Armenian Quarter

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For other Armenian quarters, see List of Armenian ethnic enclaves.
Map of the Armenian Quarter. The monastery (patriarchate) compound is shown in grey. The cathedral of St. James is shown in darker grey.

The Armenian Quarter (Armenian: հայկական թաղամաս, haykakan t’aġamas;[a] Arabic: حارة الأرمن‎, Harat al-Arman; Hebrew: הַרֹבַע הַאַרְמֶנִי, HaRova HaArmeni) is one of the four quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem. Located in the southwestern corner of the Old City,[1] it can be accessed through the Zion Gate and Jaffa Gate.[2] It occupies an area of 0.126 km² (126 dunam), which is 14% of the Old City's total. In 2007 it had a population of 2,424 (6.55% of Old City's total). In both criteria, it is comparable to the Jewish Quarter, but it has the least population and density of the four quarters.[3] The Armenian Quarter is separated from the Christian Quarter by David Street (Suq el-Bazaar) and by Habad Street (Suq el-Husur) from the Jewish Quarters.[4]

The Armenian presence in Jerusalem dates back to the fourth century AD when Armenia adopted Christianity as a national religion and Armenian monks settled in Jerusalem. It is thus considered the oldest living diaspora community outside the Armenian homeland.[5] The quarter developed gradually around the St. James Monastery—which dominates the quarter—and took its modern shape by the 19th century. The monastery houses the Armenian Apostolic Church's Jerusalem Patriarchate, which was established as a diocese in the seventh century.

Although formally separate from Greek Orthodox and Latin (Catholic) Christians, the Armenians consider their quarter to be part of the Christian Quarter.[6] The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem[7] and the government of Armenia[8] have publicly expressed their opposition to any political division of the two quarters. The central reasons for the existence of a separate Armenian Quarter is the monophysitism and distinct language and culture of the Armenians, who, unlike the majority of Christians in Jerusalem (also in Israel and Palestine), are neither Arab nor Palestinian.[b]


Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Rd. signs in Hebrew, Arabic, English (top) and Armenian (bottom)


In the early fourth century[c] Armenia, under king Tiridates III, became the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion. A large number of Armenian monks are recorded to have settled in Jerusalem as early as the fourth century,[14][15] after the uncovering of Christian holy places in the city.[16] Armenian churches were already constructed in that century (the construction of St. James Monastery is believed to have begun in the fourth century as well.[17] The St. James monastery was last expanded in the mid-12th century.[18] An Armenian scriptorium was already operating in the mid-fifth century.[19] A secular community—composed of merchants and artisans—was established in the sixth century in the Zion quarter, where an Armenian street existed (Ruda Armeniorum).[15][20]

Byzantine, Arab, and Mamluk periods[edit]

In the First Council of Dvin (506), the Armenian Church broke off from the rest of Christianity by rejecting dual nature of Christ, which was agreed upon in the Council of Chalcedon of 451. Thus the Armenians found themselves in direct confrontation with the powerful Byzantine Empire. The Emperor Justinian I persecuted the monophysite Armenians, forcing them to leave Jerusalem.[19]

A seventh century Armenian chronicler mentioned the existence of seventy Armenian monasteries in Palestine, some of which have been revealed in excavations.[14] The Byzantines ceded Jerusalem to the Rashidun Caliphate in 637. Until this point, Jerusalem had a single Christian bishop. In 638[19] Armenians established their own archbishop, Abraham.[21] In 1311, under Mamluk control, the archbishop Sarkis (1281-1313) assumed the title of a patriarch according to a decree by Sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad.[20] In the 1340s the Armenians were permitted to build a wall around their quarter. This was a significant sign that the Mamluk rulers felt the quarter did not pose a threat, since the tearing down of walls had been a staple of Mamluk governance as a way to ensure the crusaders did not return. The Mamluk government also engraved the following declaration in Arabic on the western entrance to the quarter:

The order of our master Sultan Jaqmaq [has been issued] which stipulates that the taxes levied [ahdaiha] recently by the town governor (?) regarding the payment by the Armenian enclosure [dayr alarmani] be cancelled, (...) and it has been requested that this cancellation be recorded in the Honored Books in the year 854 of the Hijra (1451 C.E.). Anyone who renews the payment or again takes any tax of extortion is damned, son of the damned, and the curse of Allah will be upon him.[22]

