CHICAGO — Saturday, September 27th, Save the ArQ® held an intimate extravaganza at the exquisite NAHA restaurant, downtown Chicago, owned by Carrie and Michael Nahabedian. A silent auction of Elia Kahvedjian’s photos were displayed during the cocktail hour as well as a Michael Aram pomegranate platter which was raffled off at the end of the evening.
The featured pictures are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by Elia Kahvedjian (1910-1999) who was one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem during the interwar period. Born in Urfa, both of his parents were massacred during the Armenian Genocide. As an orphan he was saved by the American Near East Relief Foundation (A.N.E.R.F) and brought to the Armenian orphanage in Nazareth. When he was sent to the orphanage in Jerusalem he developed a keen interest in photography. Kahvedjian over the years developed a unique artistic style, which led him to become the most important photographer of the British Mandate Palestine. Kahvedjian’s photos are stunning in his ability to capture breathtaking moments from the 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 especially since some of the guests are originally from Jerusalem including two of Elia Kahvedjian’s grandchildren.
Mary M. Hoogasian, co-founder and chair of Save the ArQ, first spoke explaining what Save the ArQ has done with monies raised thus far and our future short- and long-term projects. Prof. Bedross Der Matossian, 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 the Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter over the last one hundred years. He discussed the current challenges facing the community and concentrated on what type of measures need to be taken in order to maintain the community. Towards the end of his speech Der Matossian 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 to be 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 Mary Hoogasian. “We are on the verge of loosing ‘Armenianness’ in Syria; surely we will lose our historical footprint in Jerusalem if we remain so passive.”
One of the attendants of the event, Prof. Rachel Goshgarian from Lafayette College, said: “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. 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 1500 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 few Armenians know about or take for granted. This minuscule piece of land is so rich with Armenian history. Armenians have lived in this area for nearly two millennia. The lanterns suspending Sts. James Armenian cathedral pre-date the 15th century and are from pilgrims who came from villages that no longer exist. Furthermore, the Armenian people 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.