Hagop Karakashian

Armenian ceramicist

Hagop Karashian has an understated, almost modest way of speaking. But everything he says is worth hearing. He takes us to a corner in his fine ceramics store and begins to speak. In a soft tone, but we hang on his every word.
‘In 1919, during the British mandate, Governor Sir Ronald Storrs wanted all the ceramic tiles of the Dome of the Rock restored. This had not been done since the 16th century. So he had three ceramics craftsmen come over from Turkey. One of them was my grandfather. The Armenian Genocide in Turkey was still in full swing at that time. They made some trial tiles that were very much to the liking of the British. But objections arose to Armenian Christians doing work for one of Islam’s holiest sites, so on second thought their commission was cancelled. So my grandfather and his colleagues opened a ceramics workshop, the first in Jerusalem. My father and I followed in his footsteps. As a matter of fact, my father is responsible for all the trilingual street name tiles in Hebrew, Arabic and English.’

“After visitors have attended a workshop they have a lot of respect for ours profession”

Although Hagop represents only the third generation of Karakashians in Jerusalem, the Armenian community here is in fact very old. Armenia was the first country to accept the Christian faith, in the year 301. Many Armenians came to Jerusalem as pilgrims. ‘From the fifth century onwards, the Armenian community grew larger: they bought land, built a church, and so the Armenian Quarter came into being. Today however, the Armenian community is as small as about 1,200 people.’
A major inspiration for the ceramics Karakashian designs is the Tree of Life, as displayed in a famous Byzantine mosaic in Jericho. In addition, birds are also popular motifs. He shows the design of a vineyard with birds eating from the grapes. The vine symbolizes Jesus, and the birds eat from it to obtain eternal life.
Which are his customers? ‘Mainly locals, both Palestinians and Israelis, sometimes diplomats. Tourists like to attend our workshops.’ And then, softly and with a smile: ‘Afterwards they have a lot of respect for our profession.’

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