Palestinian historian Mujir al-Din provided a detailed description of pre-Ottoman Jerusalem in 1495. He mentioned Dir el-Arman (Armenians Monastery) or Kanisat Mar Ya'qub (St. James Cathedral), which is "situated in the middle of the south part of the nineteenth century-defined Armenian Quarter the Armenian Quarter (Haret el-Arman of future centuries) was unique among the quarters of Jerusalem in that it was an enclosure which developed along the years around the Armenian Monastery."[23]

Ottoman period[edit]

An Armenian priest in Jerusalem c. 1900

Under the Ottoman governance, Jerusalem became a cosmopolitan city where religious tolerance functioned well and a reasonable Ottoman administration functioned to sort out religious differences between the rival Christian churches and Muslims. Kark and Oren-Nordheim wrote: "The Armenian Quarter, although Christian, represented a distinct ethnic group with its particular language and culture, intent on retaining separate identity and unity, minimizing the contacts with Arabs and the Ottoman authorities for fear of persecution."[24] However, the Armenian community in Jerusalem was Arabic-speaking (in addition to Armenian or European languages) and self-identified with the Palestinian society.[25]

In 1538 the current Walls of Jerusalem were completed on the orders of Suleiman the Magnificent. These walls, along with the internal walls built by the Armenians, came to determine the outline of the quarter. In the 1562–63 record only 189 Armenians are counted, whereas 640 are counted in 1690, an increase of 239%.[26] According to the chronicler Simeon Lehatsi only some twelve Armenian families lived in Jerusalem in 1615-16.[15] In 1690 the Ottomans counted 640 Armenian in Jerusalem. This dramatic increase is attributed to urbanization experienced by the Armenians and other Christians. Thus Armenians came to make up 22.9% of Jerusalem's Christians by 1690, becoming the second largest Christian community.

In the 19th century most of the Armenian and Christian quarters had "European-style gable roofs" as opposed to the domes preferred in the Muslim and Jewish quarters.[27] In 1833 the Armenians established the city's first printing press[18][28][29] and opened a theological seminary in 1857.[19] In 1855 the first photographic workshop was founded in Jerusalem in the Armenian Quarter.[18] Schools for boys (1840) and girls (1862) were united in 1869 under the name Holy Translators' School[19] and became the first coeducational school in Jerusalem.[10]

In 1883 the 102 Armenian families (8%) made up the third largest Christian community in the Old City after Greek Orthodox and Latin Christians.[30] Besides these residents, in the same year 46 Armenian priests and monks and 55 service men lived within the St. James monastery.[31] According to the 1905 Ottoman census in the Old City, the Armenian Quarter had a population of 382, of which Armenians (121) comprised less than one-third (31.7%). Jews (127) made up 33.2%, Christians (94) 24.6% and Muslims (40) 10.5%.[32] The Jews, who numbered a little more than the Armenians, "lived in its east part which became in the second half of the nineteenth century the west part of" the Jewish Quarter.[33]

An 1883 map of the Old City, showing the four quarters

World War I, British, and Jordanian periods[edit]

Prior to World War I, there were some 2,000-3,000 Armenians in Palestine, mostly in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was captured by the British in 1917 during the war. Thousands of Armenian Genocide survivors from Cilicia (Adana Vilayet) found refuge in the quarter from 1915 and onwards.[34][35] In 1925 around 15,000 are believed to have lived in all of Palestine, with the majority in Jerusalem.[36] During the Mandate period, the number of Armenians is estimated to have reached up to 20,000. However, the 1931 British census showed only 3,524 Armenians in all of Palestine.[36]

In 1947 around 1,500 Armenians from Palestine repatriated to Soviet Armenia, marking the beginning of the long-term decline of the Armenian community of Jerusalem.[37]

During the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 the Armenian Quarter was damaged by bombs.[1] It housed many Armenians from around Palestine. An Armenian civil guard, armed with "makeshift weapons", was formed to defend the quarter. Over 40 Armenians died during the war.[38]

Israeli period[edit]

Jerusalem's Old City came under Israeli control in the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967.

