A few years ago, I was walking through the streets of the Old City with my father. At the time, he was the driver of the Patriarch Archbishop, the head of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem. As we were walking, two girls passed by, and they spat in the Archbishop’s face.
This happens all the time to me and other Armenian Christians in the Holy Land. It’s hard for these things to happen without feeling shame, without feeling different from everyone else. Without feeling unwelcome.
I don’t write this to suggest my experience is worse than anyone else’s in this conflict. One thing dialogue taught me is that it’s not a competition of who has the most tragic story. But it’s a good place to start when discussing the many struggles that my community, the Armenian community of Jerusalem, face.
We have been present in Jerusalem for over 2,000 years, and many survivors of the Armenian Genocide immigrated here; at one point, there were as many as 25,000 in Israel and Palestine.
Now, there are fewer than 1,000 in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City, the historical center of our people here. And the number grows smaller each year.
When I came to Camp, I knew this was what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to share my story with people, and to be heard. I wanted others to understand the pain I felt in losing my community.
Until I walked into the dialogue huts, I never had a space to express these thoughts and feelings with non-Armenians, much less to have people really listen to me. I wanted these things, but until Camp, I never realized how much I needed them. So when the opportunity came to return to Camp as a PS (“Paradigm Shifters,” or second-year campers), I eagerly applied.
In the PS program, we spent time helping one another brainstorm solutions to problems we each wanted to tackle back home. At the time, I didn’t know if there was anything I could really do to make a difference. I needed help, and I knew talking with other Seeds at Camp is where that could happen.
With the Armenian population in Jerusalem decreasing, together we agreed that any efforts to preserve that culture and history would be really helpful. And we talked about how, just as I shared my story in the dialogue huts, I could share it with others in the city.
So after coming home, I worked with Hebrew University to create a student tour of the Armenian quarter. I know every spot in the quarter, and I realized there is no better way to show my life and world to youth who want to know more about my community.
The first tour was packed, and I was nervous. But now, I get excited every time I bring people there, because I feel like l’m doing something great in teaching people our story and showing them my life. I have my fellow PSs to thank for that; they are the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing today to work for my community, and for the next generation of Jerusalemites.
There are so many ways in which feel I different from the others who live here in Jerusalem, but I will never feel that this city is not my home. And after seeing “the way life could be” at Camp, I will never lose faith that Christians, Jews, and Muslims will one day live here peacefully, side by side.