Magazine Mar/Apr 2013 Quite an Armenian City

01 April 2013, 17:45
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Quite an Armenian City

“I’m telling you, it was that large and gorgeous Armenian Church of the 17th or 18th century, I think. I cannot say exactly where it is located – they took us there at night. But it was really beautiful and sat right on the water.” That is approximately how my dad used to express his delight from the contact with this wonderful country that occurred when a twist of fate brought him to Holland. Would I love to see the miracle myself? Oh yes, undoubtedly. There is just one little obstacle: have you tried to find anything in Amsterdam knowing for sure only that it “sits on the water?” Hmm… You know what I mean. But I liked the idea.

We Have One!

Naturally, the first thing I did in Amsterdam was visit the information desk for tourists to find the exact address. The woman behind the counter was friendly but somewhat distracted. “An Armenian Church in Amsterdam? Do we have one?”

“Yes, you do, absolutely.”

The lady began tapping on the keyboard and in just 15 seconds exclaimed “Yes! We have one!” Clutching a Post-it note with the neatly written address – Kroomboomsloot, 22 – I stepped out into the city built on the canals – the fairytale city whose broken roof line captivated my eye at any time of day, whether I was admiring it in the morning sitting in a café with a cup of coffee or at night in a bar sipping cognac. The canals, the boats, the sloping roofs – they never repeat one another. The trams, the cyclists, the pedestrians – everything is flashing and rushing somewhere, looking so picturesque at the same time. Now, however, I had to find the place associated with the presence of Armenians in this city.

 

Taxi Drivers Know Everything

Striding along the canal and constantly checking the map, I looked at each passersby, following the advice of some old joke on how to find an Armenian in the crowd. I honestly waited five minutes as recommended by the joke, but no one was in a hurry to stand out in absolute confirmation of the famous Dutch restraint. The only remaining hope was to recognize our church as soon as I saw it.

But it turned out to be a bit more complicated. Before reaching the target, I managed to get lost, to come across a funny statue and to discover the remnants of a fortress wall on Rembrandt Square. Help unexpectedly arrived in the form of a flock of cab drivers who lined up their vehicles near a bus stop waiting for fares. “Well, if not you guys, then who knows this city?” I appealed to their professional pride. My note with the address was passed from hand to hand, guttural sounds of an alien tongue grew more and more triumphant – and, finally yes – all clear, it’s right around the corner on a parallel street. So I ran.

What I saw was far from what I expected. Yes, Church Surb Hogi (Holy Spirit) was located near a canal in a picturesque place – neat bridges on both sides, flowers planted everywhere, rare traffic – silence and grace seemed to spill into the air. There was one awkward detail: the building, decorated with all the signs befitting a church – the Armenian Cross, inscription in Armenian and Dutch that it was built in 1714 with the permission of the Amsterdam City Council, the traditional lamb over the entrance and so on – architecturally was absolutely no different from other houses in the neighborhood. Not only did it not stand separately as a classical Armenian architectural ensemble should, it also touched the wall of the neighboring house and had a roof of the same exact height and shape. On the other hand, I remembered the Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church in Manhattan – absolutely the same situation from the outside, and a huge beautiful hall inside. Climbing up the steps, I pulled the impressive door knob, but it did not give – clearly the church was open only for the time of service. So the question kept tormenting me more and more: where did all the Armenians go?

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