Kricorian: Stories from the Armenian Quarter

 

The following piece by New York-based novelist, essayist, and activist Nancy Kricorian will be published in the upcoming anthology This Is Not a Border: Reportage and Reflection from the Palestine Festival of Literature.

A ceramics shop in the Armenian Quarter (Photo: JHistory)

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G tells me that a few months after the Israelis conquered East Jerusalem, he asked his father what he thought life would be like; would it be better or worse than under the Ottomans, the British, or the Jordanians, all of whom his father had known? The old man told him that only the week before, an American Jewish dentist had offered free dental care to all the kindergarten children at the Holy Translators School. They can’t be all bad, his father said, if they want to look after our children’s teeth.

Later G met the dentist himself, and thanked him for his good offices. Yes, the dentist said, there was some discussion in the upper echelons of the Israeli government about whether the Armenians had intermarried with the Arabs. I went, he said, to inspect the children’s teeth—you can tell from the jaw structure—and I was able to report that the Armenians were 100% pure.

*

B, a priest I meet at a church supper in Virginia during my book tour, tells me that when he was a seminarian in Jerusalem in the early 70’s, the Haredi Jews spat on the Armenian priests on a daily basis – and on the seminary students. He says: “One day I just got fed up with it. I called the other seminarians together—there were five of us—and we agreed that we’d undo our belts and keep the belts and our hands inside our cassocks. We walked out of the church and a man spat on us, and we pulled out our belts and gave him a thrashing. It might not have been the Christian thing to do, but I was young then and it was satisfying.

I say to B they still spit on the priests on a daily basis in the Armenian Quarter. Yes, he tells me, I know. I couldn’t stay there. I might have risen higher in the church if I had stayed, and the spitting I could have learned to tolerate, but watching the way they degraded the Palestinians was too much for me.

*

N says that everything is a problem in the Armenian Quarter. Getting a building permit is a problem. Having a regular travel document is a problem. Even finding a place to park your car is a problem.

The Patriarch signed a 99-year-lease with an Israeli company that wanted to build a parking lot on Armenian Patriarchate land, she says. They built the parking lot, and we could park there—although we had to pay more than the Israelis did. And then one day they decided it was a “Jews Only” parking lot, and we could no longer park there because we’re Armenian even though it was on land belonging to the Armenian Church.

N says, They don’t want us here, that’s clear. They want the churches, they want the houses, the land, and they want the money from the Christian pilgrims and tourists. I think ideally they would like all the Christians to disappear, and then Jews could dress up as Christians like characters in Disney World.

*

K’s family has been in Jerusalem for several generations. He outlines their entire trajectory—where his grandparents lived when they first arrived after the Genocide, where they took their children during the war in 1948, the house they returned to in 1950, how they managed in 1967, and how they live today with ever greater difficulty.  K says, Just because I’m Armenian doesn’t mean that I’m treated differently from other Palestinians. I think of myself as a Palestinian who is an ethnic Armenian. We breathe the same tear gas.

*

It takes some prodding, but S, the owner of a ceramics shop, finally tells me what he thinks of the occupation. They are chopping us like salad, he says. Everyone who has any means is leaving. They are slicing us like salami. First Gaza, then the West Bank. We are only hoping the machine breaks down before they get to us.

 

***

The cover of This Is Not a Border (Photo: Bloomsbury USA)

The Palestine Festival of Literature was established in 2008 by authors Ahdaf Soueif, Brigid Keenan, Victoria Brittain, and Omar Robert Hamilton. Bringing writers to Palestine from all corners of the globe, it aimed to break the cultural siege imposed by the Israeli military occupation, to strengthen artistic links with the rest of the world, and to reaffirm, in the words of Edward Said, “the power of culture over the culture of power.”

Celebrating the tenth anniversary of PalFest, This Is Not a Border is a collection of essays, poems, and sketches from some of the world’s most distinguished artists, responding to their experiences at this unique festival. Both heartbreaking and hopeful, their gathered work is a testament to the power of literature to promote solidarity and hope in the most desperate of situations.

