Last week we had the honor to get to know George – a very open, warm-hearted and friendly man. George met us at the entrance to the Armenian quarter of the Old City. He had been living most of his life in Jerusalem and welcomed us to his quarter. I have never been there consciously before and only had walked through the area a few times – therefore I was curious to hear about its history.
We learned that since the 4th century A.D. Armenians have been living in Jerusalem, which I find quite remarkable. In the beginning, Christian monks from Armenia had settled in Jerusalem after their country had adopted Christianity as national religion, and until today their religion is considered as a branch of Christianity.
The most impressive building, which forms the heart of the Armenian quarter, is the Cathedral of St. James, and was built in the 12th century. George explained to us that James, the brother of Jesus, is believed to be buried under the main altar of this church.
It was very interesting to learn that the Armenians were the first to bring the printing press to Jerusalem and were leading photographers during the 19th century. An important person in these regards was Esayee Garabedian, who became the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1864-65. He started photographing in 1857 and established a photography workshop and later a school within the St. James monastery.
While looking around I very much liked the art and architectural style in this area – to me it had a very simple and innocent beauty. The atmosphere was peaceful and it felt like a place of rest. This was especially interesting as George started to talk about the terrible genocide that was done to his people about 100 years ago. He himself had lost 60 members of his family in this tragedy. During the years of the genocide Jerusalem served as an important refuge to the Armenians – the Armenian population increased by several thousand after 1915. „The genocide is the biggest event in our recent history – and it is still an open wound. Things need to be talked about with the Turks.“, George shared with us. I was impressed of how much peace he radiated while saying this.
Somebody asked if he had an Israeli passport, and he responded that he had permanent residency in Israel and a Jordanian passport. He added, also in the name of other minorities in Jerusalem: „We have a sense of belonging – beyond and above politics. We want to be part of the city.“
In my eyes, he is an important part of the city, where men and women of peace like him are so much needed.