), let’s talk about the most beautiful people of Jerusalem : the Armenians. The Armenian community is present in the holy city since 95 BC, since king Tigrane II conquered territories until Jerusalem. We can say that Armenians have always been there. This presence, since the century of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, preceding a little the birth of the Christ, had marvelous consequences. The apostles of Jesus, Judas Thaddeus and Barthelemy (Nathanael), after the Ascencion, travelled until the traditional Armenia, in the Caucasus, to evangelize. Because Armenia was evangelized by the Apostles of Jesus themselves, even if it’s an Orthodox church, it’s special and unique, and is called Apostolic church. For Christians, Armenia isn’t just any country. It’s the first country that declared Christianism the State religion, in 301 AD, thanks to St. Gregory the Illuminator, who was then the first Catholicos (the equivalent of the Pope, in the Apostolic church). That was 80 years before Roma !

As every Christian is called to carry his cross, Armenia wasn’t spared from it, between 1915 and 1923. The Ottoman Turkish empire, for territorial conquest reasons, decided to get rid of this Christian people, owner since several millenaries of big territories. 1,5 million persons were victims of the 1st genocide of the 20th century (according to the experts, if it had been punished, the Shoah couldn’t have happened…!), by mass deportations, crucifixions, mass executions in the Ottoman army, and murder of all the elites living in the big cities. That was the joyful paragraph.

That leads us to something I actually discovered in Jerusalem : the liturgical music of Father Komitas (1869-1935). As the multi-millenary musical heritage was in distress, he decided to give it a new lease of life, with for instance the famous hymn : Ter Voghormia (Lord have mercy). The tradition says that as Father Komitas was arrested by the Turkish police, he started singing this hymn. As they had never heard something so beautiful, they were so impressed that they decided to postpone his execution. That’s said to have saved his life, as it’s in France that he died many years later. In Jerusalem, on Friday and Saturday, at 5:15 PM in summer, and 4:15 in winter, the Armenian seminary does a procession in all the Holy Sepulcher. The Armenian seminary is composed of about 20 young men (around 18 years old), doing religious studies. During 45 minutes, it’s twenty young men, with extremely powerful voices, that sing the hymns of the Armenian liturgy, in all the Holy Sepulcher. Any people seeing that is in shock. The songs are breathtaking, the voice strength of the students are unbelievable, and it’s so beautiful to see such young people being so pious and glorifying Jesus in such a beautiful way. But what’s fun, is that sometimes we can see them watching each other… and laughing !

Following my Hierosolymite researches, I discovered that Saint James Cathedral, the headquarter of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, owns precious relics : it’s built on the place where the head of James the Greater, apostle of the Christ, was buried. As it’s in works until summer 2016, I saw the Armenian Divine Liturgy in the chapel of the Holy Archangels (what a name!), sang by the seminarists. Only for the beauty of the prose, it’s really worth going there. Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Atheists… any person visiting Jerusalem should see that. Such a musical strength, so old and so rich, it would be indecent to miss it !

Finally, let’s note that the wheel turns… One day, having a talk with a Turkish negationist guy, he told me that until 1923 (until Great Britain won Jerusalem to the Ottoman empire, and all the Turkish people had to leave the territory), his family was living in Jerusalem. He was nostalgic, talking about it, as Jerusalem is a dream for everybody. As he just had an indecent negationist speech about the genocide committed by his people, I answered : « Oh yeah, that’s fun, because if you knew THE NUMBER of Armenians in Jerusalem nowadays… ! ». haha ! Indeed, the Armenian community censes about 2200 souls, owns 1/6th of the city, is quite important in the Holy Sepulcher (notably, they sell the candles to all the Orthodoxes), and their heritage and the richness of their culture is admirable in many places : a bit everywhere in the Holy Sepulcher, paintings, mosaics, scriptures, but also in all the quarter preceding the Mount Zion, and at Mary’s tomb (which only for the Orthodoxes represents that), where proudly flies an Armenian flag, and a khatchkar (stoned cross), and mosaics inside the church.

To finish, I’d like to give you the beautiful lyrics of the famous hymn Ter Voghormia, and the Youtube links of two other marvelous church songs : Amen Hayr Soorp (Amen Holy Father) and Soorp Asdvadz(Holy God).

More: Israelinor.com

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