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The Armenians have survived some difficult times in their history, but none more tragic than in the early 1900s when thousands fled to Jerusalem to escape slaughter.

Our Pontifical Mission’s Jerusalem office maintains a close relationship with Patriarch Torkom Manoogian. The Pontifical Mission’s financial administrator is a consultant for the patriarchate as it converts its administrative and accounting procedures onto computer.

The office is also cooperating with the patriarch’s plan to renovate the priests’ quarters, seminary and homes for the laity living in the monastery.

They came to Jerusalem in 1915, “after the genocide,” Hintlian declared. He recounted how an estimated one million Armenians were killed in Turkey as the Turks tried to stamp out the campaign for an Armenian homeland.

“My grandfather and my uncle were killed in the genocide,” stated Hintlian, “the genocide that the Turks continue to deny.”

A two-story villa inside the Quarter serves as a museum with startling photographs documenting the atrocities committed against the Armenian people. One in particular shows hundreds of bodies heaped in giant piles inside a black pit.

But the museum also serves as a testament to the rich culture of the Armenian people, their will to survive and their zeal to guard the Christian treasures in Jerusalem.

Though the Armenian Church has contributed greatly to Jerusalem’s rich heritage, Armenians living in the Old City are not citizens of Israel.

“We have Israeli identity cards,” Hintlian said, “but Jordanian passports.” In some ways that is an advantage. Jordanian passports allow Armenians to travel freely throughout the Arab world, which they would not be able to do with Israeli passports.

Armenians in Jerusalem try to maintain good relations with Arabs and Israelis, but they do not deny that their community has been affected by tensions in the city. The recent controversy over the mosaics only exacerbated the anxiety many Christians say they feel living in Jerusalem.

In the past two decades, Armenians have been leaving Jerusalem in record numbers because of the economic and political woes that trouble the city.

“In 1948, there were 15,000 Armenians in Palestine,” Hintlian said. Today in all of Israel there are only 4,000, including those on the West Bank.

“Since 1967, the number of Armenians in the area has dropped by 40 percent,” he continued. “At first, many went to Lebanon, but now they are going to the United States and Canada.”

“We are very concerned about this trend,” Hintlian added. “We are trying to persuade people to remain.”

Despite their dwindling numbers, Hintlian and other Armenian leaders are confident Jerusalem’s Armenian community will remain vibrant.

“There always will be a nucleus of people who refuse to leave,” he concluded. And the world’s Christians will owe them a great debt. Through the example of tenacious Christians like the Armenian community, the presence of Christianity will remain in the land of Jesus’ birth.

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Joyce M. Davis is Middle East editor on the Foreign Desk of National Public Radio.

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Tags: Jerusalem Christianity Cultural Identity Armenian Apostolic Church