Ancient Documents May Void Sale of the Last Open Land in Jerusalem’s Old City

Ha'aretz, Israel
Feb 24 2024

Ancient Documents May Void Sale of the Last Open Land in Jerusalem's Old City

Jerusalem residents are protesting a real estate deal for the last large open space in the Old City, which Ottoman-era documents show was intended to benefit the Armenian community

Nir Hasson

In 1574, Andreas Ben Ibrahim, an Armenian bishop in Jerusalem, went to the city's sharia court requesting to register "a land parcel that includes grape, fig, olive, and pomegranate trees in addition to five cisterns for the collection of rainwater" in the name of a "legal, permanent and eternal" endowment in favor of his brother.

Minutes from the court hearing state that following the brother's death, the endowment will be inherited by the brother's sons, and following their death, "to the benefit of their children and then the children of their children and the children of the children of their children and any person who will be born to them."

If no heir remained, the land would be endowed to the Armenian Christian community of Jerusalem. This week, these minutes became the key document in a dispute that has outraged residents of the Old City's Armenian Quarter.

Two years ago, the Armenian patriarch of Jerusalem, Nourhan Manougian, sold land that comprises about a quarter of the entire area to real estate developers. The land sold is also the last large open space in the Old City, except for the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa compound – 11.5 dunams (2.975 acres) spread between the Armenian Monastery and the Old City walls.

Two months later, members of the Armenian community learned the full details of the deal, and embarked on a determined struggle to cancel it. The precious site was purchased by a company called Xana Gardens for a suspiciously low sum of $2 million. Under the agreement, the company undertook a plan to build a hotel on the site and transfer a fixed percentage of the revenue to the Patriarchate.

Xana Gardens was founded on the day the sale agreement was signed by Israeli-Australian businessman Danny Rothman (also known as Danny Rubinstein). Shortly after the deal was signed, Rothman sold half of the company shares to a Jaffa businessman named George Warwar.

Several young activists from the small Armenian community, which is estimated at just 1,000 people, are leading the struggle to cancel the deal. When Warwar's associates tried to access the site, they were blocked by the activists and violent confrontations broke out.

The activists warn that executing the deal would truncate the Armenian Quarter and wipe out Jerusalem's ancient Armenian presence. In view of the criticism of the Armenian community, Patriarch Manougian revoked the deal and the Patriarchate sued to cancel it.

The Patriarchate also accused the financier who handled the deal on its behalf, Father Baret Yeretsian, of corruption. Yeretsian was dismissed and left Israel as a result of the outcry. In December, he denied the charges in a response to Haaretz.

It now seems that the struggle against the deal has been invigorated, as historical documents found by lawyer Sami Arshid, co-counsel for the community with attorneys Eitan Peleg and Daniel Seidemann.

The claim that the three filled this week with the Jerusalem District Court on behalf of 380 members of the Armenian community states that the land sold by the patriarch was not his, but rather belonged to the endowment established by Andreas Ben Ibrahim 450 years ago.

The endowment deed states that the patriarch is only the endowment trustee and is prohibited from selling the land. He may only use it for the good of the Armenian community. The plaintiffs argue that the deal should thus be voided.

The Armenian community also argues that were the land wholly owned by the patriarch, he was not authorized to sell it without authorization of the general council of the Saint James Monastery, the primary religious entity in the Armenian Quarter, and that no such authorization had been given.

The authorization requirement is established in an amendment to the law on churches enacted in 2015 following lessons learned from the scandal of the sale of two large hotels owned by the Greek Patriarchate to the pro-settler Ateret Cohanim non-profit organization. That scandal has been reverberating throughout the Greek Orthodox Church for 20 years.

Sixteenth-century maps that label the land the Armenian Gardens have been attached to the suit, in contrast to other areas marked as owned by the monastery or Patriarchate. The plaintiffs argue that this is further evidence that the lot is owned by the Armenian community and not the Patriarchate or the church.

