Today's blog post is an interview with one of The 2 Spies favorite people in the Old City, Kevork (George) Kahvedjian~ an Armenian Christian ~ he and his father, Elia. We have several of his works on our walls, have given them as gifts and one dear friend bought us the book! We hope you enjoy this fascinating story and some of the unique photos. Next time you are in Jerusalem, be sure to stop by and visit the shop! (Details below if you would like to purchase some for yourself)
The Discovery of Historic Photos of Jerusalem
In His Father's Eyes
There, to his amazement, she discovered boxes upon boxes of negatives of photographs that Kevork’s father Eli had taken of Jerusalem in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s before the the city’s landscape had forever been transformed by the 1948 War of Independence.
Kevork’s father Eli,, who was born in Turkey in 1910 and orphaned at the age of five was eventually rescued and brought to live in Palestine in 1920. He began taking his first photographs of his adopted homeland at the age of 14. In 1947, fearing the coming war for Israel's independence, Kahvedjian hid his entire collection and fled the country. There the historic photographs remained hidden until some 40 years later, when Kevork and his wife found them.
From the moment the discovery was made, Kevork Kahvedjian recognized the rarity of of his father’s photographs, and realized that his own life’s work would be to catalogue and exhibit them.
Indeed, the photographs won critical acclaim after being exhibited in Jerusalem, New York, San Francisco and elsewhere, and on 1998 Kevork published an exquisite collection of them in a book entitled, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which sells for about $65 (available through amazon.com) (Or the individual photos can be purchased through Holy Land Market)
During an interview at his studio at 14 Al-Khanqa Street in the Christian quarter of the Old City, the 63 year old Kevork proudly opens the book and points to a photograph his father took of the Kotel in 1929. “Look , in the photo you can see that Jewish men and Jewish women are praying together , intermingled. There was no divider separating them like there is now.”
Kevork flips quickly to another photo showing the area of Damascus Gate, “It shows that after 1948, there was actually a physical barrier dividing West and East Jerusalem.”
“There is a lot of interest in my father’s photos,” says Kvork, whose two sons are also photographers. Photography is a life-long passion that Kevork says seems to flow in the family genes.
The collection of Eli Kahvedjian's black and white photographs capture the ebb and flow of daily life in Jerusalem, and reflects the eye of an outsider, an Armenian Christian, living in the heart of a conflict between Jews and Arabs. The photographs have a sensitivity fostered by the hardships of Eli’s own childhood.
“ One hundred and sixty members of my father’s family were murdered in the Armenian Genocide. After weeks in the dessert, my father was given to Kurd that was passing by. The Kurd sold him to a blacksmith, who eventually sent him away. He sought refuge in a Syrian convent. When the war was over, [in 1918] the American Near East Relief Foundation began to gather Armenian orphans and distribute them in its orphanages throughout the Middle East. My father was sent to an orphanage in Lebanon, and then Nazareth before arriving at the age of 16 to an orphanage in the old City. It so happened that one of his teachers in the orphanage in Nazareth was a photographer and started to teach him,” says Kvork.
After learning the trade, Elia Kahvedjian bought a studio in 1936 on Jaffa Road ( which today is the site of the Dan Pearl Hotel). Elia had some business contacts with the British military, and as a result two British Intelligence colonels came to his studio in late 1947 to warn him of a pending Arab riot that destroyed the new Commercial Center after the United Nations vote on November 29, 1947, to partition Palestine.
The two officers assisted Kahvedjian in loading his photographs and equipment on two trucks and transferring these treasures to the Armenien Convent in the Old City. A mere two days later, the studio together with all of Jerusalem’s Mamilla area was ransacked. Kahvedjian and his family also sought safety in the convent and fled to Syria for eight months. He returned to Jerusalem to find it divided between Hashemite Jordan and the newly established State of Israel.
Kevork is currently completing a second volume of his father’s photos, and has begun cataloging over 2000 negatives his father shot in neighboring Middle East countries before 1948. His two sons are working on a “Then and Now” volume contrasting the changes in Jerusalem that have occurred in the last seven decades.
“I have a lot of work ahead of me,” Kevork says.
|The Western Wall 1929|
|Making Yoghurt 1936|
|Harvest Time 1936|
|At the Water Spring 1935|