Israeli police speak with an ethnic Armenian priest in Jerusalem’s Cow Garden.
While the world’s attention is focused on the plight of Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, ethnic Armenians in the neighboring city of Jerusalem are engaged in a fight to retain their land in the face of increasing intimidation.
On the afternoon of November 5, several men wearing Jewish yarmulkes and armed with assault rifles entered a section of Jerusalem’s Armenian neighborhood known as the Garden of the Cow. Two of the men leashed barking dogs while others confronted Armenians who had gathered to prevent access to earthmovers that had recently demolished a wall and ripped up the asphalt from the land.
In footage captured by an independent journalist, one of the gunmen said he had brought a weapon because, “when an armed official is here, everyone knows there will be no fights, no one will stand in their face, it continues.” everyone is polite. »
The Cow Garden – named for its historic use as a livestock grazing area – is currently used as a parking lot, largely by Armenians who commute each morning to work outside the old city walls, and is a large part of the Armenian quarter. inside the walled city of Jerusalem.
The land became the focal point of a conflict that rocked Jerusalem’s 2,000-strong Armenian community after it emerged that the Jerusalem Armenian Church had rented the Cow Garden and other parts of the Armenian Quarter to XANA Capital, a company owned by an Australian group. Israeli investor for almost a century.
Amid outcry from the local Armenian community, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem attempted to cancel the lease. The church published a statement on November 1 announcing the “cancellation” of the Cow’s Garden rental agreement. It is unclear what legal weight such a declaration has next to a signed rental agreement. Bulldozers apparently hired by XANA Capital moved in and began demolishing part of the land shortly after the publication of the Patriarchate’s statement.
Setrag Balian, one of the leaders of the movement opposed to the lease, promises that rotating groups of Armenians will remain at the disputed site and physically block any further demolition work, until “the Patriarchate goes to court and resumes these lands”.
Details of XANA Capital’s proposed development remain unclear, but many fear it will involve luxury housing priced beyond what most Armenians in Jerusalem could afford, thereby loosening Armenian control over their land historical data once the apartments are sold.
Armenians established their presence in Jerusalem in the fourth century after the nation became the first to officially adopt Christianity and Armenia’s pilgrimages to Jerusalem began. Since then, ethnic Armenians have lived within the walls of the holy city, making the Jerusalem community the oldest living Armenian diaspora.
On November 18, senior Church officials in Jerusalem issued a statement in support of the Armenian community.
“The illegal actions taken by the alleged promoter against the Armenian Patriarchate and community do not promote the social order to which the peaceful and law-abiding Armenian community, which is a member of our Christian family in the Holy Land, aspires,” said the communicated. » Church leaders said.