The Wheel and Axle

Persia 2017: The Armenian Quarter

by on Oct.13, 2017, under My Life, Travel & Culture

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New Julfa
Isfahan, Iran
27 September 2017

New Julfa is the Armenian quarter of Isfahan. Established over four hundred years ago, it is located near the Zayande River and is one of the largest Armenian quarters globally. Although the Armenian residents need to adhere to Iranian laws on clothing, they freely enjoy their distinct Armenian culture – including language and cuisine – and are in fact government-protected. In New Julfa, there are a lot of sites – mostly churches and museums, including the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Holy Savior Cathedral (a.k.a. The Vank).

The Holy Savior Cathedral, also known as Kelisa Vank (“Vank” being Armenian for “monastery”), was built in 1606. The courtyard, aside from the cathedral itself, contains a belfry overlooking the graves of Orthodox and Protestant Christians; a museum; a library; and the Armenian Genocide Memorial, which commemorates the first racist genocide of the 20th century – wherein the Ottoman Turks systematically exterminated 1.5 million Armenians.

Another building within the Kelisa Vank compound is the Khachatur Kesaratsi Museum. Named after the 1600s Armenian archbishop who introduced the first printing press in Iran, the museum houses Armenian artifacts ranging from holy books and vestments to cultural relics and information on the Armenian genocide. Learning more about this people, I felt an overwhelming sense of both pride and sympathy for them – pride at how they have persevered and continue to hold close to their identity, and sympathy for the persecution they have experienced throughout the decades.

The main cathedral inside Kelisa Vank is The Church of Saint Joseph of Arimathea, named after the Biblical figure. It has been the primary church of Armenians in the area for over four centuries. Although it is comparatively small in light of the other religious buildings (i.e. mosques) we’d visited thus far in Iran, it is still a magnificent achievement in architecture – one that seamlessly blends Eastern European and Western Asian artistic sensibilities.

New Julfa is quite a historic and beautiful subsection of the grand city of Isfahan. There is a different character to the area that both contrasts against and complements the rest of the city. We spent all morning here, just exploring the place and taking in a different facet of Isfahan and of Persia as a whole, both culturally and religion-wise. Many have the misconception that Iran, being an Islamic state, does not tolerate other religions, but in fact Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism are all officially recognized by the state. (It must be noted, though, that other minority religions are not necessarily recognized.) New Julfa is thus an interesting melting pot of Persia and Armenia, and a visit to the Quarter is a must if one is in Isfahan.

By mid-morning, we went back to the hostel and packed our belongings. After lunch, we grabbed a cab for the bus station, then took the five-hour road trip from Isfahan to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. From there, we would fly home to Manila via Kuala Lumpur late in the evening.

Our Persian sojourn, sadly, was at end.

I still have #sepanx.


Exploring New Julfa


Kelisa Vank

The Armenian Genocide Memorial


Khachatur Kesaratsi Museum


The Church of Saint Joseph of Arimathea


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