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Armenian tile makers and potters in Israel

Armenian potters from the famous pottery center of Kütahya were brought to Jerusalem during the early days of the British Mandate to repair and maintain the tile work on the Dome of the Rock. Because of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey, those potters stayed in Jerusalem. According to Henry Glassie: At the beginning of the twentieth century, half of Kütahya's workers were Armenians. They left to repair the tiles on the Dome of the Rock, never to return, and today their descendants make a variety of Kütahya çini in Jerusalem.[1]

The city of Kütahya in Turkey, birthplace of the Armenian ceramic artists, members of the Ohannessian, Balian and Karakashian families, has been the center of a unique ceramic industry since the post-medieval period, with Armenian artists in its vanguard since the eighteenth century. As early as the fourteenth century, and mainly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, one could discern large groups of Armenian artists creating ceramic tiles for wall decoration used in churches and mosques, as well as ceramic ware.[2]

The Armenian potters moved to Jerusalem with their families, at the invitation of the English Pro-Jerusalem Society. David Ohannessian, a master painter of ceramic decoration and a designer, was to be in charge of restoring the tile work on the Dome of the Rock. In 1916 he and his family had been deported from Kütahya, and along with Armenians deported from elsewhere in Anatolia, made the difficult journey through the Syrian desert, primarily by foot, stopping in Aleppo to recover from the hardships of the forced march. Sir Mark Sykes, the British diplomat and friend of Ronald Storrs, then the Military Governor of Jerusalem, found Ohannessian in Aleppo and gave him the means to travel to Jerusalem to offer advice on the restoration of tiles on the Dome of the Rock. In 1919 Ohannessian resettled in Jerusalem. He returned to Kutahya early in 1919, under the auspices of the British Mandate, to bring ten Armenian ceramics workers back to Jerusalem with him, including the master potter Nishan Balian, and the painter Megerdish Karakashian. The project of restoring the tiles was delayed because of financial and other limitations.[3] According to local Armenians, the Armenian ceramicists were not allowed to fix the Dome of the Rock decoration due to opposition by a Turkish Waqf member, the work being finally done under the remote supervision of a Turkish architect from Istanbul in 1928.[4]

However, because the genocide in Turkey had resulted in the death and deportation of a huge proportion of the Armenians in northwest Anatolia, the Armenian potters in Jerusalem decided to stay. David Ohannessian opened a pottery workshop in the Old City in 1919 called Dome of the Rock Tiles, selling his dishes, tiles and pots mostly to wealthy British and local residents and receiving commissions for monumental new works around Jerusalem. In 1922 Nishan Balian and Megerdish Karakashian went into partnership and opened another pottery shop referred to as the joint workshop on Nablus Road just outside the Old City. The partnership between Nishan Balian and Megerdish Karakashian lasted many years. Their sons ended the partnership, and now have separate pottery shops.[5]



Armenian mosaic work in Jerusalem from 6-7th c. ADEdit

(before the potters were brought from Kutahya)

===Jerusalem House of Quality - The Armenian Room=== Ceramic tiles by David Ohannessian The Jerusalem House of Quality is an artisans center, featuring arts and crafts in Jerusalem.

===St. Andrew's Church, Guesthouse===[Ceramic Tiles by David Ohannessian]

Rockefeller Museum, tiles by David OhannessianEdit

The Palestinian PotteryEdit

Founded by Nishan Balian and Megerdish Karakashian, and now run by the Balian family.


  1. Henry Glassie, The Potter's Art, p.60.
  2. Nurith Kenaan-Kedar, Design in Center and Periphery: Three Generations of Armenian Ceramic Artists in Jerusalem, from Interpreting Ceramics, issue 4 [1]
  3. Stephen Franklin, Family Hands Down Tradition by Design, Chicago Tribune, 16 Dec. 1988 [2]
  4. Simon Goldhill, Jerusalem: City of Longing, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008, pp 113-114, ISBN 978-0674028661, 067402866X
  5. Stephen Franklin, Family Hands Down Tradition by Design, Chicago Tribune, 16 Dec. 1988 [3]