The Israeli government considers Armenians living in the Armenian Quarter as "permanent residents", the same status as Palestinians.[39] The Jerusalem Post wrote that the Israeli bureaucracy "considers Jerusalem Armenians to be Palestinians, which means endless delays in getting documents, and hassles at the airport."[10] According to The Economist, "As such, they have faced many of the same restrictions on their lives as have the Palestinians, with Israel blocking the construction of new buildings in their part of the city."[39] In 2000 of the 581 properties in the Armenian Quarter, 71 (12%) are owned by Jews.[39]

Simon Goldhill writes that the Armenian Quarter, "unlike the other quarters, is a formally established, highly conservative, inward-looking community, whose thick walls and closed doors maintain its privacy firmly."[40]


Due to the lack of a longstanding political solution in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict for East Jerusalem and "their feeling of loneliness",[41] the number of Armenians in the Old City decreased almost by half from 1,598 in 1967 to 790 in 2006. Meanwhile, the Muslim population increased from 16,681 to 27,500 and the Jewish population from 0 to 3,089.[42] According to Tsolag Momjian, the honorary Armenian consul in Jerusalem, as of 2009 around 600 Armenians lived in the Armenian Quarter (out of the total 2,000 Armenians in all of Jerusalem).[43] A 2011 article put the number of Armenians in the Armenian Quarter as low as 500.[44] Despite the drastic decline in the number of Armenians, "the existence of their church headquarters in Jerusalem provides for the continued presence of some clergy and a certain number of laity."[45] During the 1972 Israeli census Armenians kept the "highest amount of residential segregation" in the Old City, with 89.2% of them residing in the Armenian Quarter.[46]

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

 —Catholic Near East Welfare Association, 1992[18]

The Armenian Quarter is "cohesive—some would say insular—and where intermarriage is rare." While the patriarchate, which is the de facto administrator of the quarter, "acts as a mini-welfare state."[10] The Armenians living within the Armenian Quarter are generally divided into three groups. The first group includes monks and clergymen (around 50),[47] who live within the monastery. Lay people are divided into two groups: those living within the monastery compound, and those living in the Armenian Quarter, but outside of the monastery walls. Around two-thirds of lay persons reside within the monastery walls. Locally known as vanketsi (վանքեցի, lit. "those from the convent"), they number up to 700 people.[47] They do not pay rent (or pay symbolic amount)[2] to the patriarchate.[5] Those living outside the monastery walls are called kaghaketsi (քաղաքեցի, lit. "city-dwellers"). Their ancestry goes back centuries. They only pay municipal taxes.[5][2]

The flag of Armenia

Political status[edit]

At the 2000 Camp David Summit Israel proposed the division of the Old City, according to which the Armenian Quarter would be put under de jure Israeli sovereignty along with the Jewish Quarter, while the Christian and Muslim Quarters would be under Palestinian sovereignty. The Palestinian side, led by Yasser Arafat, rejected the proposal. Arafat stated that "The Armenian quarter belongs to us. We and Armenians are one people."[5][44] The Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Latin Patriarchs of Jerusalem sent a "strongly worded" letter to the negotiators, stating "We regard the Christian and Armenian Quarters of the Old City as inseparable and contiguous entities that are firmly united by the same faith."[5][7][48] Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami (2000–1) had a different view on the Old City. He argued that because it had a small area with mixed ethno-religious composition and high concentration of holy sites, "to divide sovereignty in such a limited space is ridiculous."[49]

According to Reuters the Armenian Patriarchate "share[s] a view held by the mostly Muslim Palestinians—that Israel's designation of the whole city as capital of the Jewish state means its control of residence and building permits is being used to press Arabs and other non-Jews to give up and leave.[50] The Armenian community is concerned that "the Jewish Quarter, which shares a wall with the Armenian Quarter, will expand as the number of Jews in the Old City continues to grow while the Armenian population withers."[44] According to The Economist, the "quiet political consensus among the Armenians is that the Old City should be neither Palestinian nor Israeli but rather an international 'space', governed by representatives of the three faiths [...] and protected by the United Nations and other international bodies."[39]

The Armenian Patriarchate still owned its "valuable property in West Jerusalem and in the area west of the Old City walls," much of which is leased to the Jewish National Fund or developers. Subsequently Armenian Archbishop Shahe Ajamian, who had close relations with Israeli municipal officials, sold the properties west of the Old City walls to the government of Israel to allow for the current picturesque landscaping. A public row erupted in 1981 when the patriarchate's move to replace Ajamian was met with a great deal of interference from the Israeli government. It was later revealed that Ajamian, along with the district governor of Jerusalem, was "involved in taking bribes, smuggling, and currency offenses."[51]

