Armenian Quarter land sale threatens Christian presence in Jerusalem

Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City
(Photo: Twitter)
AMMAN — The Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City is facing a significant upheaval as a large portion of it has been sold to a Jewish developer. اضافة اعلان

This move has raised concerns about the potential erasure of the centuries-old Armenian presence in the city and further marginalization of the Christian minority, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The details of the deal remain unclear, but a private company called Xana Capital took over the Armenian Quarter parking lot two weeks ago.

According to a report by the Media Line, the sale has sparked controversy within the Armenian community, and residents have been seeking answers from the Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian.

However, the patriarch has not yet issued a statement regarding the sale's impact. A former priest named Khachik Yeretzian, who was the director of the patriarchate's real estate department, revealed in 2021 that the patriarchate had leased the land to a Jewish businessman named Danny Rubenstein for 98 years.

Rubenstein intended to build a luxury hotel on the property and return the land, along with the hotel, to the Armenian Patriarchate after the lease period.

Opposition to the saleHowever, the deal faced opposition from 12 Armenian priests who claimed it was done illegally without the proper ratification by the Synod and the General Assembly.

Despite these concerns, the deal progressed quietly until the new owners claimed the parking lot in April. Subsequently, Yeretzian was defrocked by the Armenian Patriarchate for his alleged disloyalty, fraud, and deceptions related to the sale.

Recent rumors suggest that the deal includes more land than originally thought, including private homes, shops, and part of the seminary.

This has created uncertainty among residents and business owners in the affected area. The land in dispute is approximately 3.2 hectares, constituting a quarter of the current Armenian Quarter and around 14 percent of the Old City.

Jerusalem Land GrabOn Wednesday, it became known that Yeretzian was planning to leave the country, dozens of Armenian residents blocked him from exiting his house.

Eventually, police were called in to escort the former priest outside the St. James Convent to an awaiting taxi followed by shouts of “traitor” from the protestors. He was spotted on a plane to Turkey on Thursday morning.

Land transfers in Jerusalem are frequently wrought with controversy. The issue is not simply religious between Christians who own the land and Jews who are trying to buy it. It is also political.

Israel wanted the Armenian Quarter as part of a final status agreement in the Camp David negotiations.

The potential demographic shift resulting from the sale raises concerns about the expansion of the Jewish presence in the Old City, from their own quarter to Jaffa Gate, if the Armenian Quarter becomes home to Jewish housing.

Freezing the recognition of Armenian patriarchOn Thursday, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan announced a decision to freeze their recognition of the Armenian patriarch.

In a joint statement, the two said that Manougian “took real estate measures and deals that would affect the future of the Holy City, without consensus and consultation with the relevant parties, and without the involvement of the Synod and the general body of the St. James Brotherhood.”

“Patriarch Manougian’s dealings constituted a clear violation of relevant international covenants and decisions, which aim to preserve the status quo. In Jerusalem and protecting the authentic Jerusalemite Armenian heritage,” the statement read.

Jordan is the custodian of Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Dimitri Diliani, a Palestinian Christian and activist in the Fatah party, said that giving up the land destroys the mosaic character of the city and “undermines any possible solutions as it infringes on the status-quo arrangement that has kept the city for many years.”

Diliani said the patriarch should be deposed.

“The damage that this deal has done to the Armenian Quarter is grave and I believe that the patriarch has been disloyal to his people, to his church, to his mandate, and to the Christian character of Jerusalem,” he said.

“These are grave violations to the trust that he should have upheld and the only thing I can think of that could be the beginning of finding a way to retrieve these properties is having him ousted as soon as possible.”

Christian residents, who represent a small minority in Israel, are feeling the pressure caused by such land deals. They fear the potential loss of their properties and the impact on their presence in Jerusalem. Without available church-subsidized housing, young people in the community may be forced to consider emigration, threatening the long-standing Christian presence in the city.

The Armenians also have a long history in Jerusalem, dating back to 90 BCE.
The establishment of the Armenian Quarter occurred after Armenia declared Christianity its national religion in 301 CE. The quarter serves as a refuge for Armenians who fled the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, which resulted in the loss of 1.5 million lives. St. James Convent is the heart of the quarter, housing private residences, a school, a library, social clubs, and a museum open to the public.

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