Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian took the unusual clerical step of defrocking his former deputy and former head of real estate, Baret Yeretsian.3 The Armenian priest left the convent hurriedly and had to seek the help of the Israeli police as local Armenian protestors wanted to search him for relevant documents before allowing him to leave. Like the Patriarch, Yeretsian has a US passport and has since traveled to California. He has always insisted that everything he did was at the orders of the Patriarch, who signed the final land deal; Yeretsian insists that his signature of the controversial deal was merely as a witness. Photographs provided by Yeretsian depict the signing ceremony, featuring Rothman, Yeretsian, Patriarch Manougian, and the Patriarch’s deputy, Archbishop Sevan Gharibian.
When the news of the lease deal was made public in September 2021, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority suspended their recognition of the Armenian Patriarch, saying that the land lease was a change of the status quo of the Old City of Jerusalem, which is a UNESCO-protected heritage.
For the residents of the Armenian Quarter, the lease of one-fourth of the historic land in the Old City was unacceptable. A weekly vigil and protests have taken place every Friday at the Armenian Quarter. An international legal team headed by the well-respected American lawyer Karnig Kerkonian came to Jerusalem and visited Amman, Jordan, to prepare for a lawsuit in an attempt to cancel the deal. The lawyers were able to secure a copy of most of the 21-page contract (one page is missing as well as annexes) and subsequently issued a 184-page legal analysis of it.
The leadership of the Church was totally silent, except for the defrocking of Yeretsian and the synod belatedly saying that they knew and approved of the sale.
The main Armenian clubs in Jerusalem and Amman all issued statements of support for the protestors. Armenian Church leaders also called the Jerusalem Patriarch to inquire and offer support as needed. Armenians around the world were involved in Armenian media as well as on social media. Local Jerusalem heads of churches also put out statements opposing the controversial land deal.
Armenians in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter number between 2,000 and 3,000.4 They are routinely and increasingly harassed by far-right Israeli extremists.5 This is despite their centuries of history in the city.
A Jordanian Palestinian delegation traveled to Yerevan, Armenia, to seek support from that country.