Mob attacks Armenian Christians amid Jerusalem land dispute, patriarchate says

World Council of Churches condemns 'distressing escalation of violence'

Christian Quarter street in Jerusalem city. The sign is in three languages.
Christian Quarter street in Jerusalem city. The sign is in three languages. | Getty Images

The head of the Armenian church in Jerusalem says a mob of more than two dozen men attacked the site of a local real estate dispute in what officials called a "massive and coordinated attack."

Over 30 "armed provocateurs in ski-masks with lethal and less-than-lethal weaponry" attacked clergymen and other members of the Armenian Christian community Thursday at the site of a controversial land sale in Jerusalem's Armenian Quarter, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem said in a statement.

Known as the Cow's Garden, the site has been at the center of a dispute between the centuries-old Armenian Christian community and an Australian Israeli investor looking to build a hotel on the land. 

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The patriarchate said that attackers used "powerful nerve-agents that have incapacitated dozens of our clergy broke into the grounds of the Cow's Garden and began their vicious assault."

Several priests, Armenian Theological Academy students and indigenous Armenians were "seriously injured," the statement adds. 

Patriarchate officials blamed the attack on real estate developer Danny Rothman's response to "legal procedures" involving the site. Announced in November, the land deal was criticized by the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, who expressed concern that such development could weaken the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

"This is the criminal response we have received for the submission of a lawsuit to the District Court of Jerusalem for the Cow's Garden," the statement read. "This is how the Australian-Israeli businessman Danny Rothman (Rubenstein) and George Warwar (Hadad) react to legal procedures."

"The Armenian Patriarchate's existential threat is now a physical reality. Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and indigenous Armenians are fighting for their very lives on the ground."

Police told The Jerusalem Post that arrests were made on both sides but no one was officially charged, saying the incident involved Muslim men. 

“There was an unfortunate incident where some Arab Muslim men and some men from the Armenian community got into a brawl in the old city of Jerusalem,” Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum told The Post. “Police came promptly to separate the parties, and arrests were made on both sides.

“The city of Jerusalem will not tolerate any criminal activity, whether religiously motivated or otherwise, and the police will prosecute those responsible,” she said.

Video shared on social media showed attackers clothed in all black hurling stones at local Armenians and assaulting others. 

The patriarchate called on world leaders and the international media to help "save the Armenian Quarter from a violent demise that is being locally supported by unnamed entities."

The head of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem signed the deal in July 2021, but the community learned of it only when surveyors appeared earlier this year. The church leader claims he was misled and is pursuing legal measures to annul the contract. A priest involved was defrocked in May.

"The provocations that are being used by the alleged developers to deploy incendiary tactics threaten to erase the Armenian presence in the area, weakening and endangering the Christian presence in the Holy Land," officials said in a statement.

A statement released by the World Council of Churches (WCC) called the attacks a "distressing escalation of violence and [a] severe infringement of the rights and dignities of the communities in the Armenian Quarter."

"It is imperative to uphold the rights of all people and to prevent any forced displacements, ensuring the preservation of the diverse cultural and religious tapestry that defines Jerusalem and Palestinian territories," said WCC general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay. 

"The World Council of Churches stands in unwavering solidarity with the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. We pray for a just peace and for the strength and resilience of the communities under threat." 

Home to about 1,000 residents, the Armenian Quarter dates back to the fourth century and is home to St. James' Cathedral. Armenians hold equal rights in Jerusalem's Holy Christian sites since Armenia is believed to be the first nation to adopt Christianity in 301.

Some of the quarter's residents trace their heritage back to those original pilgrims or refugees who fled the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century.

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