Arda Aghazarian for Jerusalem Story

Feature Story

Questionable Secret Land Lease Deal Threatens Historic Armenian Community Land and Property in Old City

A questionable land lease deal that the Armenian Patriarchate was pressured into making imperils land and property amounting to one-quarter of the area of the entire Armenian Quarter—approximately 3.2 hectares (almost 8 acres)—or 14 percent of Jerusalem’s Old City.1 The deal, made first with the Jerusalem Municipality and then with Israeli Australian businessman Dany Rubinstein, would reportedly sign away the property for 99 years.

Such a lease could be detrimental to the presence of the Armenian community in the Holy Land as well as to the character of the Old City overall.

While details are still hazy, the deal reportedly includes a parking area used by the community called “Goveroun Bardez,” Armenian for “Cows’ Garden,” as well as five residential homes belonging to Armenian families alongside it.2 According to local sources, the parking lot alone can accommodate from 150 to 180 cars.3

The Armenian community, outraged by the secretive deal, has been protesting continually since details were first leaked last fall and then solidified in April with a visit from Israeli land surveyors and a new sign on the parking lot in Hebrew and English announcing it as the property of XANA Capital.

Rubinstein reportedly aims to build a low-rise luxury hotel on the property.

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A sign in English and Hebrew, erected by XANA Capital at the entrance to the Cows’ Garden parking lot in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City

A sign in English and Hebrew, erected by XANA Capital at the entrance to the Cows’ Garden parking lot in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City. The wooden cross was placed by unidentified workmen on June 13, 2023, then removed by Israeli police the following day.


Amos Chapple RFE/RL

Community Outrage

Hagop Djernazian, 22, a young Armenian activist, has been working diligently to raise awareness of the dangers of losing this land. He uses 18th- and 19th-century maps of the Old City of Jerusalem and its quarters to help explain the implications of the proposed deal: “I invite people who are unaware of the importance of Goveroun Bardez [which is the main part of the land lease] to look at the map of the Old City . . . and consider the historic and strategic importance of that parcel of land.”4

Entrance to the Armenian convent in the Armenian quarter of Jerusalems Old City, captured sometime between 1898 and 1914

Entrance to the Armenian convent in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, captured sometime between 1898 and 1914 by photographers from the American Colony, Jerusalem


Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-DIG-matpc 06551]

The Armenian property included in the controversial land lease deal

Hagop Djernazian points at the Armenian property, namely, the Seminary, included in the controversial land lease deal, May 19, 2023.


Muath al-Khatib for Jerusalem Story

At the third protest against the land lease, held on May 19, 2023, Jerusalemite Armenian historian George Hintlian addressed the crowd: “There is no such thing as only the Armenian Quarter. The four quarters are one—it’s one Jerusalem, and they are all connected. Whatever happens in other quarters happens in the Armenian Quarter.”

“The four quarters are one—it’s one Jerusalem, and they are all connected.”

George Hintlian

Hintlian, an expert on the Armenian Genocide, said that Israeli attempts to acquire Armenian properties do not surprise him; he has witnessed massive pressure, sometimes to the point of assassination attempts, over several decades. “The Armenian Quarter is a targeted quarter,” he noted. “We are one of the communities under constant pressure.”

Hintlian described the various fraudulent Israeli methods, including settler attacks and involving high-level governmental officials, to take over Armenian properties. “There is forgery, manipulation, and bribery in this deal,” he asserted. What makes this deal especially problematic is that it was done without securing approval from the Armenian Synod. (In fact, the priests had opposed it.) The Armenian community is working with international lawyers to revoke it.

Rally held on May 12, 2023, to protest the land lease deal

Rally held on May 12, 2023, inside the Armenian monastery to protest the land lease deal


Arda Aghazarian for Jerusalem Story

In May 2023, the Armenian Patriarchate defrocked the priest Baret Yeretzian, director of the Real Estate Department of the Patriarchate, for deceptions related to the lease; he has since fled to Southern California. Meanwhile, on May 11, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan suspended recognition of the Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, who has served for a decade in what is normally a lifelong position.5

Three Armenian groups, which together represent the entire Armenian community, released a joint statement on May 20, asserting that the impact of the “illegal lease would be immeasurably detrimental to the presence and the national ethos of the Armenian presence in the Holy Land.”6

Setrag Balian addresses the protesters against the land lease deal on May 12, 2023.