The lawsuit also criticizes the business logic behind the sale, specifically the lack thereof. "This is a large area of land without equal in the world, leased at a rent that is less than the rent paid for a single apartment in [Jerusalem's] Mamilla area or in the Talbieh neighborhood or in the Jewish Quarter," it says.

"What we are claiming against is the dispossessing of the Armenian community of the most valuable property in the city and perhaps one of the most expensive properties in the world at a ludicrous price, indicating the depths of the illegality and corruption adhering to this agreement."

"The claim is a milestone in the protection of assets of the Armenian community in Jerusalem," said Arshid. "The documents filed are intended to prove that the Armenian Gardens is the property of all members of the community. The land is an endowment property of the community, and the deal signed for it between the Patriarchate and Xana Gardens is therefore null and void."

Arshid emphasizes that the claim is also intended to "symbolize the unity of the community's members and their powerful wish to prevent construction of a megalomaniac project in the Armenian Quarter. Moreover, the Patriarchate itself admits that the project was made in a corrupt deal."

The Armenian Patriarchate declined to respond to the claim at this time. No response has been received on behalf of Xana Gardens.

Silenced Voices: The Battle Against Defamation Faced by Armenian Environmental Defenders

Feb 21 2024
Momen Zellmi
In the heart of Armenia, a battle rages not over land or resources, but over the right to protect the environment and uphold human dignity. At the center of this storm is the Amulsar mining project, a venture that has sparked fierce opposition due to its far-reaching environmental, health, and socio-economic implications. Yet, those daring to stand against the tide face a daunting onslaught of defamation, intimidation, and criminalization. This is their story, a testament to the courage of Armenian environmental and human rights defenders fighting for their land, their community, and their future.

The controversy surrounding the Amulsar mine, developed by Lydian, encapsulates a classic David versus Goliath scenario. Here, environmental defenders, equipped with nothing but their voices, stand against a project backed by substantial government and corporate interest. At stake is not just the environmental integrity of Jermuk and its surrounding ecosystems, but the very essence of civic space in Armenia. The project, experts warn, threatens to contaminate local water sources, imperil biodiversity, and disrupt the socio-economic fabric of nearby communities. Despite these dire warnings, the government has pressed forward, seemingly willing to silence any dissenting voices.

The defenders, ranging from volunteers at the Armenian Environmental Front to high-profile figures like lawyer Nazeli Vardanyan and journalist Tehmine Yenokyan, have faced a slew of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). These legal battles, designed to intimidate and exhaust, underscore a troubling trend towards the criminalization of legitimate environmental activism.

The plight of Armenian defenders has not gone unnoticed on the international stage. Voices like Mark Fodor of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development and Ryan Schlief of the International Accountability Project have loudly condemned the attacks, framing them as a direct assault on the right to defend human rights and the environment. Their statements, echoed by a slew of international organizations, highlight the broader implications of the Amulsar project — not just for Armenia, but for global norms surrounding environmental protection and civic engagement.

The international community's involvement has been pivotal, offering moral support and increasing pressure on Armenian authorities and international financial backers like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to reconsider their stance. Yet, despite these efforts, the battle is far from over. The defenders continue to face legal challenges and public smear campaigns, fighting to ensure their voices are heard and that environmental considerations are front and center in development decisions.

The ongoing saga of the Amulsar mining project is more than a local issue; it is a microcosm of the global struggle for environmental justice. The defenders' resilience in the face of defamation and criminalization offers a beacon of hope, a reminder that the fight for a sustainable future is alive and well. Yet, it also serves as a stark warning of the lengths to which some will go to silence dissent.

As the world watches, the defenders of Amulsar stand at the crossroads of history, their actions setting the tone for future environmental activism. Their struggle is a testament to the power of collective action and the enduring spirit of those who dare to dream of a greener, more just world. With each passing day, their voices grow stronger, echoing beyond the confines of Armenia, inspiring others to stand up and speak out for what is right.

