JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The ethnic Armenian community of Jerusalem is dwindling, through economic disadvantage as well as Israeli bureaucratic rules on residence, residents say.
Here are some facts about the community:
* Some 2,000 or so Armenian Christians live in Jerusalem, mostly in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City; under borders drawn by Ottoman rulers, it is the smallest of the quarters; the others are Muslim, Jewish and Christian. It covers about one sixth of the square kilometre (230 acres) inside the city walls.
* By tradition, Armenia was, in 301, the first kingdom to convert to Christianity as a state religion. Some 10 million people, including 3 million in ex-Soviet Armenia, follow the faith, which uses Armenia’s distinctive Indo-European language with its own unique script. The Armenian Church is distinct from the much larger Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, which dominate Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter and with which the Armenians have parity of rights at the city’s Christian sites.
* Armenian monks and lay people settled in Jerusalem around 1,500 years ago, serving pilgrims. Armenian kings of Cilicia, in what is now Turkey, as well as other Armenian leaders in the region, allied with European Crusaders in the Middle Ages, and several Armenian princesses became Crusader queens in Jerusalem.
* The Armenian Quarter is dominated by a compound around the cathedral dedicated to two saints called James. The head of one is preserved there. The compound also contains a monastery, seminary and the palace of the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, as well as a school, libraries and other community buildings.
* Many Armenians fled Turkey from 1915, escaping what they call a genocide — a term Turkey rejects. Thousands, including many orphans, arrived in Jerusalem, which Britain had captured from Turkey in 1917. Local Armenians opened the pilgrimage compound to house them. By the time the British left in 1948 there were about 16,000 ethnic Armenians in Palestine, 5,000 of them in Jerusalem. Many left as a result of fighting. Numbers in the traditional community in Jerusalem’s Old City have dwindled further under Israeli rule since 1967. There are about 2,000 in Jerusalem today and up to 3,000 elsewhere in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Some ethnic Armenians came to Israel among recent immigration from the former Soviet Union.
Writing by Alastair Macdonald; editing by Samia Nakhoul