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A Beacon of Hope in Jerusalem

by Amir Afsai

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One of the central challenges facing any diaspora community is preserving the vitality of its native culture so it may be transmitted to future generations.

In Jerusalem, one institution that preserves the richness of Armenian culture from generation to generation is Sts. Tarkmanchatz Armenian School, in the Old City’s Armenian Quarter. Thanks to an enthusiastic and devoted staff, the students that pass through the school encounter and absorb Armenian heritage as a vivid, dynamic experience. They learn the Armenian language and speak it fluently, build an intimate relationship with the Armenian literary and musical canons, cultivate a thorough understanding of Armenian history and religion, and put on colorful and lively celebrations to mark Armenian national days. The students are also active in promoting awareness of the Armenian Genocide, as well as other causes that rank high on the agenda of the worldwide Armenian community.

Sts. Tarkmanchatz, which in 2013 commemorated its 85th anniversary, is a unique institution in the regional landscape. School assemblies typically begin with the singing of the Armenian national anthem, and images of Mount Ararat adorn the walls of the school. On field trips both inside and outside of Jerusalem, students from the senior class wave the red, blue and orange Armenian flag, a gesture that provokes curiosity from surrounding onlookers and instills pride in the younger students.

Additionally, students graduate from the school having learned four languages — Arabic, Armenian, English and Hebrew — from as early as kindergarten and the first grade. The rationale behind this ambitious component of the school curriculum is as much practical as it is academic: to enable the students to navigate the multicultural landscape of Jerusalem, and to furnish them with the broadest possible tool set in order to maximize their options after graduation. Indeed, the school has seen many of its graduates go on to colleges and universities in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Armenia and all across Europe and North America.

The school’s principal, the Rev. Norayr Kazazian — or “Hayr Sourp” (holy father), as he is often called in Armenian — is the figure most responsible for molding the school’s character into what it is today. Apart from carrying out his administrative duties, he serves also as a moral and spiritual beacon for the students. His vision of Sts. Tarkmanchatz recognizes that one of the greatest assets a community has is its youth.

“Before I see in our students the future of the Armenian nation, I see them as model members of the Jerusalem Armenian community,” Father Kazazian says. “It is important for Jerusalem Armenians to have well-educated students prepared for life in the community as upstanding adults and ready to pass on their experience to the generations coming after them.”

With a solid foundation rooted in the past, a bold curriculum formulated to address the needs of the present, and a firm commitment to building for the future, Sts. Tarkmanchatz is ensuring that Jerusalem’s Armenian community will endure for posterity, and that its culture will thrive in the process.

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Amir Afsai is a teacher at Sts. Tarkmanchatz Armenian School and also teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.