Armenian Community in Jerusalem Shrinks, But Perseveres
Today, in spite of their relatively small numbers, Armenians work to maintain their presence in Jerusalem.
Late at night in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a small group of Armenians took their turn to clean the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been crucified and buried.
They wiped the top of the tomb and refilled the oil lamps. The priests did it a bit perfunctorily, part of a daily routine, while the ritual visibly moved the pilgrims. Some were in tears.
There has been an “Armenian Quarter” in Jerusalem, covering about one-sixth of the territory of the Old City, for centuries. Armenians began settling in the city in the 4th century, after the official conversion to Christianity.
As a result of a painstaking agreement worked out centuries ago, when Jerusalem was under Ottoman control, Armenians share responsibility for maintaining some of the city's most sacred Christian sites. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Armenians clean inside the edicule, which encloses the tomb, and its surrounding area, several times a week.
In 1948, Armenians in Jerusalem numbered about 16,000. Today, that number has shrunk; estimates range from 700-1000, with a smaller community in Bethlehem.
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