Jerusalem’s Armenians Vow to Continue Battle Against Controversial Development Project

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Residents of Jerusalem's historic Armenian quarter in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem have pledged to maintain their fight against a luxury hotel development project that they fear puts their ancient and dwindling community at risk.

The real estate deal, which grants an Australian-Israeli investor Danny Rothman (Rubinstein) and his Christian Arab partner George Warwar (Hadad) for 98 years to the company Xana Gardens which includes around 25% of the Armenian quarter in the Old City, has sparked anger and concern among its residents.

Armenians have set up camp, establishing tents, stoves, mattresses, and even a TV for their weeks-long sit-in to protect the disputed land.

Recently, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem issued a statement claiming that more than 30 armed individuals had assaulted members of the Armenian community, including clergymen. The attack was allegedly organized after the patriarchate took legal action to contest the controversial land sale. East Jerusalem and the Old City, consisting of Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian quarters, were seized by Israel in 1967 and annexed, a move not recognized internationally.

Land rights remain a significant point of contention in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, where Israel's construction and expansion of settlements, deemed illegal under international law, have elicited controversy. Today, only approximately 2,000 Armenians remain in the Old City quarter after waves of emigration to the United States and Europe since the 1960s. Like most Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the majority of Armenians possess residency rather than Israeli citizenship.

Tensions originally flared within the Armenian minority in April, when it was revealed that the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, along with Father Baret Yeretzian, who oversees real estate affairs, had struck a deal in 2021 with a Tel Aviv-based company.

Many community members feel betrayed as the agreement was allegedly reached without their knowledge or consent. Although the Armenian Patriarchate claimed to have subsequently withdrawn from negotiations upon discovering "problems behind this transaction," the sense of betrayal among residents remains. Yeretzian, the priest involved in the contract, has been defrocked.

The latest surge in tensions occurred after Nourhan Manougian, the Armenian patriarch of Jerusalem, sent a letter on October 27 to Xana Gardens officially canceling the agreement. Shortly after, "bulldozers, armed settlers accompanied by dogs, and residents of the Jewish quarter" arrived, revealed Setrag Balian, a 27-year-old activist. They managed to partially demolish the wall surrounding the parking lot during the takeover attempt.

The lawyer representing Rothman, Avi Savitzki, declined to comment on the matter. Supporters of the Save the ArQ movement, backed by Armenian diaspora communities, are working to protect the land belonging to the Armenian community, whose presence in Jerusalem dates back 1,500 years. Assistance from legal professionals and media coverage bolster their cause.

Amid the sit-in, where individuals of all ages take turns sleeping at the site, Kegham Balian expressed awareness of the political implications in the divided holy city, which remains a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He acknowledged that the battle ahead would not be easy, as they are not only up against a private company but also settlers. However, he asserted, "we are ready."

Copyright Greekcitytimes 2024