For a handful of Armenians Jerusalem is home. For many Armenians Jerusalem is just another outpost in the Armenian diaspora. For many Armenians, Jerusalem became sanctuary after the Genocide. Some of the descendants of the Genocide survivors have left for a variety of reasons while others continue to reside in the city holy to the three monotheistic religions. My name is Hagop Djernazian. I am a fourth-generation Genocide survivor. I live in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem. I am an active member of the Armenian community and a member of different Armenian organizations and committees. Jerusalem is my home.
I write these lines with pain in my heart. For many years I have worked for the benefit of the community while watching my home–our nation’s second home–trudge to death while 10 million Armenians remain unconcerned in the fate of this precious place. It’s no secret that the past 30 years have been very difficult for the Jerusalem Armenian community: the decrease in our numbers, the unresolved political situation, the lack of leadership, and the absence of opportunities for our youth have weakened the community of 1,000. Last year’s scandalous 99-year lease of Goveroun Bardez made for a perfect storm as well as the intention to lease the historic Tourianashen Buildings (rental income providing properties) located in the city center of the city on Jaffa Street.
I invite people who are unaware of the importance of Goveroun Bardez to look at the map of the Old City. When you locate the Goveroun Bardez Armenian garden (in the southwest corner of the city), consider the historic and strategic importance of that parcel of land. It’s one of our nation’s most precious real estate assets. It was bought in the 16th century as protection against desert marauders.
Many Armenians don’t realize the importance of this place. For them Jerusalem is just another diaspora community. The Armenian community of Jerusalem is the oldest Armenian diaspora community with a history that goes back to Medzn Dikran’s reign, in the century before the birth of Christ. We own one-sixth of the Old City of Jerusalem. We have equal rights in the holy places with the two other major Churches–the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox–which have hundreds of millions of followers around the globe. We own a historic and strategic area in the Old City. While others look enviously at our priceless real estate, some among our nation treat this place as their private possession while others treat it as just another piece of land.
1864 Map of the Old City of Jerusalem
Many Armenians among my age have had the opportunity to study abroad, to leave this place called the Armenian Quarter, and create a different future for themselves. But they’ve stayed here to create their future in this complicated and difficult place. I’m one of them. For years I worked with others to ensure our future in this place. I had the honor to lecture about our history here, organize tours, events, and projects for the benefit of our community. I will continue to believe that this is our nation’s second home, I will continue to believe that the Armenian-Christian presence in Jerusalem is highly important. Our presence here will continue to be of vital importance to our nation and the entire Christian community in the city.
Aren’t you concerned about the future of this place? If not, why not? This is a call to action, a siren to the Armenian nation and all other relevant parties responsible for the future of the Christian presence in Jerusalem. It’s high time our nation made a commitment to the welfare of this place. The Armenian presence here has helped shape the history of our nation and will continue to shape it if we ensure its future. We are an integral part of this city. The Armenian Patriarchate, the community and Armenian institutions are an integral part of this complicated, fractious, and unique city.
We are facing enormous challenges. Let’s be realistic and look at the facts: the Armenian community here is facing the most difficult time in its long history. The lack of leadership and the absence of educational and career opportunities dominate our conversations.
If the Armenian nation and all other responsible parties in the Holy Land and abroad do not act and take responsibility for the future of the Armenian and Christian presence in Jerusalem, we will be losing a 2,000-year heritage. This is a call to action, a call from those who believe that the Holy Land is our home. This is a call to action from those who believe that the Christian presence in Jerusalem is in danger.