Peace In The South Caucasus – OpEd

Feb 12 2024

While the situation in the wider Middle East and Ukraine heads in the direction of greater instability and violence, the South Caucasus, where only last year the momentum was toward tension, is talking about peace. The thirty years of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan might become a page in history, though a tragic one. Both countries are working on the draft of a peace treaty, however, the complexity of the region’s history and current geopolitics, along with a wide range of disruptors such as radical elements inside Armenia and the diaspora, make the road to peace an unpredictable one. 

The focus of mainstream Western media is on the result of the 2023 lightning operation by Azerbaijan’s forces against separatists in its Karabakh region, which resulted in the collapse of the Armenia-backed separatist regime and the subsequent departure of the Armenian population. Nevertheless, what happened in September 2023 was predetermined much earlier, thirty years ago, when Armenian nationalists launched an irredentist campaign to unite Soviet Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) with Armenia under the slogan of miatsum (unification). 

Liberals in the West, however, treat the Armenian irredentist movement from a self-determination perspective. This is a skillfully designed narrative that Armenian nationalist leaders and diaspora activists started to promote when Armenia gained independence in 1991. The new narrative was embraced because the idea of miatsum became problematic as it sounded like an irredentist attempt to gain the territory of a neighboring state. In essence, this was indeed the nature of the movement, and it remained so during the whole period when Armenia ruled over Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region. In 2015, rejecting the claims of Armenians about the self-determination of the local Armenians in Karabakh, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recognized Armenia’s “effective control” over the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

The liberals’ love affair with Armenian separatists and irredentists is not unique. There are examples of other erroneous affections toward certain radical movements. Thus, well-known historian Simon Montefiore, the author of a book about Josef Stalin, has debunked fellow liberal academicians and journalists who regarded the Hamas attack of October 7, 2023, on Israel as a decolonization attempt. Montefiore argued that, although Palestine deserves a free and independent statehood, an ideology that tolerates the slaughter of civilians is incompatible with advocating decolonization. By the same token, the legacy of Armenian control of Azerbaijani territories between 1992 and 2020 is replete with war crimes, massive displacement, illegal settlements, landmine contamination, and total destruction of infrastructure and heritage. 

Armenian people also suffered from the conflict, but the core of the problem was and remains miatsum, which nevertheless received support among some Western intellectuals and policymakers, though the latter did not pursue ideological goals, but rather solicited donations to their election campaigns. 

The most problematic issue with the Western approach to the Armenia–Azerbaijan post-conflict situation is to treat it as if nothing happened before the 2020 war or the September 2023 operation.

However, the origins of the present situation stem from the events in 1987–1990 when the Armenian leadership decided to fully ethnically cleanse Azerbaijanis from Armenia. The Armenian leaders further promoted the ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis from Karabakh. When they lost the war in 2020, the separatist leaders rejected repeated calls for dialogue with Azerbaijan. 

For the major part of the period of the occupation (1993–2020), Armenia had the strong support of Russia and was a major advocate of a large Russian presence in the South Caucasus. Russia’s military and political support played a key role in Armenia’s efforts to sustain the occupied territories under its control. In return, Armenia supported separatism in Georgia and Ukraine, including under the leadership of the incumbent Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and sent troops to Syria alongside Russian forces. 

These realities on the ground were consistently disregarded or distorted in the Western media and political circles. This is well exemplified by Amendment 907 to the Freedom Support Act passed by the US Congress in 1992, which prohibited military aid to Azerbaijan until Baku takes “demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh,” while it was Azerbaijan that was subject to invasion at that time, and the massacre of civilians in Khojaly had occurred earlier in the same year. 

In January 2024, the US Department of State included Azerbaijan in the second-tier Special Watch List of Religious Freedom Offenders on the recommendation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which focused on the potential danger to Christian Armenian monuments in Karabakh. However, the USCIRF fully disregarded that the entire heritage of Azerbaijani Muslims in Armenia had already been destroyed, including in the same Karabakh when it was under Armenian control.

At the time, such international factors emboldened the occupying country and separatist forces in Karabakh, fueling their resilience against peace calls. Indeed, peace in the region needs a fair approach from major international actors. The South Caucasus has endured too much bloodshed, and Western media and intellectuals are partly responsible for that, by feeding a one-sided nationalist narrative and supporting the irredentist project.

Farid Shafiyev is the Chairman of the Center of Analysis of International Relations. He holds a PhD from Carleton University and an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

The Jewish settler movement is applying for a large slice of the Armenian Quarter GeoTv News

Geo TV News
Feb 11 2024

The Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City is facing its biggest crisis in a long time. A Jewish businessman with ties to the extremist settler movement is preparing to develop a quarter of the neighborhood's land, with plans to build a luxury hotel. If this goes ahead, it will transform much of the Old City of Jerusalem and accelerate the demographic shift toward the city's Jewish population that has been occurring for several years.

The Armenian Quarter actually makes up one-sixth of the Old City (the others being the Muslim, Christian and Jewish quarters) and the Armenian presence in Jerusalem dates back to the 4th century. Together with the adjacent Christian quarter, it is considered a stronghold for the city's small Christian minority. The threat of Jewish settlers taking over parts of the neighborhood is widely seen as changing the demographic status quo to Israel's interests.

In 2021, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manoogian agreed to a 98-year lease for part of the Armenian Quarter with developers. The agreement covers a large area that today includes a parking lot, buildings belonging to the office of the leader of the Armenian Church – known as the Patriarchate – and the homes of five Armenian families.

News of the deal sparked strong protests among Armenians in the neighborhood last year. Such was the depth of feeling that, in October, the Patriarch and other church leaders felt compelled to cancel the agreement. This led to violent confrontations between settlers and local Armenians.

After a few quiet weeks, fighting broke out again at the end of December, when more than 30 men armed with stones and clubs reportedly attacked Armenians who had been guarding the area for several weeks.

The dispute has now gone to court. The question is whether the lease is valid or whether unilateral termination renders the contract invalid. The Patriarchate has hired lawyers – local, from Armenia and the United States – who will present their case that the agreement was not concluded properly due to irregularities in the contract.

This is not a single incident. Since the Six-Day War of 1967, when all of Jerusalem came under Israeli control, there have been concerted efforts to change the demographics of traditionally Arab East Jerusalem.

In many places, the authorities are evicting Arab families who have lived there for decades under the pretext of their lack of documents proving ownership of the house. Then a Jewish family moves in.

This change in the demographic composition of East Jerusalem occurs through evictions, demolitions and building restrictions. This also happens in the famous and touristic Old City of Jerusalem.

Nearly 20 years ago, there was a small scandal when it emerged that the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, a large real estate owner, had entered into a long lease agreement with a Jewish settlement organization regarding two historic hotels.

Disputed territories: In most two-state solution plans, East Jerusalem would be the capital of a Palestinian state.

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)CC BY-ND

Now we have a similar incident involving the Armenian Patriarchate. Selling or renting property to long-time Jewish settlers is viewed very negatively by Palestinians, who have long struggled against illegal Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

East Jerusalem is of vital importance to Palestinians. In the proposed plans for a two-state solution, it is the intended capital of the future Palestinian state. Therefore, decisively changing demographics is a priority goal for some in Israel – including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who does not want a two-state solution.

This conflict also highlights an old problem facing the Christian churches in Jerusalem: the gap between the leadership and the people. Ancient churches are inherently hierarchical with leaders at the top ruling supreme. An additional problem in Jerusalem is that church leaders are not always chosen from local residents.

The largest Christian denomination in the Holy Land is the Greek Orthodox Church. Its members are largely Arab, but the patriarch and other prominent bishops are Greek.

Nourhan Manoogian, the current 97th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, was born in Syria to an Armenian family. The Armenian Patriarchate has been accused of corruption and illegal property sales in the past, long before the current crisis.

