CHICAGO, Ill.—On Sat., Sept., 27, Save the ArQ® held an intimate extravaganza at the exquisite NAHA restaurant in downtown Chicago, owned by Carrie and Michael Nahabedian. A silent auction of Elia Kahvedjian’s photos was held during the cocktail hour, and a Michael Aram pomegranate platter was raffled off at the end of the evening.
The featured pictures are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by Kahvedjian (1910-1999), who was one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem during the interwar period. Born in Urfa, in present-day Turkey, both of Kahvedjian’s parents were massacred during the Armenian Genocide. As an orphan, he was saved by the American Near East Relief Foundation (ANERF) and brought to the Armenian orphanage in Nazareth. It was at the orphanage in Jerusalem that he developed a keen interest in photography. Over the years, Kahvedjian developed a unique artistic style, which led him to become the most renowned photographer of the British Mandate Palestine. Kahvedjian’s photos capture breathtaking moments from everyday life in Palestine.
A portion of the pictures was donated to Save the ArQ® by his son, Kevork Kahvedjian, to promote the fundraising efforts of the non-profit organization. It was a memorable and productive evening shared by all, including two of Elia Kahvedjian’s grandchildren.
Mary M. Hoogasian, the co-founder and chair of Save the ArQ, spoke first and explained what Save the ArQ has done with funds raised thus far, and the organization’s short-term and long-term projects. Prof. Bedross Der Matossian, the co-founder and co-chair of Save the ArQ® and professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, lectured on the history of Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter over the last hundred years. Der Matossian discussed the current challenges facing the community and the type of measures that need to be taken in order to maintain the community. He concluded, “After Armenia itself, Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter is one of the most important Armenian centers in the world, with a rich history of 1,500 years, and a claim as one of the pre-eminent spiritual and cultural centers in the diaspora. The perpetuation of this treasure is presently in question; its preservation will depend on the survival of both the Armenian Patriarchate and the Armenian community of Jerusalem.”
Afterwards, a very dynamic question and answer session took place regarding what needs to be done in order to revive and retain such a significant area among Armenians. “Clearly we are dealing with a sensitive part of the world,” explained Hoogasian. “We are on the verge of losing ‘Armenianness’ in Syria; surely we will lose our historical footprint in Jerusalem if we remain so passive.”
“Ultimately, the event was a reminder that being Armenian is not just about your own community or about Hayastan, it is about belonging to a supra-national cultural unit,” said one of the attendants of the event, Prof. Rachel Goshgarian from Lafayette College. “And the Armenian community of Jerusalem is a part of that. In fact, it is a very important part of that, as Armenians have been living in Jerusalem for over 1,500 years and continue to maintain an important role in the city. All Armenians should feel pride for that place, for that space, for that heritage. And as both Armenians and as Christians, we should all find a way to dedicate ourselves in one way or another to the preservation and rehabilitation of the Armenian Quarter.”
The Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem is an area that Armenians know little about or take for granted. This minuscule piece of land is rich with Armenian history; for example, the lanterns in the St. James Armenian Cathedral pre-date the 15th century and are from pilgrims who came from villages that no longer exist. The Armenian people also have an area within the Old City of Jerusalem that no other people have; the four quarters consist of the Christian Quarter, Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. It is critical to put a spotlight on this area or it will continue to diminish, the organizer said.
Save the ArQ® is the only non-profit specifically dedicated to Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter. It was established to help revitalize the vastly dwindling community and to promote Armenian life and culture that has existed in this area for nearly two millennia. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.savethearq.org.