Varouj

In the old city of Jerusalem there sits a small shop in the Armenian quarter, selling antique photographs of Jerusalem and the Orient. The proprietor is one Varouj Ishkenian, and he has been a fixture of Old City life for almost half a century. Anyone who has wandered the streets for any length of time will have encountered him, and will likely have been drawn into to sit and hear his stories. His shop has been in the same location since 1964, and he is the former court photographer to the Jordanian royal family. He speaks Armenian, Arabic, English, French, Turkish, and some Hebrew.

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His family has a long history with photography. His father was a photographer, as was his grandfather, and many of the photographs he sells were originally taken by his grandfather, when Jerusalem was a completely different city. His sons, too, are photographers, but apparently prefer the medium of video more. Varouj has lived through British, Jordanian, and finally Israeli rule of the city, and has watched as the world outside the city walls has changed beyond recognition. He laments the passing of an earlier time, when all the shops on his street were owned by Armenians. Long are the hours I’ve spent sitting and sipping tea, discussing this and that, with pauses in the conversation as tourists filter in and out.

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On August 10th, 2007, a man from East Jerusalem bent on wreaking havoc grabbed a gun from a security guard and started firing randomly into the crowds of the Old City streets, wounding ten people before being shot by another guard. Among those ten was Sarkis Iskhanian, Varouj’s son. He was shot in the leg while walking with his wife and daughters. A former cameraman for the Armenian news channel, he has been out of work since the attack, as the injury still causes pain when he stands holding the heavy camera.

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Many people have noted their meetings with Varouj. Among them: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

All photos by Rachael Strecher.

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~ by Josh on March 24, 2009.

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