ARF and AYF-YOARF Eastern Region host webinar on the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem

Ani Nazaryan Esq., Viken Demirjian and Setrag Balian discuss crisis facing the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem

Over 150 attendees participated in a webinar about the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem hosted by the Eastern Region ARF and AYF-YOARF Central Hai Tahd Council. The expert webinar highlighted the history of the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, the controversial land deal with Xana Capital Ltd. and ways the Diaspora can help combat the existential threat facing our nation.

The first speaker was chairman of ARF Jerusalem Viken Demirjian. He explained that Armenians living in Jersualem arrived in two prominent waves: first, after the adoption of Christianity and the Crusades and second, as a result of the Armenian Genocide. The former typically arrived in large groups during Easter, with some opting to stay, work and eventually secure their presence by purchasing homes around the Armenian convent. This wave of Armenians are otherwise known as kaghakatsis. Demirjian noted the distinction between the kaghakatsis and the Armenians who sought shelter during the first Armenian Genocide, in that the second wave sought refuge in the Armenian convent as opposed to around it.

The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian, with the Armenian Quarter surrounding the Armenian convent and extending over 17-percent of the land. The Cows’ Garden deal encompasses 25-percent of the Armenian Quarter, which would shrink the total percentage to about 10-11 percent. 

Demirjian shared additional details about the community, including different schools, clubs and churches. He concluded by introducing the Save the ArQ movement and welcomed the co-founder Setrag Balian. 

Balian delved into the two different deals that were made regarding the Cows’ Garden. The first deal with the municipality, strictly referring to the parking lot, outlined a usage agreement for 10 years, allowing residents of the Jewish Quarter to make use of the space. The second deal, which Balian referred to as illegal and treacherous, included 25-percent of the Armenian Quarter along with five residential Armenian homes, the Patriarchate’s garden and private parking lot, and the seminary hall where the community hosts Armenian Genocide commemorations. 

The deal, which threatens the very presence of Armenians in their own Quarter, was signed without the knowledge of the community, the Holy Senate or the General Assembly of the Patriarchate. The three signatories to the controversial contract included the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Sevan Gharibian and then-Real Estate Director Baret Yeretzian.

Yeretzian was relieved of his duties in January 2023, defrocked from the St. James brotherhood and the priesthood in May 2023 and given one week to leave Jerusalem following the community’s uprising. Jerusalemite Armenians protested in front of Yeretzian’s residence and demanded that the Patriarchate extract useful information from Yeretzian relating to the land deal. Police arrived and eventually reached an agreement with the Armenian protesters to have Yeretzian leave “through a walk of shame to avoid violence,” explained Balian.

The community mobilized through weekly protests in the grand courtyard of the Armenian convent between April-October 2023 with a clear and specific demand: the cancellation of the controversial Cows’ Garden land deal. After mounting pressure from the media, community organizations and institutions, the Patriarchate formally canceled the deal. 

Instead of coming to the table to negotiate, the opposing party intimidated and attacked the community.

After unprecedented attacks by masked individuals, the Armenian community, in a united effort,  took full repossession of the land, aiming to stop the attacks and protect the community and church. It opted to let the courts decide if the Cows’ Garden land deal was legitimate. On December 26, 2023, the Patriarchate formally opened a lawsuit against the deal and Xana Capital Ltd.

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Ani Nazaryan, Esq., representing the team of attorneys leading pro bono work for the Save the ArQ community organization, then explained that the lease agreement with Xana Capital Ltd. is set for 49 years and allows for renewal by Xana Capital only, effectively making the lease a total of 98 years. The agreement further references the use of adjacent lands, which is of concern due to its vague wording. Nazaryan posited that the agreement violates the internal bylaws of the Patriarchate, since it did not receive the approval of the Holy Synod or General Assembly to lease the property.

Nazaryan discussed the legal avenues the community is pursuing to complement the Patriarchate’s lawsuit, strengthen the case and ultimately give a voice to the community. The community filed a declaratory action upon discovering that the property is held in a Waqf trust specifically for the benefit of the Armenian community, which is legally enforceable in the Old City. If the court finds that the property is under the trust, it would then assess if the agreement would ultimately benefit the Armenian community.

All participants were encouraged to continue spreading awareness, with the goals of limiting attacks, echoing calls on politicians in the U.S. and abroad to take action and ultimately maintaining Armenian possession of all lands within the Armenian Quarter. After a Q&A, the webinar ended with a surprise tour of the Quarter by Jerusalem community leaders Demirjian and Balian.

Those interested in learning more are encouraged to watch the recording of the webinar here. Those interested in supporting the community’s efforts can visit the Legal Defense Fund for Jerusalem Armenians

Founded in 1933, The Armenian Youth Federation is an international, non-profit, youth organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). The AYF-YOARF Eastern United States stands on five pillars that guide its central activities and initiatives: Educational, Hai Tahd, Social, Athletic and Cultural. The AYF also promotes a fraternal attitude of respect for ideas and individuals amongst its membership. Unity and cooperation are essential traits that allow members of the organization to work together to realize the AYF’s objectives.

1 Comment

  1. My brother and I visited the Armenian Quarter in Sept 2019 and made good friends with George Hintlian who helped us explore whether an Armenian ancestor had been born in or married in Jerusalem and showed us the library with the large collection of information about Armenian genocide. He also shared how the governmental leaders in Jerusalem were making things hard for the Armenians and showed us where some of their Quarter had already been given to the Jewish Quarter. I go to a Lutheran Church in Iowa which keeps in close contact with a Lutheran establishment which has a building in Jerusalem very close to the Armenian Quarter. They were the folks who brought this additional problem to my attention several months ago. They are also doing what they can to preserve the Armenian Quarter. Can’t view the video referred to in this article because I do not use Facebook. Am giving money to AMAA and wonder if some of the money they receive supports your efforts to save the Quarter. Hope George is ok. Have not heard from him recently.

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