By Armen Sarkissian
Large recent coordinated attacks against members of the Armenian community of Jerusalem are a matter of grave concern. These attacks have ranged from vandalism and destruction of property to physical violence against innocent civilians.
The seriousness of the situation was underscored in a statement released by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which said that Armenian clerics are “fighting for their lives,” while the Armenian Quarter—one of the four sections of the old city of Jerusalem—is facing the threat of “a violent demise.”
The Armenian community has been left shaken by these incidents. Israel should be no less disconcerted. Armenians have lived peacefully for millennia in the Holy Land. Indeed, Israel is home to the oldest Armenian diaspora in the world. Armenian monks made their way to Jerusalem in the years following Armenia’s conversion to Christianity in 301 AD, but there was an Armenian presence in Jerusalem as early as 55 BCE. In the 12th century, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem made its home in the Cathedral of St James in the city’s Armenian Quarter.
The Armenian Church, with its fabulous treasure of antiquities, owns a third of Christian holy places in Jerusalem, while the city’s Armenian Quarter has a millennia-long history. The violence there stems from a dispute around a 99-year lease of approximately 25 percent of the Armenian Quarter to an Australian-Israeli businessman and his local partner who planned to build a luxury hotel on the site.
The so-called “Cows’ Garden deal” sparked outrage among the Armenian community because it would lead to the displacement of residents, demolition of homes and a seminary, and the loss of their cultural heritage.