(Jerusalem/m.a.b.) – Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Torkom Manougian II, Primate of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem since 1990, passed away on October 12th at the age of 96.
He had suffered a stroke in January, falling into a state of unconsciousness. In March, after emergency treatment, he was discharged from the Hadassa Ein Karem hospital and taken to the infirmary of the Franciscan convent of San Salvatore, which cares for the elderly and sick friars of the Custody of the Holy Land. Patriarch Manougian died at the convent at half past nine in the morning.
Born February 16, 1919, in a refugee camp near the city of Bakouba, north of Baghdad (Iraq), he entered the Theological Seminary of the Armenian Patriarchate of St. James in Jerusalem at the end of the first cycle of studies. He was ordained deacon in 1936 and priest in 1939.
Before being elected Patriarch in the Holy City, Torkom Manougian II spent an important part of his life (38 years) in the United States, arriving there in 1946. For 24 years he served as Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America.
A poet, musician, and writer, he had a keen interest in many subjects including the liturgy, the history of the Armenian genocide, and questions regarding the Holy Places.
In 2010, for the first time in the history of the Armenian Orthodox Church, he was supported by an auxiliary bishop. After his stroke earlier this year, Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, patriarchal vicar, was re-confirmed as the manager of day-to-day business.
The funeral of the patriarch will take place on 22nd October in Jerusalem.
The Armenian presence in Jerusalem dates back to 95 BC. Its Patriarchate was founded in 638, when the caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab (Omar I) proclaimed Abraham I deacon of the bishops of the Armenian Church, Patriarch of the Armenians and head of the Eastern confessions (Assyrians, Copts and Ethiopians) to neutralize the power the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Sophronius. The investiture attracted the hostility of Greek Orthodox Armenians, leading to sometimes tempestuous relationships with the Armenian Church, especially when it came to the Holy Places under the Status Quo regime (the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb of the Virgin in Jerusalem, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem).
In 1948, Armenian residents of Jerusalem were estimated to number 16 000. Today, the official figure is 2000, although some believe they do not exceed a thousand. This community is educated, industrious and dedicated to businesses but has suffered while living in Israel.
“The Israelis consider us survivors of the Armenian genocide, but the Israeli government sees us as Palestinians,” says George Hintlian, one of the local Armenian personality. The difficulty in obtaining permits has contributed to many Armenian Orthodox leaving the country. The patriarchy is also under pressure, defending its important properties in Israel.
But its historical presence over many centuries, the support it receives from the Armenian diaspora, and its responsibility for managing church property will ensure that the Armenian Patriarchate won’t disappear from the landscape of Christianity in the Holy Land. The question is: what future will its local community face?
It is a question that is becoming more pressing with the passage of time, and one that the new Armenian Patriarch will have to respond to.