Armenians in Jerusalem (Things You Need To Know)

In the first century BC, Tigran the Great conquered Judea, captured thousands of Jews, and settled them in Armenia. After the introduction of Christianity in Armenia, many Armenians settled in the Holy Land, where the Armenian Church was one of the first to be represented. 

The Kingdom of Cilicia, or the Rubinyan Kingdom, was one of those that strongly supported the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The Armenian Quarter is the only place in the Old City with free construction spaces. There are parks there with unique oases. Armenians even have their own parking lot, although it is unclear why residents need cars.

Why is there an Armenian section in Jerusalem?

When tourists come to Jerusalem, they wonder how the Armenians occupied such a large area and where they got so much property. Armenians have special rights and holidays that have been formed over the centuries. And they keep it all to this day.

The history of the settlement of Armenians in the Holy Land begins in the 1st century. There was a monastery in the territory of the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, where only monks lived. 

One of the founders of Byzantine asceticism in the Holy Land is St. Euphimius, of Armenian origin. The special rights of all four communities of the old city were formed for centuries. 

Finally, at the end of the 19th century, representatives of all groups came to an agreement and accepted the so-called status quo. Now every centimeter of the Old City belongs to a community.

What are the 4 quarters in Jerusalem?

The Old City of Jerusalem is the historical and cultural heart of the city. It has been bounded by a large wall under Israeli control since 1967. The Old City’sCity’s population is diverse, with close to 36,000 residents.

Inside Jerusalem walls are 4 quarters: Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Jewish.

  • The Muslim Quarter includes the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. 
  • The Christian Quarter includes the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Saint Anne’sAnne’s Church, and other churches. 
  • The Armenian Quarter includes St James Cathedral and St George’sGeorge’s Cathedral. 
  • The Jewish Quarter includes two synagogues as well as several other religious institutions.

How to get into the Armenian Quarter In Jerusalem?

Since the neighborhood was built around the monastery, a wall runs along its territory. It’sIt’s like a city within a city. The Armenian Quarter can be entered through only one door. Its primary purpose is not to let outsiders in. At that 16th-century gate, a porter is on duty, watching those who come and go. 

Entry of persons other than residents of the district is strictly prohibited. A foreigner can only enter if he has a special permit or is expected as a guest. Interestingly, the door closes at 10 o’clock in the evening. Those who did not manage to enter the district remain outside. However, exceptions are made. 

Suppose Armenians participate in any event outside the district, for example, celebrating a wedding. In that case, the door is opened for them.  Some Armenian families bought apartments outside the district. Still, most of them continue to live in the old place, and such strict conditions do not stop them.

Are there Armenians in Jerusalem?

Although the community is not large, Armenians occupy a reasonably significant part of the Old City, almost a Quarter. Over the centuries, the Armenian Quarter was built around the Cathedral of Saint James.

This is a very old community, not including the Jewish community. Although Jews regularly left these areas, Armenians have always been here.

How did Armenians end up in Jerusalem?

According to Yana Chekhanovets, Armenians settled in the territory belonging to the monastery after 1915, when a large flow of Armenians also went to Palestine. The Armenian clergy accepted the immigrants and accommodated them in the monastery.

That is how the Armenian community of Jerusalem was formed.

Every year on April 24, many events occur in the Armenian Quarter: thematic banners are posted, processions are held, and flowers are laid. The Armenian Genocide Victims’Victims’ monument is found in the Armenian cemetery.

Armenian and Greek Orthodox Priests’ Brooms fight 

The presence of representatives of different religions in such a small area is not without differences.

And in Bethlehem, in the Nativity Cathedral, every year before Great Lent, a “big fight” between Armenians and Greeks occurs. The Greeks always lose because they have fewer and older seminarians. And the Armenians are younger and stronger. 

But why the brooms? The point is that before the Great Lent, it was customary to clean the temple, and that’s why all the participants in the fight were “armed.”

How many Armenians are in Jerusalem?

Armenians have claimed an enduring presence in Jerusalem dating back to 95 BC and a community on Mount Zion since the fourth century. They were the first country to officially adopt Christianity in 301 AD. 

Today the Armenian population living in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City totals around 2,000 residents.

When is Christmas celebrated in Jerusalem? 

The Holy Land is unique in celebrating Christmas three times; December 25, January 6, and January 19. Orthodox Nativity With snow predicted to fall in Jerusalem on Wednesday, it may be a white Christmas for Orthodox Christians.

While the rest of the world enjoys its after-Christmas sales, two more Christmas holidays are yet to come in the Holy Land.

The Holy Land is unique in celebrating Christmas three times December 25 (Catholics and Protestants), January 6 (Orthodox), and January 19 (Armenian Orthodox only in Jerusalem)– more than any other place in the world.

Two calendars – Three holidays Due to calendar differences, most Orthodox Churches, including the Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Russian Orthodox, Coptic and Syrian. 

Armenian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem Celebrates Christmas on January 19.

They celebrate nativity on January 6 and 7, which is the date known as “Old Christmas Day” because this is the date that the first Christian emperor, Constantine, assigned as the date of Christ’s birth in 325. Then, in 350, Pope Julius declared that Christmas would be celebrated on January 6. 

When Pope Gregory switched to the Gregorian calendar (named in his honor) in 1576 and 13 days were ”lost” in the switch, which is why Christmas was moved to December 25 for Latin Catholics.

Christian Orthodoxy did not follow the calendar change for another 200 years, yet they kept the original January 6th date. 

Meanwhile, the Armenian Church in Jerusalem decided to hold onto the original January 6 date and then added the lost days to it, which is why their Christmas is on January 18 and 19.

Christmas Fasting in Jerusalem

Orthodox Christians follow many unique traditions in their celebration of Christmas, such as the holy fasting that occurs for between 40 and 25 days. 

The fast avoids meat products and foods such as kidney beans, garlic, Lenten bread, nuts, and fresh, dried fruits. Special foods such as baked cod are traditionally eaten as part of the holiday.

The Christmas tree of Jerusalem

The Christmas tree tradition originates from a pagan ritual for Latin Catholics. However, for Orthodox Christians, the tree possesses biblical significance as it reminds them of the paradise tree of fruit found in the biblical story of Adam and Eve.

The truth about Santa?

Even the tradition of what Latin Catholics refer to as Santa Claus is different for Orthodox Christians who, instead, celebrate St. Nicholas on Orthodox Christmas. St. Nicholas was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Orthodox Bishop of Myra, also known as ”Nikolaos of Myra” (in modern-day Turkey).

Moreover, Orthodox Christians place much significance on Christmas songs or canons. These are sung from the Holy Day of “Vavedenje” on December 4 until January 13, which is the Day of the New Year and is often called Small Christmas. 

Just as New Year’s Eve is celebrated on December 31, all Orthodox Christians celebrate New Year’s on January 13. This is because Orthodox churches in Georgia, Jerusalem, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, and Ukraine still use the Julian Calendar.

Armenian Inscriptions discovered in the Holy Land

The first Armenian finds in the territory of the Holy Land were discovered during the archaeological excavations of the 1870s, in the territory belonging to the Russians, on the Mount of Olives. 

At that time, Reverend Anton Kapustin, head of the Russian spiritual mission in Palestine, acquired a plot of land on which he decided to build the Spaso-Voznesensky monastery. 

The father was a loving archaeologist and collected various antiquities. Before the start of construction, he decided to conduct excavations, thanks to which a mosaic of delicate work was discovered, of which only a third was preserved. 

Under the mosaic was a grave with Armenian writing: “The grave of Artaban’s mother, Shushanik”. Three more graves were discovered, on which crosses and women’s names were carved. All those writings were Armenian.

The first Armenian Pilgrims of the Holy Land

Karapet, Hakob, and Babken, the first pilgrims of the Holy Land

Several Armenian writings left by the pilgrims were also found. A certain Hakob and Karapet left their “signatures” in the city of David in the 6th-10th centuries. 

And the oldest writing of the pilgrim was found in Nazareth. It dates back to the 5th century. It is a fragment of the Armenian male name “gen”, most likely “Babgen”.

In the 50s of the 20th century, when the clergy decided to repair the floor of the Cathedral of Saint Jacob, they also conducted excavations. In the oldest part of the temple, fragments of a small Byzantine chapel dating back to the 5th-6th centuries have emerged. 

According to Byzantine manuscripts, that chapel was dedicated to Saint Mina. The Armenian bishop’s report on these excavations was published in the ancient “Zion” magazine.

Herod the Great’s palace next to the Armenian cemetery

Later, in the 1960s, the British also conducted excavations in the area adjacent to the Armenian cemetery. The most valuable find of the excavations became the foundation of Herod the Great’s palace, where Pilate of Pontus from Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita” visited one of these days.

“If we bring together the old manuscripts, writings, and archaeological excavation data, we will find that the Armenians lived in ancient Jerusalem not in the current area, but on the Mount of Olives, as well as to the north of the city. 

It was there that the two great monastery complexes of the Byzantine period were located. In the 11th-12th centuries, Armenians moved to Zion Hill, where the Armenian quarter is now. 

At that time, Jerusalem became smaller in size, it settled within 1 square meter of the Old City,” the archaeologist explains.

Garo Kotchounian

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