Loveless in Jerusalem, Young Armenian Forced to Leave Israel

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Harut Sassounian Commentary 2004 December

NBC News broadcast on December 22nd a report on the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land. More than half the Christian population or 60,000 have left Israel in the past 50 years. Bethlehem has the largest Christian population --around 27,000. Surrounded by physical barriers, including concrete roadblocks, Israeli military checkpoints, dirt mounds and a soon to be completed security wall, the 'little town of Bethlehem' of Christmas songs is "an isolated, stagnant and depressing place," NBC reported. "Israeli soldiers on foot patrol, in jeeps and in watchtowers monitor and restrict almost all pedestrian and vehicle traffic in and out of town."

Bethlehem's Christian Mayor, Hannah Nasser, is so dejected with all the restrictions placed on his town that he told NBC: "If Joseph and Mary tried to come today, Israeli soldiers would check their papers, rummage through their baggage and rudely turn them away."

NBC cited the predicament of Karnig Balekdjian as an example of the discriminatory treatment of Christians by Israeli officials. Balekdjian, a 30-year-old native of Jerusalem who worked at the Armenian Patriarchate, could not celebrate Christmas this year with his family. He was forced to leave Israel because government officials would not allow his 26-year-old bride, Ivette Iskandarian, to come to Jerusalem to be with her husband. NBC reported that Ivette couldn't even visit Karnig let alone live with him, because she is from Iran. Israel bars individuals born in "hostile countries," but Jews from these same countries can freely visit Israel and immigrate without any problem, according to NBC. Balekdjian had applied to the Israeli Interior Ministry, but to no avail.

"I went to the Interior Ministry twice a week for a year, most times I couldn't even get through the door," he told NBC News. "My wife is not a Muslim, not a terrorist, not a threat to Israel. Yet as Christians we're not allowed to live here." The Armenian Patriarchate was even willing to sponsor his wife with a job offer, but Israeli officials said no.

The most distressing part of this story is that there is no Armenian agency anywhere in the world that an Armenian with a grievance can turn to. Here is a young man whose most basic rights were violated, and yet no one is interested in defending him. Armenian officials and organizations, by showing no interest in the plight of fellow Armenians, are clearly indicating to all foreign authorities that they can do as they please with their Armenian subjects: there would be no complaints and no repercussions.

Everyone else may be enjoying Christmas and the New Year holidays, but Karnig Balekdjian is in no mood to celebrate!

On a Lighter Note...

In keeping with the holiday spirit, let's now stick our nose in some real serious issues.

I would like to raise the following critical questions: Should doctors temper with an Armenian's God-given nose and try to improve on Mother Nature? Furthermore, after an Armenian's nose is trimmed by a plastic surgeon, could that person still be an Armenian? Dr. Garo Kassabian, an acclaimed plastic surgeon from Beverly Hills, was recently in Armenia to take part in Yerevan's version of "Extreme Makeover." He served on a panel of judges for a contest that was initially called, "The biggest Nose" or "The Most Crooked Nose."

Realizing that these titles may offend some people, the judges came up with a more discrete name: "The Most Armenian Nose!" Within a week after the contest was announced, 200 men and women had applied, with 30 more nosing their way in with each passing day.

One of the primary criteria in the selection process was "choosing a nose that had little or no compatibility with the face it graced," said Dr.Kassabian courteously. The three finalists won free cosmetic surgery donated by Dr. Kassabian and his team. The winning male contestant's schnozzle had been broken in five places. Most Armenians can't afford such cosmetic surgery. The cost of a nose job in Yerevan is about $400 - the annual salary of an average worker in Armenia.

The top finalist was an aspiring performer who claimed the new look gave him confidence to seek out a dream job as a TV spokesman. He edged out his competition by a nose!

Dr. Kassabian has convincingly demonstrated that he is able to improve on Mother Nature. The three finalists still consider themselves Armenians, albeit with much shorter noses!