If the Armenians lose this battle and the settler movement gains control of such a key site, it will hurt a small, vulnerable minority. The settlers' campaign to colonize East Jerusalem under Jewish control will have achieved another victory.

U.S. Republican presidential contender Nikki Haley requests Secret Service protection due to threats

 12:29, 6 February 2024

YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 6, ARMENPRESS. Nikki Haley has applied for US Secret Service protection because of threats she is facing as the only remaining GOP presidential candidate competing with former U.S. President Donald Trump for the party’s nomination, Haley’s campaign spokesperson confirmed to CNN.

The campaign did not detail when the request was made.

There were reports of two swatting incidents in recent months at Haley’s home in South Carolina, one of which occurred while her parents were there, CNN reports. 

Haley was recently asked about a heightened security presence at her events, telling reporters in Columbia, South Carolina, last week that “when you do something like this, you get threats. It’s just the reality, and that’s OK.”

“Part of running for public life is that you’re going to deal with the threats that are there. That’s not going to deter me,” Haley said at the time. “Does it mean we have to put a few more bodies around us? Yes, that’s fine.”

Haley has had a heightened security presence with her for roughly a week.

The Secret Service provides protection only after it is authorized by the Secretary of Homeland Security, who consults with a congressional advisory committee.

In May 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama was placed under protection after a congressional committee recommended it, given the rising number of threats against him.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has also requested Secret Service protection this cycle, but he has not received it.

The Armenians in Ethiopia

Ethiopia Observer
Feb 9 2025

The story of the Arba Ledjotch lives on in memory

In 1924, a group of forty children who had survived the 1915 genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turks and had formed a brass band at the Armenian monastery in Jerusalem were recruited and somewhat adopted by Ras Tafari Makonnen, the Regent of Ethiopia who later ascended to the throne as the emperor. Ras Tafari’s diplomatic tour to Jerusalem took place within a context marked by the strong ties between the Armenian Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, both of which had established monastic community presence in Jerusalem dating back to the thirteenth century.

Ras Tafari’s famous European diplomatic tour, which took him to Rome and other European capitals, occurred during a time when Ethiopia was striving to assert its sovereignty on the global scene and in the African continent that was under colonial domination. The country’s entry into the League of Nations in 1923 was celebrated with great fanfare. Accompanied by Ras Seyoum, Ras Hailu, and other minor nobles, “the picturesque entourage inspired so many anecdotes, and in the mind of the man-in-the-street Ethiopia symbolized by the bevy of Rases with their black cloaks and oversize hats, took on a certain significance,” as noted by historian Anthony Mockler. Establishing a royal band comprised of forty orphans, officially dubbed the Arba Ledjotch (“forty children” in Amharic), would serve to emphasize the image of the sovereign nation. Kevork Nalbandian, who served as its conductor, composed the Ethiopian national anthem, which remained in use from 1925 to 1974.

Boris Adjemian, a French historian of Armenian descent, explores the journey of the Armenian diaspora in Ethiopia, extending his focus to include the entirety of the community within the country and its economic and political contributions. He underscores the symbolic significance of this event in the country’s history. Initially hired to perform music for Meskel (the Day of the Holy Cross) and other occasional official events during the reign of Empress Zewditu, the young musicians quickly realized, as described by a former member of the brass band, that “They had informed us that we would accompany the Queen to church with the orchestra solely on religious days, but for Ethiopians, every day is a religious celebration, and each day, amidst the mud, we escorted the Queen or the heir to the throne to the church and then to the palace.”

Adjemian’s comprehensive and authoritative analysis of the historical realities surrounding the Armenian diaspora in Ethiopia was published in French in 2013 under the title of “La fanfare du Négus” and remains exclusively available in that language. The author adeptly captures the diverse array of activities and the success of the Arba Ledjotch, particularly in winning over the population. He highlights how the Negus’s brass band was a constant presence, tirelessly performing in all conditions, regardless of rain or shine, and enduring the relentless heat of the Addis Ababa highlands. From the book, we gain insight into how the brass band was strategically utilized to discreetly communicate Ethiopian diplomatic messages during international gatherings. This tactic demonstrated a level of proficiency that generated varying responses from foreign delegations, resulting in mixed reviews.

