Medieval Jewish Cemetery in Yeghegis

 
 

The Holy One Blessed be He said:
If I exile them through a desert,
They will die of hunger;
so I will exile them through Armenia,
where there are towns and provinces
and food and drink.

-Midrash Ekha Rabbati 1.42

Discovering a Lost Community

In 1996, Bishop Abraham Mkrtchyan was looking for a clean water source to serve the Siranush camp that was being built in Hermon. He had been told that there was a natural spring down the road and just across the river from Yeghegis village. That day, the river was running low. Bishop Abraham looked down and noticed in the river what appeared to be gravestones. “How strange they should be there,” he thought and decided to investigate. The bishop explored the area and found several more stones, half buried and covered with lichen, which bore unusual inscriptions. At first, the bishop thought they might be in Arabic or Farsi; they were not in Armenian and they were clearly quite old. He decided to ask for advice on the matter from some dentists who were working at the Siranush camp, one of whom happened to be Jewish. Upon inspection, the bishop’s guests informed him that the inscriptions on the tomb stone were indeed Hebrew.

The bishop’s first reaction was disbelief. Although there were historical records of Jews in Armenia dating back to ancient times, to date – except for a reference in an obscure Russian academic journal in 1912 – there was no physical proof of such a community and certainly none during medieval times. Bishop Abraham took pictures of the site and sent them to Prof. Michael Stone of Hebrew University of Jerusalem who confirmed that this was indeed an unusual find.

In 1996, Bishop Abraham Mkrtchyan was looking for a clean water source to serve the Siranush camp that was being built in Hermon. He had been told that there was a natural spring down the road and just across the river from Yeghegis village. That day, the river was running low. Bishop Abraham looked down and noticed in the river what appeared to be gravestones. “How strange they should be there,” he thought and decided to investigate. The bishop explored the area and found several more stones, half buried and covered with lichen, which bore unusual inscriptions. At first, the bishop thought they might be in Arabic or Farsi; they were not in Armenian and they were clearly quite old. He decided to ask for advice on the matter from some dentists who were working at the Siranush camp, one of whom happened to be Jewish. Upon inspection, the bishop’s guests informed him that the inscriptions on the tomb stone were indeed Hebrew.

The bishop’s first reaction was disbelief. Although there were historical records of Jews in Armenia dating back to ancient times, to date – except for a reference in an obscure Russian academic journal in 1912 – there was no physical proof of such a community and certainly none during medieval times. Bishop Abraham took pictures of the site and sent them to Prof. Michael Stone of Hebrew University of Jerusalem who confirmed that this was indeed an unusual find.

 
 
 
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