Although the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate has had a presence in Jerusalem since the fourth century, church leaders are disturbed that Armenian Christians in East Jerusalem “don’t enjoy equal rights”, says the chancellor, Father Koryoun Baghdasaryan, according to an article published by The Art Newspaper.
The Patriarchate wishes the police would treat it as a hate crime when its clergy, students and teachers are spat on by the Old City’s Haredi Jewish population, and that clergy who have lived in the Armenian monastery for decades would be granted residency. Without it, they must pay as tourists for public services such as healthcare.
“The most shameful thing”, Baghdasaryan says, is that a memorial to the Armenian Genocide on church property remains closed to visitors because the municipality has delayed approving construction of the entrance. An official in the mayor’s office says a proper plan has not been submitted, but according to the Patriarchate, all the necessary papers have been repeatedly filed over many years.
Israel has never officially recognised the Genocide of Armenians by Ottoman Turks from 1915, likely because of concern for diplomatic relations with Turkey. Baghdasaryan says there is a “moral obligation” for Israel, being home to around 200,000 Holocaust survivors, to recognise the Genocide.
Still, the Armenian Patriarchate continues to honour its own history. A fundraising campaign is under way to renovate its Armenian Museum before 2020 and to open a new gallery space in the Armenian Quarter, raising awareness about the community’s history in Jerusalem.
The article also makes reference to the master tile artist Neshan Balian, who is preparing two exhibitions marking the centenary of Armenian ceramics in the city in September—one in Armenia and one at Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Archaeological Museum. His grandfather and namesake was one of three artisans invited in 1919 by Mark Sykes of the British Mandate government to repair the tiles of the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine and to introduce a new art to Jerusalem. Balian has also been commissioned by the municipality to renovate the city’s calligraphy-tiled street signs in English, Arabic and Hebrew. Hand-painted tiles with motifs designed by his late mother, Marie Balian, can be seen on murals, doors and wares across Jerusalem.
But despite recognition, Balian, like his East Jerusalem neighbours, is still ethnically profiled and often subjected to full-body searches by Israeli airport security, he tells The Art Newspaper. “I just turned 61; you get tired of pulling down your trousers to a 21-year-old [guard] who knows nothing of the sacrifices you have made to the Israeli art scene,” he says. “More and more I feel like a second- and third-class citizen. There is a lot of emphasis on making Jerusalem as Jewish as possible. I’ll never be fully part of this city or country... I don’t think the elections make any difference.”