armenian_church.jpgFirst of all, I don’t know what is wrong with me. I live in Israel and yet come December, I’ve still got Christmas tunes stuck in my head. You can take the girl out of America….

In any case, I joined my flatmate Rebecca and her Hebrew U class on a tour of the Old City’s Armenian quarter.

I’ve been casually fascinated by Armenians since reading a particular article about them in National Geographic a few years back (excerpt available here), mostly because of all the things they have in common, historically and socially, with Jews.

We are both an ancient people with a profoundly strong sense of memory. We both have a religion that is central to our peoplehood. We both suffered a cold and calculated 20th century genocide that killed roughly a third of our already small numbers (Armenians number about 7-8 million). Despite our small numbers, we have achieved notable success in many fields, and love flaunting it. Food is central to life and any social event. We both have most of our populations living in the Diaspora and both are fighting to stem the tide of Assimilation and preserve our own rich heritages.

Socially, just take a look at this “You might be Armenian if….” Quiz and tell me how many are just as true for Jews, especially Sephardic ones.

And I won’t even mention the huge Magen David at the top of the Armenian Church of St. James, as you can see in my photo above.

In any case, deep inside the Armenian quarter has got to be one of the cleanest and quietest parts of The Old City. I barely believed I was still in Jerusalem, for where had the ubiquitous trash smell and all the stay cats disappeared to?

I guess they’ve figured it out by now. They have had a presence in Jerusalem for over 500 years, and they are the third biggest property holder in Israel. Go figure.

In any case, enough about Armenians, although I could go on and on. It’s almost time for Latkes.

About the author

Laya Millman


  • I have a total soft spot for the Armenians. The only grandfather I ever knew was my grandmother’s 3rd husband (my real grandfather died before I was born) and he was a Russian Armenian, Stephan Zazunian. How he came to America and wound up with an assimilated Yekke from Birmingham Alabama I’ll never know, but, hey, life is strange.

    He made the best, and I mean THE BEST shish kabob ever.

    This is the best story about him, though: he was from Russian Armenia and very Russified, so he spoke no Armenian. His first wife was from Turkish Armenia, and she spoke Armenian and Turkish, but no Russian. So they communicated in French! Unbelievably cool.

    Kinda weird growing up with not one but two Holocausts hovering around in the background. He never spoke about it, and I don’t know how it affected him, since he was from the Russian side, but I have always known about the Armenian genocide, so it must have been spoken about at some point.

    I want to take the quiz, Laya. But there’s no link.

  • Great post, great picture. I could probably go on for hours about my crush on Atom Egoyan, but I’ll spare y’all.

  • The early 20th-C. monk-composer, Komitas, wrote music fully equal to the great church architecture– check out the recording of the Divine Liturgy on New Albion records.

  • May as well plug Tigran Mansurian, too, Armenia’s foremost living composer. ECM’s put out several of his records; the string quartets are terrific, written in a conservative idiom and highly listenable.

    I wonder why the Armenian diaspora hasn’t seemed to have come through for present-day Armenia. Wouldn’t you think that, of all the post-Soviet states, the Armenians would have as good a chance as any of prosperity? Yet the country’s really struggling.

  • And their cathedral ceiling definitely has a Star of David on it! I think that we should dub Armenians our honorary 13th tribe! 🙂

  • This all made sense until Yoseph Crack’s, uh, crack. I don’t understand it?