Setrag Balian, an active member of the Armenian community in Jerusalem, addresses the protesters against the land lease deal on May 12, 2023, at the Armenian monastery in the Old City of Jerusalem.


Arda Aghazarian for Jerusalem Story

The Broader Implications for Christians in Jerusalem

The Armenian land lease case is not disconnected from the broader Israeli practices against the non-Jewish residents of Jerusalem, which have accelerated in recent years.

For Jerusalemites, the fate of the Armenian property calls to mind the recent Ateret Cohanim settler takeover in March 2022 of parts of the Petra Hotel, owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. In a joint statement dated April 4, 2022, the heads of local churches in Jerusalem described the hotel’s lease as “a threat to the continued existence of a Christian Quarter in Jerusalem.”7

On August 7, 2022, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, together with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land, vehemently opposed the Israel Nature and Parks Authority’s plan to expand the Israeli national park to parts of the Mount of Olives. The plan would entail confiscating and nationalizing some of the holiest Christian sites, an attack on Christians in Jerusalem.8 Although the authority said it would withdraw the plan, it is likely that the Israeli authorities will proceed when public attention shifts elsewhere.9

“There is forgery, manipulation, and bribery in this deal.”

George Hintlian, Armenian historian and local resident

The Israeli government plan to convert the country into an exclusively Jewish state, which has accelerated in recent years, poses a major threat for all Christians and their heritage in Jerusalem.10 

In a recent report by the US Department of State on religious freedom in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, the Office of International Religious Freedom noted the grave public concerns over the Christian presence in the country. Some of the reported issues stated in the report include “violence and harassment against clergy and worshipers by Israeli extremists; vandalism and desecration of church properties; attempts by settler organizations to obtain strategic property in and around the Christian quarter of the Old City and the Mount of Olives; and restrictions on residency permits for Palestinians as part of Israel’s Citizenship and Entry Law.”11

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The report also mentions other restrictions that infringe on religious freedom and worship, such as greatly restricting attendance for Christians wishing to attend the Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the audacious threats by settlers and extremist Israelis toward Christians.

The racist chants of extremist Israeli settlers are not disconnected from state policy. Most recently, some of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) have been aggressively pushing to pass religious-based legislations: One of the bills currently on the table is to imprison any person (e.g. evangelical Christians) who promotes Christianity to Jews.12 Recently, even a deputy mayor of Jerusalem was filmed at a protest against Christian missionaries in the Old City, chanting “Missionaries go home!” He stated, “As far as I’m concerned, let every [Christian] missionary know they are not welcome in the Land of Israel.”13

In this context, the uproar of the Armenian community at the reported land lease deal is not occurring in a vacuum: It stems from a deep-rooted understanding and dread that the deal, if implemented, represents a very real threat to the centuries of Armenian presence, identity, heritage, and culture in Jerusalem, one of many small steps toward the larger goal of transforming historic Palestine into an aggressively Jewish exclusivist state.

At the moment, the active Armenian community of Jerusalem is raising awareness of the importance of this issue, and concentrating all efforts to revoke the lease. “This quarter is everything to me. It’s the only place we have for Armenians to gather in the Holy Land,” said community leader Djernazian. “We have to fight for it.”14

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Amos Chapple, “Jerusalem Armenians Fear Shadowy Land Deal Marks ‘Beginning of the End,’” Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty, June 16, 2023.


Interview with the Jerusalem Story Team, May 2023.


Kegham Balian, “Goveroun Bardez: Saving the Oldest Armenian Diaspora in the World,” Armenian Weekly, May 24, 2023.


Jacob Magid, “Parks Authority Says It’s Shelving Mount of Olives Plan That Angered Church Leaders,” Times of Israel, February 21, 2022.


US Department of State, “2022 Report on International Religious Freedom: Israel, West Bank and Gaza,” Office of Palestinian Affairs, May 17, 2023.


Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian, “The Risk of Leasing Out Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem Land,” Keghart, September 9, 2021.


US Department of State, “2022 Report on International Religious Freedom.”

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