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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A living stone of Jerusalem's Armenian Quarter

Kevork "George" Jansezian, aka Dede
Millions of tourists and pilgrims have flocked to Jerusalem's Old City for centuries to see all the historic, religiously significant and archaeologically dazzling sites it contains. This one tiny swath of earth has, and still draws, attention from all around the world.

And yet for me and my siblings, only two landmarks compelled us to flock to the Old City every weekend: Nene and Dede.

But now, one of those historic landmarks is no longer. After a three-week stay in a hospital Dede has died. He passed away in his sleep on Feb. 27, 2018.

Kevork “George” Jansezian — who was born in British Mandate Palestine, raised in Jordan and died in the State of Israel, all having never left the Old City — died at 82 years old. His parents escaped Turkey during the Armenian Genocide and sought refuge in Jerusalem.

Kevork spoke at least four languages including Armenian, Arabic, Turkish and English. He was orphaned at 5 years old, the youngest of three siblings all of whom preceded him in leaving Jerusalem and this world. After their parents died, the siblings were taken in by the Armenian Patriarch at the time and were raised in and by the close-knit community. Kevork is the only one who remained in the city till the end, while his siblings eventually moved to Dubai and Australia.

The orb of Kevork's existence encompassed a half-kilometer radius. He lived in the Old City, his home since birth, specifically the Armenian Quarter, the smallest of all sections in the Old City in both size and population. Governments came and went, wars raged, but Kevork remained, a living stone in the walls, a rock of the Armenian Quarter and in one of the two social clubs at the Armenian convent.

He was a man true to his word, never fake, extremely friendly and well liked. He was strong in character. Kevork was a photographer for most of his professional life. Later he created designs for ceramics, intricate works comprised of minuscule squares that made up Jerusalem’s walls and colorful floral patterns.

But, of course, his best legacy has to be his son, my dad, Tony.

Now this is truly amazing and rare and speaks of a life worthy of novels and film, but Dede would've been the last person to take note of any of this. Kevork was content with his own status quo and the occasional night out with the guys in Bethlehem.

And us, his grandchildren.

Like warriors of yore, we charged through Jaffa Gate every Saturday and made our way around to Zion Gate stopping just as we came to the height across the massive valley from the Mount of Olives. Right there is our Mecca - Nene and Dede's souvenir shop.

"Hokis," (my soul), Dede's eyes would light up as we rounded the bend and he would scoop us up for a big hug, defying his aching back. We would twirl around the ceramic Armenian pottery, the Hebron glass and other delicate items that children are prone to destroy. Then we would dart out of the shop threatening to jump in front of passing traffic as children are also wont to do. It's amazing Dede didn't die earlier of the heart attacks we caused.

This is our Jerusalem. This is our Old City. The ancient sites are to us as the Statue of Liberty is to mommy who grew up in New York: Taken For Granted.

We have more important things to attend to there. Grandparents.

Grandparents always trump yawning historic sites and churches. Nene and Dede would welcome us and then usher us to a feast prepared at their apartment, which faces the very mount on which they say Jesus will return. From there, he wept for Jerusalem.

Today, we weep for this city. Today one of its Living Stones will be buried on Mount Zion, a memorial to the dwindling but enduring Armenian community. Our beloved grandfather.

Dede and I celebrating Christmas 2012

Services will take place Wednesday, Feb. 28 at Saint James Cathedral in the Armenian convent at 4:00 followed by a procession to the Armenian cemetery outside Zion Gate and concluding with coffee at the club. 

Our last moments with Dede these past three weeks:

At Hadassah Ein Karem three weeks ago

No hospital bed will keep me from you!

A few more weeks and we would've run this hospital

Ushering Dede to an MRI

Passing time while waiting for the MRI

Dispensing drugs, just your every day child activity

Saying goodbye at the hospice Monday night