JERUSALEM: One hundred years after hosting dozens of children whose parents were killed in the Armenian Genocide, a 19th-century orphanage in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter has reopened as a museum documenting the rich history, though painful, of the community.
The Mardigian Museum showcases Armenian culture and recounts the community’s centuries-old connection to the holy city. At the same time, it is a memorial for approximately 1.5 million Armenians killed by the Ottoman Turks around World War I, in what many scholars consider to be the first genocide of the 20th century.
Turkey denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll was inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
Director Tzoghig Karakashian said the museum is meant to serve as a “passport for people to get to know Armenians” and understand their part of Jerusalem’s history.
The museum reopened at the end of 2022 after a renovation project lasting more than five years. Prior to that, the building – originally a pilgrim guesthouse built in the 1850s – served as a monastery, an orphanage for children survivors of the genocide, a seminary, and ultimately a small museum and library.
Jerusalem is home to a community of around 6,000 Armenians, many of whom are descendants of people who fled the genocide. Many inhabit one of the main districts of the historic Old Town, a mostly gated complex adjoining the 12th-century Armenian Cathedral of St. James.
But the connection of Armenians with the holy city dates back centuries, from monks and pilgrims in the late Roman Empire to the Armenian queens of the Jerusalem of the Crusaders.
The centerpiece of the museum, filling the sunny courtyard, is an exquisite 5th or 6th century mosaic decorated with exotic birds and vines discovered in 1894 on the grounds of a former Armenian monastery complex. It bears an inscription in Armenian dedicated to the “memorial and salvation of all Armenians whose names the Lord knows”.
For decades, the mosaic sat in a small museum near the Old City’s Damascus Gate. In 2019, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Armenian Patriarchate undertook the painstaking task of removing the mosaic floor and transporting it through the city to the newly renovated museum.
From intricately carved stone crosses known as “khachkars” to iconic painted tiles and priestly vestments, the museum showcases Armenian material art, while excelling at telling the Armenian story of survival. While Jerusalem changed hands as empires rose and fell, the Armenians remained.
“Surviving means not being seen,” said Arek Kahkedjian, a guide to the museum. “We have survived without people knowing what or who we are, and today we feel ready to show and teach you about history and heritage, culture, and show you how we are moving forward and modernizing with time.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *