Diggers remain at the site, after arriving earlier this month and knocking down one wall and digging up in one section of the car park. (Irish Times photo)

Jerusalem Patriarchate Attacked by Masked Mob, Injuring Several Armenians Protecting Property

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JERUSALEM (Combined Sources) —  A massive and coordinated physical attack was launched on bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians and other Armenian community members in Jerusalem, Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem said in a statement on December 28.

“Several priests, students of the Armenian Theological Academy and indigenous Armenians were seriously injured in the attack.

“Over 30 armed provocateurs in ski-masks with lethal and less-than-lethal weaponry including powerful nerve-agents that have incapacitated dozens of our clergy broke into the grounds of the Cow’s Garden and began their vicious assault. We stress again, several priests, deacons and students of the Armenian Theological Academy along with indigenous Armenians are seriously injured. Armenian clerics in Jerusalem are fighting for their lives against provocateurs,” acting with impunity, the Patriarchate said.

“This is the criminal response we have received for the submission of a lawsuit to the District Court of Jerusalem for the Cow’s Garden, which was officially received by the Court less than 24 hours ago. This is how the Australian-Israeli businessman Danny Rothman (Rubenstein) and George Warwar (Hadad) react to legal procedures.

“The Armenian Patriarchate’s existential threat is now a physical reality. Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and indigenous Armenians are fighting for their very lives on the ground. We are calling on authorities around the world and the International Media to help us save the Armenian Quarter from a violent demise that is being locally supported by unnamed entities,” the statement reads.

“The Patriarchate calls on the Israeli Government and Police to start an investigation against Danny Rothman (Rubenstein) and George Warwar (Hadad) for organizing their continuous criminal attacks on the Armenian Patriarchate and Community, attacks which seem to have no end in sight.

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“Israel is a State of law and order and such criminal behavior cannot be tolerated and go unpunished,” the Patriarchate’s statement concluded.

Cow’s Garden Deal

The Patriarchate controversially agreed in 2021 to lease the former garden occupying one-quarter of the Old City’s Armenian Quarter to Jewish real estate developer Danny Rothman and his Christian Arab partner George Warwar for 99 years. Their Xana Gardens company wants to build a luxury hotel there.

The lease agreement signed by the two sides enraged the local Armenian community and also drew strong condemnation from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. Patriarch Nourhan Manougian subsequently blamed the “fraudulent and deceitful” deal on a now defrocked priest, saying that he was misled by the latter.

Manougian’s office announced about two months ago that it has decided to scrap the lease and asked an Israeli court to validate the decision. Armenian clergymen and community activists began the daily vigil at the Cows’ Garden after Xana tried to start the construction.

A mobile phone video filmed by one of the priests showed the Armenians clashing with dozens of masked men apparently trying to drive them out of the property on December 28. Several of them were reportedly injured as a result.

“Fortunately, our youth present at the scene managed to resist and repel the attackers,” Hagop Djernazian, a community activist, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Friday, December 29. He claimed that the attackers were “sent” by the real estate developers.

“This is how the Australian-Israeli businessman Danny Rothman (Rubenstein) and George Warwar (Hadad) react to legal procedures,” the Armenian Patriarchate said in a statement issued the previous night.

“The Armenian Patriarchate’s existential threat is now a physical reality,” it said, urging the international community to “help us save the Armenian Quarter from a violent demise.”

“It is obvious that the provocateurs are once again trying to seize the ‘Cow’s Garden’ estate through terror, threats and violent actions, violating the procedures established by the law,” read a separate statement released by the Armenian Apostolic Church’s Mother See in Echmiadzin. It urged Israeli authorities to stop the “criminal acts against the Patriarchate and the Armenian community.”

Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum described the incident as a brawl between “some Arab Muslim men and some men from the Armenian community.” She did not link it to the dispute over the Cows’ Garden.

“The city of Jerusalem will not tolerate any criminal activity, whether religiously motivated or otherwise, and the police will prosecute those responsible,” the Jerusalem Post newspaper quoted Hassan-Nahoum as saying.

Rothman and his company did not comment on the clash. The businessman did not answer questions e-mailed by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

Armenia’s government also did not react to the violence as of Friday evening,

The Foreign Ministry in Yerevan expressed “deep concern” but refrained from demanding any action by Israeli authorities after a series of fresh attacks on Jerusalem Armenians reported a year ago and blamed on Jewish extremists.