Landmarks and institutions[edit]

A detailed map of the monastery (patriarchate) compound.[52]
Armenian monastery compound
  • Cathedral of St. James
  • Church of the Archangels
  • St. Toros Church
  • St. James Press (established in 1833)[5]
  • Alex and Marie Manoogian Seminary
  • Sts. Tarkmanchatz (Holy Translators') School (with around 150 students)[5]
  • Edward and Helen Mardigian Museum
  • Calouste Gulbenkian Library (with around 100,000 book collection)[5]
  • A manuscript library, which holds 3,890 Armenian manuscripts, making it the second largest in the world, after the Matenadaran in Yerevan, Armenia.[53]
  • Tower of David (Citadel)[54]
  • St. Mark’s Monastery (Syriac). The Assyrians/Syriacs share "with the Armenians a general belief to some degree in Monophysite doctrines, and hence tended to prefer to live under the 'umbrella' of the larger and stronger Armenian community."[55]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Western Armenian pronunciation: haygagan t’aġamas. To distinguish from other Armenian quarters, it is often called the "Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem", Yerusaġemi haykakan t’aġamas Երուսաղէմի հայկական թաղամաս in classical orthography and Երուսաղեմի հայկական թաղամաս in reformed spelling.
  2. ^ "Apart from their monophysite views there is no reason why the Armenian community should not live happily with the other groups in the Christian Quarter. Yet David Street is a dividing line of more than just theological significance, for the Armenians with their separate language and culture from the Arabs also have an almost exclusively commercial economic basis. Apart from the comparatively close relations between the Syrian Orthodox Community and the Armenians for theological reasons, the Armenians have preferred to separate themselves from Arabs of all faiths."[9]
    "The difference, as I see it, is that by and large most of the Christian communities here are Palestinian ethnically, whereas the Armenians have their own ethnic identity as Armenians, and that is where in some sense they stand out or differ."[10]
  3. ^ The traditional date is 301 AD. A growing number of authors argue that the correct date is 314 by citing the Edict of Milan.[11][12] Elizabeth Redgate writes that "the scholarly consensus is to prefer c. 314."[13]
  1. ^ a b "The Armenian Quarter". Jewish Virtual Library. 
  2. ^ a b c Haytayan 2011, p. 180.
  3. ^ Khamaisi et al. 2009, pp. 22, 71.
  4. ^ Arnon 1992, p. 5.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Tchilingirian, Hratch (October 2000). "Dividing Jerusalem : Armenians on the line of confrontation". Armenian International Magazine 11 (10). pp. 40–44.  PDF version
  6. ^ Odeh, Adnan Abu (1996). "Religious Inclusion, Political Inclusion: Jerusalem as an Undivided Capital". Catholic University Law Review 45 (3): 692. In fact, the Armenians consider their quarter to be part of the Christian Quarter. 
  7. ^ a b Dunn, Ross (24 July 2000). "Jerusalem's Church Leaders Tell Summit Not to Separate City's Christians". Christianity Today. 
  8. ^ "Mahmud Abbas gives a vague answer to question on the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem". 6 October 2011. late 2000, Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan stated that Armenia was against separation of the Armenian and Christian quarters of Jerusalem. 
  9. ^ Hopkins 1971, p. 76.
  10. ^ a b c d Golan, Patricia (11 February 2005). "A Cloistered Community". The Jerusalem Post. 
  11. ^ Panossian, Razmik (2006). The Armenians: From Kings and Priests to Merchants and Commissars. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-231-51133-9. 
  12. ^ Hastings, Adrian; Mason, Alistair; Pyper, Hugh, eds. (2000). The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought. Oxford University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-19-860024-4. 
  13. ^ Redgate, A. E. (2000). The Armenians. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 314. ISBN 9780631220374. 
  14. ^ a b Hewsen 2001, p. 89.
  15. ^ a b c Grgearyan, Hakob; Hakobjanyan, Davit (1977). "Երուսաղեմ [Jerusalem]". Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia Volume 3. pp. 641–642. 
  16. ^ Der Matossian 2011, p. 25.
