Controversial deal is being contested but developer aims to start work nevertheless
JERUSALEM—Tensions flared in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City last week when the new owner of a large portion of church land arrived with armed guards and attack dogs to begin building luxury accommodations that many fear will wipe out the centuries-long Armenian presence in the city.
The Jewish developer, Danny Rothman, and Xana Capital owner, George Warwar, entered the lot – where current residents of the Armenian Quarter still park – on Sunday to knock down a stone wall separating the residential parking lot and the seminary parking lot.
They arrived days after the Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian announced that he sent a letter to the courts of his intent to cancel the deal, which has stirred international controversy. This was the first public statement Manougian – who showed up at the sit-in on Sunday Nov. 5 – has made regarding the deal.
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“The patriarch sent a cancellation letter exactly a week ago and we assume, it is very obvious, that this is their answer — coming, armed, to the land to claim ownership of this entire property,” Hagop Djernazian said in a video posted on the Save the ArQ Facebook page.
News of Rothman’s arrival on Sunday quickly spread throughout the community and by early evening a full-fledged protest threatened to erupt until police dispersed both sides. However, work continued at the site a week later on Nov. 12.
Setrag Balian, an activist in the Armenian community, said that workers had been attempting to take down the wall over the past week, but residents and priests had come out to prevent them.
“So today they resorted to violence. Today they brought in armed settlers with pepper spray, with dogs, with weapons. We will stay here, we will protect our land, we will stay here until these people leave our land and the patriarchate goes to court and takes back our land.”
Djernazian said he believes that Rothman and Warwar used the occasion of the war to start the work now since most of the country and media attention is focused elsewhere.
“Its now or never. We have to join forces to fight against this deal. If not we are on the way of losing our long history in Jerusalem,” he said.
Signed in 2021 during COVID lockdowns, the land-lease deal came to light in April of this year evoking widespread opposition and weekly protests by residents of the community who fear their future in the quarter is under threat.
Some of the guards identified themselves as part of the volunteer first-response team from the Jewish Quarter.
Residents have opposed this controversial deal from the beginning because of the presumed damage it will do to the Armenian and Christian presence in Jerusalem.
The community’s legal team issued a report noting that the land in question extends far beyond the parking lot and includes Armenian homes and business. Opponents of the deal fear that the luxury accommodations will used for Jewish housing and squeeze out the Armenians.
The land deal expands the potential for Jewish presence from Zion Gate to Jaffa Gate – something that the Camp David Accords failed to accomplish.
The Armenian presence in Jerusalem dates back to the year 301 AD when Armenia became a Christian nation and followers began coming to the land where Jesus lived in order to deepen their faith.