On Violence and Racism in the Armenian Quarter: A Call for Respect and Equality

Armenian Quarter, Jerusalem (Photo: Adam Fagen/Flickr)

When I visited East Jerusalem for the first time in 2010 under the auspices of the Palestine Festival of Literature, I was given a reality tour of the Israeli occupation. I was shocked by how little I had known and understood about what life was like in the Armenian Quarter, where the ongoing insults and injustices were designed to let Christian residents know that their presence was barely tolerated by the occupation authorities and by the armed Israeli settlers. It was also strange to see how Christian pilgrims from around the world, Diaspora Armenians among them, could make their way through the streets of the Old City, seemingly oblivious to the scaffolding and violence of settler colonialism around them.

While I was in Jerusalem, I met Elise Aghazarian and her late father Albert, who identified as both Armenian and Palestinian. Elise and I have remained friends since that time. She did an interview with me and translated one of my poems into Arabic for publication in Al Araby. Last week, just after the latest ceasefire went into effect in Gaza on May 22, Elise posted some thoughts on Facebook about a recent assault against an Armenian priest in the Old City. Emboldened mobs of settlers and right-wing Israeli Jews have been attacking those deemed as other—Christians, Muslims, Armenians, Palestinians—in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and in the so-called “mixed” cities of ’48 Israel. Elise’s heartfelt call for respect and equality is written out of love for humanity and devotion to her beloved Jerusalem. 

Today I remembered an article about spitting attacks against Armenians in the Jerusalem Armenian Quarter, published in the Israeli Newspaper “Haaretz” in November 2011, on how these attacks against Old City clergymen were becoming daily.

Now, nine years later, in May 2021, this is still going on and even getting worse. Some Israeli mobs have been advancing from spitting attacks to beating up priests in our Quarter. We have also in the past witnessed graveyard desecration and death threat graffiti, added to some incidents of tension around Easter time. It seems these groups feel they can get away with it within Israeli society.

The same way I and some members of my community refuse and condemn attacks on Jewish graveyards and rabbis around the world, and the same way we refuse and condemn seeing mosques and Muslim women wearing scarves attacked, we care about Christian monuments and priests. We refuse and condemn attacks against Christians. This kind of behavior must be opposed.

We know that those ignorant racist mobs who sow hatred do not represent the true teachings of their religion. We also realize that if such people continue being encouraged by the system, they will eventually gain more power and start bullying any person who disagrees with them, even members of their own society and religion. They do this because they know they can get away with it.

Armenians have lived in Jerusalem for hundreds of years. Different authorities (Arabs, etc.) have historically coexisted with us and respected the peaceful monks of the brotherhood of St. James. Throughout history there have been different documents calling for the protection of the Armenian community of Jerusalem, including some Islamic sources. 

We stand in solidarity with our Armenian priests and fellow Jerusalemites and call for equality and freedom of peaceful worship for everybody.

I and many people like me believe in the values of respect and righteousness. Whenever we witness violations against human life and the natural world around us we feel compelled to stand with the oppressed and the victims of injustice. Even if we are to be persecuted for this in the short term, in the long run we know we have followed our conscience and worked on improving the life conditions of our beloved city and country.

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Nancy Kricorian is the author of the novels Zabelle, Dreams of Bread and Fire, and All the Light There Was. She is currently working on a novel about Armenians in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.
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@NancyKric

Author of ZABELLE, DREAMS OF BREAD AND FIRE, and ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS. Currently writing a novel about Beirut Armenians during the Civil War. She/Her.
@yengoyans Abril Books carries it https://t.co/pzB78n4aLD - 4 hours ago
Elise Aghazarian

Elise Aghazarian

Elise Aghazarian grew up in Jerusalem and studied social sciences and languages. She works as an Arabic teacher and translator and occasionally writes on social and cultural topics with a focus on issues related to the Arab world.

19 Comments

  1. Thank you Nancy and Elise for giving further light to the reprehensible behavior of Israelis towards not only
    the indigenous Palestinians but also the Christians. Many
    Armenians are not aware of the struggle for survival when economic and social pressures slowly squeeze the life out of a once
    vibrant community. These attacks are a reflection of a deeper
    Intolerance designed to vacate Jerusalem of its historic Arab and
    Christian population. It is wrong and to oppose this policy does not
    make one anti-Semitic. It is quite possible to respect the Jewish people and their right to self determination/ sovereignty ….. yet oppose human rights and cultural abuses.

    • Thanks for the appreciation, Stepan. Agree entirely with what you say here regarding the necessity of opposing these policies that are squeezing out the Arrmenians from their own quarter.

  2. Thank you very much Nancy and Elise for your courage in printing this article. More people need to know the truth about what some extremist, hate-filled Israelis are doing to the indigenous Armenians and Palestinians of Jerusalem. I am a Christian pastor who works with Jewish Voice for Peace in Massachusetts. This Jewish organization abhors the violence and desecration these Israeli religious fanatics are perpetrating and are ashamed that such persons call themselves followers of Judaism.

  3. I fully understand & also endorse this veritable ‘cri de coeur’ by 2 wonderful Armenian writers. During the time I was working with the late patriarch, HB Torkom II, in Jerusalem, we came across many such incidents – against priests, deacons & lay Armenians. The police station, known for residents as “al-kishleh”, which is a couple of minutes away from St James’s Convent, bears witness to long years of such vile & discriminatory behaviour.

    Elise’s late dad, a wonderful & erudite man who contributed hugely to Jerusalem as well as to Armenian & Palestinian aspirations, will give his nod of approval to this short piece.

  4. Albert Aghazarian was a student of mine at AUB in Beirut. Very intelligent, persistent, principled, he always fought for what was right. We renewed our friendship during our last visit to the Holy Land. Dickran K.

  5. Albert was my student at the AMERICAN University of Beirut. He was intelligent, committed and very sympa. We met again in Jerusalem about a decade ago. Remarkable, dedicated human being. Dickran

    • I love to hear this, Dickran. I had not idea that Albert had been your student.

  6. Such an important message, Nancy, delivered with your usual evidence. Thank you for this.

    • Thanks, Markar. Elise’s FB post was very moving, and I wanted people to hear her persuasive plea. I hope it will move people to action.

  7. Thank you both for your comments. More people need to be made aware of what goes on in the Old City and in Jerusalem. Most freedom-loving people would not be willing to endure this type of harassment. We have friends we visit in the Old City, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. My heart aches for them listening to what they have to live with on a daily basis. Thanks again for your articles

    • Thanks, Christopher. It is important to help spread the word about the situation.

  8. As a Jew and Israeli I am deeply ashamed of every instance of bigotry and humiliation by our people. Rabbis, teachers, the press and the police should be gathered together to undertake a major correction of any such insults to Armenians and any other faith.

  9. What do you expect? In Jerusalem they attack Armenian priest during processions spitting at the crosses, then they try to take away our land in Jerusalem , and Israel is helping to destroy the Armenian army with their drones in Azerbaidjan.

  10. It is a sad reality for the Christians of Jerusalem and Armenians in particular. Thank you for the article. If Israeli Jews are not learning hatred from the teachings of their “religion,” where are they learning it from? From schools? One thing is certain, hatred destroys the moral fabric of the hater as much as it destroys the hated.

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