  17. ^ Sanjian, Avedis (1965). The Armenian Communities in Syria under Ottoman Dominion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 1-6.
  18. ^ a b c d Davis, Joyce M. (July 1992). "Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter". Catholic Near East Welfare Association. 
  19. ^ a b c d e Hacikyan, Agop Jack; Basmajian, Gabriel; Franchuk, Edward S.; Ouzounian, Nourhan (2005). "Armenians in Jerusalem". The Heritage of Armenian Literature: From the eighteenth century to modern times. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. pp. 32–34. ISBN 9780814332214. 
  20. ^ a b Martirosyan 2001, p. 52.
  21. ^ Maksoudian, Krikor (2004). "The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem". New York: Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern). 
  22. ^ Quoted in Joseph Drory, "Jerusalem During the Mamluk Period (1250-1517)," in The Jerusalem Cathedra: Studies in the History, Archaeology, Geography, and Ethnography of the Land of Israel, ed. Lee I. Levine. Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Institute, 1981, p. 212.
  23. ^ Arnon 1992, p. 8.
  24. ^ Kark, Ruth and Michal Oren Nordheim (2001). Jerusalem and Its Environs: Quarter, Neighborhoods, Villages, 1800-1948. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, p. 45.
  25. ^ Der Matossian 2011, p. 26.
  26. ^ Peri, Oded (2001). Christianity under Islam in Jerusalem: The Question of the Holy Sites in Early Ottoman Times (Ottoman Empire & Its Heritage). Leiden: Brill, p. 20.
  27. ^ Kark & Oren-Nordheim 2001, p. 70.
  28. ^ Naguib 2008, p. 37.
  29. ^ Kildani, Hanna (2010). Modern Christianity in the Holy Land. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse. p. 235. 
  30. ^ Arnon 1992, p. 36.
  31. ^ Arnon 1992, p. 38.
  32. ^ Arnon 1992, p. 50.
  33. ^ Arnon 1992, p. 52.
  34. ^ Der Matossian 2011, p. 29.
  35. ^ Shemassian, Vahram (2012). "Armenian Genocide Survivors in the Holy Land at the End of World War I". Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies 21: 247–77. 
  36. ^ a b Der Matossian 2011, p. 30.
  37. ^ Der Matossian 2011, p. 31.
  38. ^ Der Matossian 2011, p. 39.
  39. ^ a b c d "Armenians caught in the middle". The Economist. 7 September 2000. 
  40. ^ Goldhill, Simon (2008). Jerusalem: City of Longing. Harvard University Press. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-674-02866-1. 
  41. ^ Tsimhoni 1983, p. 61.
  42. ^ Khamaisi et al. 2009, p. 43.
  43. ^ Petrosyan, David (May 2009). "Армяне на Земле обетованной [Armenians in the Promised Land]". Noev Kovcheg (in Russian). 
  44. ^ a b c Beltran, Gray (9 May 2011). "Torn between two worlds and an uncertain future". Columbia Journalism School. 
  45. ^ Tsimhoni 1983, p. 64.
  46. ^ Tsimhoni 1983, p. 63.
  47. ^ a b Tadevosyan, Ara (20 June 2002). "Armenia Nervous At Middle East Meltdown". Institute for War and Peace Reporting. ...the Armenian quarter in Jerusalem, home to about 50 monks and 6-700 lay residents... 
  48. ^ "Letter of the Patriarchs of Jerusalem to Camp David Summit". Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. 17 July 2000. 
  49. ^ Gold, Dore (2009). The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City. Regnery Publishing. p. 187. ISBN 978-1596981027. 
  50. ^ Macdonald, Alastair (28 June 2010). "In Quarter of Jerusalem, Armenians fear for future". Reuters. 
  51. ^ Dumper, Michael (1996). The Politics of Jerusalem Since 1967. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 189-90.
  52. ^ Hewsen 2001, p. 271.
  53. ^ Coulie, Bernard (2014). "Collections and Catalogues of Armenian Manuscripts". In Calzolari, Valentina. Armenian Philology in the Modern Era: From Manuscript to Digital Text. Brill Publishers. pp. 26. ISBN 9789004259942. 
  54. ^ Jacobs, Daniel (2009). The Rough Guide to Jerusalem. Penguin. p. 7. The Armenian Quarter includes Jerusalem's citadel, known as the Tower of David. 
  55. ^ Hopkins 1971, p. 73.


Further reading
  • Azarya, Victor (1984). The Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520047495. 
  • Ervine, Roberta R.; Stone, Michael E.; Stone, Nira (2002). The Armenians in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Peeters Pub & Booksellers. 

External links[edit]