 

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Nancy Kricorian is a novelist, essayist, and activist who lives in New York City. All the Light There Was, her novel about Armenians in Paris during the Nazi Occupation, was reissued in paperback by She Writes Press in October 2014.
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7 Comments

  1. A disparaging article; some of which can’t be denied. Some of which was specific.
    What can we do when the Israelis doesn’t know who their friend is and who is not?

  2. Mr. Mooradian, couldn’t you just as well say that Turkish chauvinists don’t know who their friend is and who is not?

    Some people think that it’s clever to fawn over tyrants, to try to ingratiate ourselves to them. But day by day the zionists are poisoning their own well, and in the medium long-run the zionist project is doomed. Armenians want other countries to acknowledge the genocide that befell our nation. How can we ask them to recognize the injustice done to us when some of us refuse to acknowledge the injustice done to our neighbors and friends in Palestine?

    For my part, I refuse to try to convince myself that those who destroyed our ancient community in Jerusalem, who dropped bombs on our sanitarium in Lebanon, who stoked the civil war in that country and slaughtered 17,000 people in there in summer 1982 alone, who helped set the stage for the slaughter in Iraq (remember the Mossad “report” about Yellow Cake?), who set the stage for the war in Syria and the destruction of the Armenian community in that country, and who want Trump to start another war, this time against our most helpful neighbor, Iran–I refuse to try to convince myself that these zionist enemies of the Armenian nation are friends.

    • Well, said. If they were friends of the Armenians Israel would have recognized the genocide long ago. Those who have plans to commit crimes do not condemn the crimes of others.

    • @Markar Melkonian Wow are you the brother of Monte Melkonian the revolutionary and the author of “My Brother’s Road” and other books.
      Such an honor to hear from such individual.
      Respect!!

  3. I know woefully little about history and the background of events affecting the tormented residents of Palestine. Mr. Melkonian, your enlightened comment resonates strongly with me and validates my hatred of the colonialist, criminally psychotic ideology Zionism and its every adherent. Viva Palestine!

  4. 1. I’m a religious Zionist Jew here in Israel and a member of the FB group “Israeli-Armenian Solidarity” admined by K Muradian.
    2. I struggle a lot for making my government and Knesset tottaly officially recognizing the Armenian Holocaust which coused our own Jewish Holocaust to occurre.
    3. I strongly condemn any spitting and insulting from the Haredi Jews! You’re our true friends and tollerance about you is a must! You’re not like the Muslims our life-enemies!
    4. I strongly condemn the difficulties from the municipality or any other authority in building, parking etc.; A foolish attitude which pushes you towards the Arab “Palestinians” who are your enemies indeed as well as ours.
    5. I believe in all my heart that all mentioned above mest be repaired and thus the proof of our genuine solidarity shall appear very soon.

    • Hello Mr. Haredi Zionist, I am Malkon Marizian from East Jerusalem, Occupied Palestine. Brother, I do see appreciate your apologies, which is highly nice, however, that does not make at least some of us Armenians feel separated from our Palestinian brothers and sisters by condemning them for being Muslims. Islam is a religion, and people should be described by their ethnicity or race rather than religion.
      It was the Arab Palestinian Muslims and Christians who embraced our tragedy in the Genocide of 1915 rather than the Jewish people. My family who had to flee the Armenian Genocide were also forced out to flee from Historical Palestine when Israel came and took the land by force in 1948, let alone stealing all of our houses, shops, and belongings. I was shot at twice by Israeli soldiers when I did nothing but going to school in Bethlehem as a child. To say such statements where the Jewish people are the ones standing with us and thus we Armenians have a common enemy is completely racist, even if any Armenians agree with you whatsoever, though definitely I do not agree with that as a Palestinian Armenian myself. This is the same policy used by Israel to divide and conquer the Palestinian people by calling some Muslims and some Armenians, and then even calling Christians in the Kenesset as Aramaiacs! Funny enough, Christianity has become a political earthly identity according to Israeli Policy.
      Kindly be more respectful
      Thank you

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