In one of those attacks, an angry mob wreaked havoc on a restaurant located in the Armenian Quarter. According to the restaurant owner, they shouted “Death to Christians!” and “Death to Arabs!”

The Armenian Church has for years accused radical Jews of regularly cursing and spitting at its clergymen in the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. Two Israeli soldiers were briefly detained by police in November 2022 for doing so during a religious procession led by an Armenian archbishop.

A view of the Cows’ Garden property of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Jerusalem. (Photo by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.)

Bishop Parsamyan Message

In a message to Diocesan faithful, Primate Bishop Mesrop Parsamyan joined the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin in its expression of support for the Armenians of Jerusalem.

“Earlier today, the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin issued a statement on the ongoing situation concerning properties of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In the statement, the Mother See condemns a disturbing recent turn towards violence against the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Armenian community. We share the full statement in an English translation here:

“With deep concern, we have learned about the ongoing provocations surrounding the ‘Cows’ Garden’ property long owned by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

“On December 28, some three dozen armed men invaded the precinct of the Cows’ Garden and carried out violent actions, as a result of which clergymen of the Patriarchate and members of the local Armenian community received various physical injuries.

“The provocateurs are once again trying to seize the Cows’ Garden property through terror, threats, and acts of violence, in clear violation of the procedures established by law.

“We condemn what occurred, in no uncertain terms. In doing so, we also express our hope that the Israeli authorities will respond to the criminal actions against the Armenian community and Patriarchate by using the full force of law; that the culprits will be held accountable; and that a repetition of similar cases will be deterred.

“Finally, we express our support for the monastic Brotherhood of Sts. James of Jerusalem, and the Armenian community, as we pray for God’s aid.”

On behalf of the Eastern Diocese, I wish to echo the Mother See’s expression of support for the Patriarchate and the faithful Armenian community of Jerusalem, and its condemnation of the violence and threats enacted against our brothers and sisters.

We are grateful to His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin, for their clear and forceful statement on the distressing turn of events involving our centuries-old Jerusalem Patriarchate and the community that has lived and prospered in the Holy City since ancient times.

In these final days of the year, I ask our faithful to please offer prayers to our Lord Jesus Christ, to protect and preserve the Armenian heritage of the Holy Land, and to place His supportive hand on our people there, in our homeland, and throughout the world.

WCC Asserts Rights of Jerusalem Armenians

In a separate statement issued on December 29, the World Council of Churches (WCC) called for the rights of the Armenian community in Jerusalem to be upheld. WCC general secretary Rev. Dr. Jerry Pillay said that the ecumenical organization is deeply disturbed by the assaults on the Armenian community of Jerusalem.

Pillay wrote: “…the recent egregious attacks in the Cows’ Garden signal a distressing escalation of violence and the severe infringement of the rights and dignities of the communities in the Armenian Quarter. The systematic attempts to occupy the land by force and violence are profoundly unjust.”

“Such actions contravene the moral imperatives of peace and justice that are central to the teachings of all faiths,” Dr. Pillay added. “We call upon the international community and local authorities to respond with immediate and decisive action…. The World Council of Churches stands in unwavering solidarity with the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. We pray for a just peace and for the strength and resilience of the communities under threat.”

The Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director of the Eastern Diocese, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, was instrumental in the issuance of the WCC’s statement in his capacity as a high-ranking member of the organization’s Central Committee.

Condemnation from France

France has strongly condemned the violence against the Armenian community in Jerusalem’s Old City.

“France strongly condemns the acts of violence carried out yesterday against the Armenian community in the Old City of Jerusalem, which comes after multiple attacks in recent months by violent extremists,” the French consulate-general in Jerusalem wrote on X.

It added that the Israeli authorities must prevent such acts of violence.

“It is the responsibility of the Israeli authorities to prevent such acts of violence, as well as any challenge to the status quo. France reiterates its solidarity with the Armenian community of the Old City of Jerusalem and will continue to monitor the situation with the greatest attention,” the French consulate-general said.

On December 28, more than 30 armed assailants stormed into the Cow’s Garden area in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem and violently attacked a group of Armenian clerics and laymen, as well as other representatives of the Armenian community.

(Stories from Azatutyun and Armenpress were used, as were some posts from X.)Pat

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