A Vital Moment for Jerusalem


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Holy places, which were meant to be lands of peace, have proven to be some of the most tortured regions of the world. And Armenians, with their traditional penchant for inhabiting troubled areas, have shared the plight of Jerusalem for more than two millennia.

It is believed that Armenians settled in Jerusalem during the reign of Tigranes II, who had claimed Jerusalem, at one time, to be part of his vast empire, during his reign 95 to 55 BC. But the Armenian monastic order in Jerusalem, the Brotherhood of St. James, dates back to the sixth century.

As Armenians have shared the perilous saga of Jerusalem with the religious orders of other faiths, they have been fortunate over the years to have amassed real estate as well as religious, scholarly and artistic treasures. Kings, princes, intellectuals and ordinary pilgrims have endowed the St. James Monastery with immeasurable treasures, believing that the Brotherhood will act as custodians of those treasures, rather than owners. But human weakness sometimes has played a more prominent role than faith by those in charge, thereby compounding the internal problems of the Patriarchate with problems created by outside forces.

With the loss of His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian on October 12, 2012, of blessed memory, the Brotherhood and the Patriarchate face new challenges which come with the succession procedures.

Archbishop Manoogian served for 22 years as Patriarch, having been elected on March 22, 1990.

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Arthur Hagopian, in his heart-warming tribute, has covered lovingly the legacy and the achievements of the late Patriarch. Unfortunately, most of his good works enumerated in the article were overshadowed by the problems emanating from the Patriarchate. He was certainly an intellectual, an accomplished scholar like his namesake, Patriarch Torkom Koushakian, but he was not known for being an efficient administrator or a believer in delegating responsibilities to competent subordinates or professionals.

That is why some valuable properties were lost during his administration and the succession process has turned into a guessing game.

The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem is a monastic order serving as custodians of holy places, along with the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic as well as the Syriac and Coptic Churches. The compound of the Armenian Patriarchate covers one sixth of the Old City; in addition, the Patriarchate owns property outside the compound. To this day, the outside world has not been informed of the Patriarchate’s real estate holdings and perhaps no insider has full knowledge of the Patriarchate’s wealth either. But the world Armenian community has to extend a helping hand every time a desperate appeal is issued by the Patriarchate.

The Jerusalem Patriarchate, with all its treasures and wealth, has attracted the attention of many parties. Every time Israel and the Palestinians engage in negotiations over the future of Jerusalem, the Armenian Patriarchate is on the table because it occupies such a piece of historic real estate. In addition to the Israelis and the Palestinians, Turkey is vitally interested in its fate, particularly in view of the archival materials pertaining to the Genocide. The Greek Patriarchate has proven to be a perennial thorn in the side of their Armenian counterpart, pursuing an aggressive policy of trampling Armenian rights in holy places, sometimes generating farcical stories during Easter or Christmas. All these forces are vigilantly focused on the election of the next Patriarch, to find out how well their interests will be represented in Jerusalem.

Another interested party is the See of Antelias, which still holds captive the Diocese in Iran, despite the demise of the Cold War, to undermine the authority of the Holy See at Echmiadzin. The division in the Armenian Church continues and the clergy in Antelias believe that every setback for Echmiadzin will help the cause of the Cilician See.

Turkey has already frozen the situation at the Istanbul Patriarchate by allowing a clergyman of whom they approve to take over, undercutting the influence of the Holy See in that jurisdiction.

After Archbishop Torkom was incapacitated, the Brotherhood convened on January 30, 2012, and assigned Archbishop Nourhan Manougian to provisionally run the affairs of the Patriarchate, until the election of a successor.

At this time, the Brotherhood is scheduled to convene on Friday, October 19, to elect a locum tenens (deghabah), until a successor Patriarch is elected 40 days after the death of the late Patriarch.

Whoever is elected locum tenens can control the developments and steer the election in a direction of his choosing.

The holy places are governed by a set of rules called the Status Quo, promulgated during the reign of Ottoman ruler Sultan Abdel-Majid. Successive governments have abided by the dictates of the Status Quo. The Armenian Patriarchate has its own internal bylaws, which allow only the membership of the Brotherhood to participate in the elections. Outwardly, this may sound rational, because it bars interference from outside forces, especially governments in charge of Jerusalem in any given period. But historically, governments have been involved, whether directly or indirectly, in the outcome of the election. One blatant example in recent memory of such interference was when the Jordanian authorities deported the elected Patriarch, Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, and ushered in Archbishop Yeghishe Derderian to the throne. While the move was illegal, Archbishop Derderian proved to be a super diplomat, navigating the Patriarchate skillfully among the interests of the Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. (In fact, the elected Jerusalem Patriarch cannot take office until his election is approved by the Jordanian and Israeli authorities.)

Unfortunately, the Brotherhood’s bylaws have traditionally proven to be a firewall against the influence of well-intentioned Armenian parties and even against the influence of the Mother See of Echmiadzin.

Indeed, during the last convocation, the two delegates from Echmiadzin were not allowed to attend the convocation to read the message of His Holiness. Instead, the message was read by one of the members of the Brotherhood. And this arrogance was justified “because those two delegates were not members of the Brotherhood.”

Who will be elected locum tenens is anyone’s guess. Prominent and experienced clergy have refused to put their candidacy forward, leaving the floor open to younger clergy who need to prove their competence on the job. God forbid, if the wrong candidate musters the votes, as the very destiny of the Jerusalem Patriarchate will be in jeopardy.

As the saying goes, war is too important a business to be left to the generals; similarly, Jerusalem is too important a center to be left to the 20-30 clergymen, some of whom have chosen the vocation by default.

As we see, the pitfalls and challenges are enormous. Only a wise conclave can measure the historic importance of the moment and cast their votes for the best interests and the survival of the Patriarchate, over individual ambitions.

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