Armenian Museum reopens in Jerusalem’s Old City

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JERUSALEM (UKTN) — One hundred years after taking in dozens of children whose parents died in the Armenian Genocide, a 19th-century orphanage in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter has reopened its doors as a museum showcasing the wealthy, if pained, history of the community.

The Mardigian Museum showcases Armenian culture and tells of the community’s centuries-long connection to the holy city. At the same time, it is a memorial to about 1.5 million Armenians killed by the Ottoman Turks around World War I, in what many scholars consider the first genocide of the 20th century.

Turkey denies genocide, saying the tolls were inflated and the deaths were victims of civil war and unrest.

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Director Tzoghig Karakashian said the museum aims to act as a “passport for people to learn about the Armenians” and understand their part of Jerusalem’s history.

The museum reopened at the end of 2022 after a renovation project lasting more than five years. Before that, the building – originally a pilgrim’s guest house built in the 1850s – served as a convent, an orphanage for children who survived the genocide, a seminary, and eventually a small museum and library.

Jerusalem is home to a community of about 6,000 Armenians, many of them descendants of people who fled the genocide. Many live in one of the historic Old Town’s main neighborhoods, a largely fenced compound adjacent to the 12th-century Armenian Cathedral of St. James.

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But the Armenians’ connection to the holy city stretches back centuries, from monks and pilgrims during the late Roman Empire to Armenian queens of Crusader Jerusalem.

The centerpiece of the museum, which fills the sunlit courtyard, is a stunning 5th- or 6th-century mosaic decorated with exotic birds and vines, discovered in 1894 on the grounds of an ancient Armenian monastic complex. It bears an inscription in Armenian dedicated to “the remembrance and salvation of all Armenians whose names the Lord knows.”

For decades, the mosaic remained in a small museum near the Old City’s Damascus Gate. In 2019, the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the Armenian Patriarchate undertook the painstaking task of removing the mosaic floor and transporting it across the city to the newly renovated museum.

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From elaborately carved stone crosses known as “khachkars” to iconic painted tiles and priestly robes, the museum showcases Armenian material art, while also excelling at telling the Armenian story of survival. While Jerusalem changed hands as empires rose and fell, the Armenians remained.

“To survive means not to be seen,” says Arek Kahkedjian, a museum guide. and to show you how we progress and modernize with the times.”

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