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Armenian tile makers and potters in Israel

Armenian potters from the famous pottery center of Kütahya came 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 and the subsequent Greco-Turkish War, 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]

David Ohannessian, a master painter of ceramic decoration, designer, and the director of one of Kütahya's three major ceramics studios prior to the Great War, 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. The Ohannessians were exiled toward the Syrian desert and sought refuge in Aleppo. 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 late 1918, Ohannessian arrived in Jerusalem. He returned to Kutahya in August of 1919, under the auspices of the British Military Administration, which was cooperating with Jerusalem's wakf on a planned restoration of the Dome of the Rock.[3] Eight Armenian ceramics workers and their families returned to Jerusalem with Ohannessian, including the master potter Nishan Balian, and the painter Megerdish Karakashian. The project of restoring the tiles was delayed because of financial and political considerations.[4] The Armenian ceramicists were not allowed to complete the Dome of the Rock decoration due to opposition by the Turkish consulting architect, Ahmed Kemalettin. A complete restoration was finally completed in the 1960s, using tiles imported from Kütahya.[5]

Because the genocide had resulted in the death and deportation of a huge proportion of the Armenians in northeast Anatolia, and the Turkish War of Independence made it impossible to return, 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, on the Via Dolorosa, selling his dishes, tiles and pots mostly to wealthy British and local residents and receiving commissions for monumental new works around Jerusalem and abroad. 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.[6]



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. Sato Moughalian: From Kutahya to Al-Quds, in Stambouline: the Art and Architecture of the Ottoman World and Beyond.
  4. Stephen Franklin, Family Hands Down Tradition by Design, Chicago Tribune, 16 Dec. 1988 [2]
  5. John Carswell, "The Deconstruction of the Dome of the Rock" in Sylvia Auld and Robert Hillenbrand, and Yūsuf Saʻīd Natshah. 2000. Ottoman Jerusalem: the living city: 1517 - 1917 1. 1. London: Altajir World of Islam Trust.
  6. Stephen Franklin, Family Hands Down Tradition by Design, Chicago Tribune, 16 Dec. 1988 [3]