In Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter, a 19th-century orphanage that formerly housed several children whose parents perished in the Armenian genocide has reopened its doors as a museum tracing the complex, albeit painful, history of the neighborhood.
The Mardigian Museum presents Armenian culture and narrates the ethnic group’s long ties to the holy city.
At the same time, it serves as a memorial to the roughly 1.5 million Armenians who Ottoman Turks massacred during World War I, in what many academics consider the first genocide of the 20th century.
Turkey claims that the death toll has been exaggerated and that those who died were victims of civil conflict and turmoil, not genocidal killings.
According to its director Tzoghig Karakashian, the museum intends to act as “a passport for people to know about the Armenians” and to comprehend their role in Jerusalem’s history.
After undergoing a more than five-year remodeling effort, the museum reopened in late 2022.
Initially constructed in the 1850s as a pilgrim hotel, the structure has previously housed a monastery, an orphanage for children who survived the genocide, a seminary, and finally, a modest museum and library.
There are about 6,000 Armenians living in Jerusalem, many of whom are descended from survivors of the genocide.
Many people live in one of the top neighborhoods of the old Old City, a primarily contained complex next to the St. James Armenian cathedral, built in the 12th century.
However, the Armenians have a long history with the holy city, dating back to monks and pilgrims in the late Roman Empire and Armenian queens in Crusader Jerusalem.
The masterpiece mosaic from the fifth or sixth century that fills the museum’s courtyard and is ornamented with rare birds and vines was unearthed in an old Armenian monastery complex in 1894.
The memorial and salvation of all Armenians whose names the Lord knows are the subjects of an Armenian inscription on the object.
The mosaic stayed at a modest museum next to the Damascus Gate of the Old City for many years.
The difficult task of removing the mosaic floor and relocating it across town to the newly renovated museum was undertaken in 2019 by the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the Armenian Patriarchate.
The museum displays Armenian material art while also being a master at narrating the Armenian people’s struggle for existence.
These works range from intricately carved stone crosses known as “khachkars” to iconic painted tiles and priestly garments.
The Armenians survived when empires rose and fell, and control of Jerusalem changed hands.
Arek Kahkedjian, a tour guide at a museum, stated that “surviving means not to be seen.” “We lived without anyone knowing what or who we are, and now we feel ready to teach you about the history and heritage, the culture, and to show you how we advance and modernize with the times.”