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Israeli police accused of eviction from Armenian site in Jerusalem

10 April 2024

Alamy

A street in the Armenian Quarter, Jerusalem

A street in the Armenian Quarter, Jerusalem

A DISPUTE over land in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem goes beyond questions of legality, and “touches the heart of our identity and heritage”, the Armenian Primate in the UK and Ireland, Bishop Hovakim Manukyan, says.

An area in the Armenian Quarter, the Cows’ Garden, is the subject of competing claims, after a lease agreement was purported to have been made between the Armenian Patriarchate and a development company, Xana Gardens (News, 2 February).

The Patriarchate and members of the Armenian community in Jerusalem have lodged lawsuits arguing that the agreement has no legal standing, while the developers maintain that they have legitimately acquired the land.

The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem published a communiqué, on Wednesday of last week, alleging that Israeli police had initiated an “unlawful eviction” from the site, occupied by members of the Armenian community.

“The eviction began with the destruction of Armenian Patriarchate property, and assaults on clergy and indigenous Armenians,” the document, posted on X/Twitter, says.

“Permits or court orders were NOT presented and they continued to protect and assist the representatives of Xana Gardens in their destruction of property.”

The communiqué says that the police spoke of having warrants, but did not produce them.

“It is clear that today’s provocations are an attempt to set a precedent against the Armenian Quarter and its lawful lands. We will continue to stand our ground and ask for Christians worldwide to spotlight these never-ending encroachments on the peaceful Armenian Christian community.”

On Friday, Bishop Manukyan told the Church Times that the Armenian Quarter “holds profound significance as a cornerstone of Christian heritage in the Holy Land and as a symbol of Armenian resilience.

“For centuries, it has been a place of refuge, notably for survivors of the Armenian Genocide, and has become integral to Armenian traditions of pilgrimage. I personally lead groups from the UK, particularly from our congregations involved in Bible study courses, to visit this sacred place.

“The recent unsettling developments surrounding Cows’ Garden park are particularly distressing. Despite the legal entanglements stemming from contractual errors now being disputed in court, the issue transcends mere legalities.

“It resonates deeply within the global Armenian community, sparking widespread concern. This is not just a property dispute: it’s a matter that touches the heart of our identity and heritage. It is my hope that a just and sensitive resolution will be found to address the complexities of this situation.”

In a press conference streamed live on Facebook on Wednesday of last week, a representative of the campaign group Save the Armenian Quarter, Sertrag Balian, said that the group and a diverse array of supporters had “one goal: preserving and protecting the diversity and the cultural multi-ethnic multi-faith character of Jerusalem.

“We are all against the changing of the status quo, because we love Jerusalem, and know that Jerusalem belongs to all of us.”

Mr Balian outlined the efforts being made in the courts to maintain the Cows’ Garden plot. In December, the Armenian Patriarchate had filed a lawsuit arguing that the company leasing the land had misrepresented their intentions.

A further lawsuit was filed in February last year by members of the Armenian community in Jerusalem, asserting that the agreement was void because it had been signed without the agreement of the Armenian synod and general assembly.

In addition, the second lawsuit argued that the land had been granted in a specific type of trust, for the benefit of the Armenian community, and legally could not be sold or leased.

Almost $85,000 has so far been raised to support legal efforts of the campaign to preserve the status quo in the Armenian Quarter.

The Dean of St George’s College, Jerusalem, the Very Revd Canon Richard Sewell, told the Church Times that he was “very concerned” about the situation, and that the “entire Christian community” in Jerusalem was paying attention to the case.

Of the actions taken on Wednesday, Canon Sewell said that the police “seem to have removed some temporary structures erected by members of the Armenian community which have been put there to protect the space while the legal case continues.

“I’m very concerned about this new development, which seems to be an illegal act. The protection of spaces in the Armenian and Christian quarters for these vulnerable minority communities is critical.”

On Thursday of last week, in a statement on X/Twitter, the French Consulate in Jerusalem expressed concern about the incident and called on the Israeli authorities to refrain from taking any unilateral action that undermined the status quo in the Old City.

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