Armenian News Network / Groong


Armenian News Network / Groong
September 10, 2009

By Arthur Hagopian


A page from the Queen Keran gospel, 1272
A page from the
Queen Keran gospel, 1272
The Israeli Ministry of Interior has rescinded its decision to deport two Armenian seminarians involved in a fracas with a Jewish youth who had spat on them.

The two, who had been held over by the Israeli police, were set free "without any prior conditions" and allowed to return to the Armenian Patriarchate of St James, church sources said.

The seminarians, Narek Hovannesian and David Harutunian, had arrived in Jerusalem only a year ago to enrol at the seminary of St James, built by the American Armenian philanthropist pair Alex and Mary Manoogian, and prepare for the priesthood.

The decision to deport the two seminarians, who had accosted the Jewish youth after he spat on them twice, and then become involved in a brawl with him, had evoked sharp protests not only among the city's Christians but abroad as well, to the chagrin of Israeli authorities who, according to some sources who refused to be named, "does not need this now."

The Armenian Patriarchate has expressed gratification at the Interior Ministry's change of heart.

Patriarchate sources said the incident was not an isolated one: there had been several instances in the past of Jews spitting on Christian clergy or civilians wearing crosses.

While the Israeli police regularly chaperon religious processions to guard against such provocations, Christian sources claim the police is not doing enough to stop them.

They note, however, that instead the police sometimes go into overkill, as when they deploy huge numbers of the force and prevent hundreds of worshippers from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Fire Saturday.

The police justify the deployment as an effort to prevent disturbances inside - and these do happen - but the pilgrims who come from distant shores at colossal expense expressly to witness the Holy Fire ceremony and are unceremonious stranded outside the building, can take no comfort in that.

The police had initially arrested the two seminarians and kept them locked up, pending their appearance before a court, but had changed tracks the next day and informed the Patriarchate that the matter had been referred to the Interior Ministry which had decided to deport the two.

(The Armenian Patriarchate traditionally recruits aspiring clergymen from neighboring Arab countries, particularly Lebanon, but the uncertain political atmosphere in the Middle East has shrivelled this pipeline).

The incident comes at a time when the Armenian Patriarchate is in a state of limbo.

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian was elected to the See of St James on a platform of glasnost, born on a wave of refreshing new breezes, and bringing with him a panoply of dreams that would revitalize the moribund Armenian community of Jerusalem.

In the years since his elevation, he has succeeded in carrying out a plethora of reforms, but some of his most important projects, among them the construction of a residential complex and an old-age-home, remain unfulfilled.

One deterrent has been the relentless attrition among members of the Armenians of Jerusalem that has bled the community of a vital chunk of qualified manpower.

The Patriarch has had no option but to tap the ranks of often untrained seminarians in an effort to handle various tasks within the Patriarchate.

His advancing years have also made it necessary for him to delegate some of his duties to his Grand Sacristan, Archbishop Nourhan Manoogian (no relation) whom he has appointed Patriarchal Vicar.

Nourhan has assumed his new responsibilities with gusto.

He confided that one of his most cherished dreams is to publish a facsimile of one of the Armenian church's most precious medieval manuscripts, the Queen Keran Gospel, illustrated by the famous Toros Roslin.

The 1272 manuscript is perhaps the most elegant produced during the Mediaeval ages. It contains, in addition to canon tables and richly decorated headpieces, thirteen full-page miniatures illustrating the main events in the life of Christ and a hundred and three marginal miniatures.

But the most remarkable aspect of the manuscript is the inclusion of portrays of members of the royal family, Queen Keran, her husband, King Levon III and their five children, as supplicants, with the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist shown interceding on their behalf.

Scholars attach particular importance to these illustrations as they cast a light on the fashion of the royal court of the age.

Although Nourhan realizes that a an exact facsimile will be an expensive exercise, he is comforted by the expectation of intense demand for it from discerning collectors, museums, and others.

Experts note that the technology is certainly available in such a highly advanced IT location like Israel, but believe costs might be lower abroad.

Arthur Hagopian, former press officer of the Armenian Patriarchate of
Jerusalem, currently living in Australia, has just returned from a
short visit to Old City after a 15-year hiatus.
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