A group of Jewish settlers, with a radical individual who was involved in a past attack, is pressuring the Christian leaders and their community for a parcel of land, which would entail the disappearance of a quarter of the Armenian neighbourhood in the Jewish capital.
The disputed terrain is known as Goverou Bardez or Garden of Cows, in the Old City. Some Representatives of the Armenian Patriarchate, now separated from the community, leased the terrain for 99 years to a Jewish real estate promoter called Danny Rothman, who intends to build a luxury hotel and a parking lot on it.
The situation has become complicated because the tenant has started the works. The city’s Armenian Christians tried to hinder the first excavators in protest. They organized themselves in a Movement called “Save the Armenian Neighbourhood.” They promote actions on the network and are collecting funds to pay for the legal defense to suspend the contract.
The works began “without the presentation of permits on the part of the Municipality, or of the builder, or of the police.” The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem is appealing for the solidarity of the Churches in the Holy City, in face of the “unheard-of” danger and “one more step” to diminish the “Christian presence in Jerusalem and in the Holy Land,” after 16 centuries of history, reports AsiaNews.
The Armenian Patriarchate has declared the agreement void for originating in “a contract vitiated due to a false representation, an undue influence and some illegal benefits.” The builders have begun the work and, in face of the Patriarchate’s complaint, the police have limited themselves to eject the Armenian protesters from the area.
Instead of responding through legal avenues to the Patriarchate’s petition for the cancellation of the contract, the construction’s promoter has ignored the Patriarchate’s authority and exerts pressure through “provocation and aggression, the destruction of properties, the use of armed agitators and other forms of harassment.”
A group of settlers, with an element linked to the National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, shows the approval, connivance and full support of the Israeli Government of the Jewish settlers’ claims and attacks and of the ultraorthodox faction, who have spat at Armenian faithful in processions, vandalized cemeteries and the community’s places of worship.
Since November 12, 2023, many believers have organized a protest with the Patriarchate’s support. They have also blocked access to the area with cars and barriers, to prevent the illegal construction on Armenian property.
A pressure group made up of Jewish settlers, entered the East Jerusalem neighbourhood with cars and motorcycles to occupy the area and expel the Armenians. The police defended the settlers and arrested three Christians, including a minor, and allowed a small number of invaders to form a garrison. In response, the Armenian faithful created a human chain.
Operating at the head of the settlers’ group was businessman Danny Rothman, who claims control of the area and favours the movement promoting settlements and the occupation, where Saadia Hershkop acts, who in 2005 intervened in a terrorist attack against Palestinian Arabs in Shefa-Amr, organized by the Jewish extremist Eden Natan-Zada.
A priest of the Armenian community in the Holy Land mediated and signed the lease contract document for 99 years, a sort of de facto expropriation with an Australian Jewish businessman who has an opaque business empire, contract which created a deep internal division. Baret Yeretzian, former Administrator of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s real estate, now established in southern California, allied himself with the now resigned Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, and Archbishop Sevan Gharibian, to negotiate with the Jewish businessman.
The contract was signed in secret in July of 2021 and provides for the leasing of the terrain for almost a century, located in a strategic area, administered since May of 2021 by the municipality as a parking lot for those going to pray at the Wailing Wall. There was a contract of the previous year valid for a decade, although the use of the terrain by the Jews has provoked the anger of the Armenian Christians.
Archaeological excavations in the recent past have unearthed mosaics of a Byzantine church in the place.
The Agreement is criticized by the Christians as a sale of a part of the Holy City to the Israelis: they regard it as invalid as it lacks the approval of the Armenian Synod, made up of eight ecclesiastics, as well as the approval of the Armenian Patriarchate’s Fraternity of Saint James. The contract also includes four Armenian houses on the outskirts of the Old City, as well as the famous Boulghourji Restaurant and other Tourianashen businesses and buildings on Jaffa street.
The controversy ends up affecting even the “Abraham Accords” themselves, as there is a business — One&Only –, implicated in the purchase and construction, with headquarters in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), participation that contradicts Israeli laws.