Except for the Ethiopian royal chronicle, the limited testimonies from European visitors undermine the portrayal of the small prodigious musicians and their adoption by the benevolent king. The few European authors who mentioned the brass band ridiculed the grotesque nature of its appearance, the mishaps, and wrong notes punctuating its poor public performances – “the cacophonous tootling of the Armenian orchestra” as well as the tastelessness of its repertoire.

(The first installment of three book descriptions to be published over the month.)

FIFA President praises Armenian federation chief for ‘tremendous leadership’

 13:52, 8 February 2024

YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 8, ARMENPRESS. Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) President Armen Melikbekyan has met with FIFA President Gianni Infantino in Paris to discuss potential collaborations and ways to enhance infrastructure programs, the FFA said. 

"I was pleased to meet Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) President, Armen Melikbekyan, in Paris," the FFA quoted Infantino as saying. "He has shown tremendous leadership and a determination to grow football in his country since he was first elected in 2019, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to congratulate him on his recent re-election. It was no surprise to see the FFA win the very first FIFA Forward Award last year for the work they have done in using allocated funds to provide greater opportunities for all to play football in the country. I have no doubt President Melikbekyan will keep Armenian football moving in a positive direction, and I'm looking forward to seeing the progress he and the FFA will make in the coming years.”

Judge Nawaf Salam elected President of International Court of Justice

 14:29, 7 February 2024

YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 7, ARMENPRESS. Lebanese Judge Nawaf Salam was today elected President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by his peers, for a term of three years, the ICJ said in a press release.

President Salam has been a Member of the Court since 6 February 2018. Before joining the Court, President Salam was Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations in New York from July 2007 to December 2017.

Video: Nagorno-Karabakh refugees face difficult exile in Armenia

France 24
Feb 1 2024

Armenia joins the International Criminal Court (ICC) this Thursday, with the hope of being able to use its judicial mechanisms to protect itself against its neighbour Azerbaijan. Yerevan and Baku have waged two wars over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Azerbaijan took control of the Armenian-majority enclave in a lightning offensive last September, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee to Armenia. Now living in poverty, they dream of returning home to Nagorno-Karabakh. Our correspondent Taline Oundjian went to meet some of them.

Watch the report at

Turkish Press: Azerbaijan slams PACE for becoming ‘toy’ of France, Armenian lobby

Daily Sabah, Turkey
Jan 25 2024

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has become a "toy of France and the Armenian lobby," an Azerbaijani official said Thursday.

"Azerbaijan has restored its territorial integrity without anyone's help. The fact that we fulfill international law ourselves disturbs some Western circles," Adil Aliyev, deputy head of Azerbaijan's National Assembly, said in a statement.

He said that PACE has not taken steps so far against Armenia's policy of occupation and its Assembly applied double standards and acted with prejudice against Azerbaijan.

Aliyev also said the Assembly accepted biased statements against Azerbaijan due to not removing a checkpoint established on the Lachin road because Baku did not allow Armenians to "carry weapons, ammunition and explosives to Azerbaijani lands."

"But there is something they forgot. Having wrong thoughts, such as talking to Azerbaijan threateningly or forcing us to do something, will not harm anyone other than these institutions," added Aliyev.

Azerbaijan's delegation to PACE announced Wednesday it ceased engagement with and presence at the Assembly "until further notice" and expressed that it made the decision "in the face of the current unbearable atmosphere of racism, Azerbaijanophobia and Islamophobia."

Earlier, PACE refused to ratify the credentials of the Azerbaijani delegation in a vote, claiming that the country "did not fulfill major commitments" and showed a "lack of cooperation."