Armenians Under Attack in the Old City

A priest walks through one of the street’s in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter. (Photo: Matthew Karanian)

A priest walks through one of the street’s in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter. (Photo: Matthew Karanian)

From The Times of Israel

It happened again on Saturday night. A group of students from the Armenian seminary were walking to the Armenian convent when a group of extremist Jewish youngsters harassed them. But the police did not want to listen to that, they didn’t want to hear the fact that in the state of Israel it’s not always us, the goyim, that are the provocateurs. Most of the time, in the Old City of Jerusalem, it is the Jews. At least 20 police officers illegally entered the seminary to apprehend two students whom they accused of giving a black eye to one of their attackers

These incidents are all too common for those of us who live within the ancient walls of Jerusalem. A year back I was chatting with an Armenian priest when suddenly, out of nowhere, he was spat on by a passing Jewish teen. Once I realized what had happened, I wanted to shove that kid against the wall and remind him of his own people’s history but the priest went on and on about turning the other cheek. I decided to heed his word and be a “good Christian” for that night.

No matter how many times our community and Patriarchate have complained about these harassments, the authorities have been determinedly indifferent. Rather, their response has always been to arrest an Armenian seminary student. The police might never bring this to your attention but not a single such attack has occurred with a Muslim. Why does it happen with Jewish youngsters who walk around the Old City believing it is their inherent right to harass those who differ from their preferred demographic?

The indifference by the police will eventually lead to far worse incidents. I had a preview of that a few years back when we discovered graffiti on of the walls of the Armenian Quarter that read “Death to Arabs and Armenians.” The incident went unreported as the graffiti was quickly washed off. But the authorities continue to act as if such sentiments don’t exist among young Jewish extremists; for them, in the land of the Jews, everyone else is suspect.

Unfortunately, these extremist tendencies are worrying a small community that has never bothered the state. Throughout the decades of conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Armenians of Jerusalem have kept a low profile in their quiet quarter. But don’t mistake us for pushovers. If there is anything we Armenians and Jews share it is tragic histories that have taught us that you cannot always rely on others to defend you and you cannot always turn the other cheek. The application of fair rule and law is a must for a community that has simply given up on changing the apathetic attitude of the authorities. It has reached the point where I overheard someone say to one of the seminary students: “Take the beating. If you react, they will arrest you. You are not Jewish”.

It’s no exaggeration that Israel loves to boast about its ‘growing Christian communities’ in a Middle East that has been increasingly hostile to Christian communal life. But sooner or later, Israel has to admit that in achieving a state in the Middle East, it has also acquired the ills of the Middle East. Occasional consideration to this menace may go a long way in containing the damage.

Apo Sahagian is a Jerusalemite-Armenian musician and writer.


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  1. State-Of-Emergency said:

    It’s funny how anti-semitism is always an omnipresent issue in the west but anti-goyimism is simply overlooked in Israel. At the end of the day everyone is human with human tendencies. What the Jews experience in the west is not unique, although they make it seem that way.

  2. petrov said:

    Do not let a jew to spit on an armenian. Under no circumstances. We are not palestinians,. We can hit back at these despicable spitters. We will not turn the other cheek to be spat at.

  3. Arman said:

    The reason Armenians are harassed and spat upon is to get them to leave Jerusalem. For 1900 years Jerusalem has been dreamt of by Jews, yet not possessing the Holy City has been their torment and agony. The scriptures (for example, the prophet Jeremiah) speak of unbelievers treading on Jerusalem and defiling the Temple sanctuary, this being Israel’s lament and suffering. To return to Jerusalem and the Holy Land has been the never ending dream of every Jew, while living in foreign lands and being discriminated and persecuted. It was a custom to say the phrase “next year in Jerusalem” at every toast or gathering.
    For those who believe in the God of the Bible, Jerusalem is the center of the world. This belief is even stronger for Jews, since the Bible calls Jews as having a special covenant with God, and how Israel and Jerusalem are uniquely mentioned in Bible prophecy.
    It is very difficult for Jews to see the Holy City Jerusalem divided into 4 parts, and they having only one quarter of it, instead of possessing the City entire. Islam’s holy sites are Mecca and Medina, so why should Muslims have a quarter of Jerusalem? As for Christians, their faith’s centers of gravity have been in Europe (Rome, then Constantinople), and Jerusalem was more of an issue during the Crusades, a temporary episode in history.
    But in addition to the Muslim and Christian quarters, Jews are heavily vexed by Armenians having a quarter of Jerusalem. Jews feel that this small, obscure people, who have been largely unmentioned in the history books, surely don’t deserve a quarter of Jerusalem, the capitol of David’s and Solomon’s great Kingdoms. The sentiment is that Armenians have bit off more than they can chew. Why should they have a quarter all their own of the Holy City?….a city holiest to Jews first and foremost. In simple language, Jerusalem is a pie the Jews hate seeing divided into 4.
    The Jewish objective is to push along the path of least resistance, meaning if you can gradually shrink the Armenian presence by harassing them and strangling them economically, one day they will leave and Jews would have half of Jerusalem and not a quarter.

  4. Barnea Levi Selavan said:

    As a result of reading this article I just took initial action. I am an Old City resident of some thirty years. I have read several times of such incidents. As a rabbi I am embarrassed and ashamed of the disgraceful behavior. I do want you and the readers to know that there are teenagers who may be dressed in religious garb for social conformity but are rebellious and cause difficulties in a number of areas. Secondly, I have not found such an avoidance by police. Thirdly, in that area there is constant traffic with visitors to the Old City, they may not be residents.
    I just spoke to the head of the Jewish Quarter Community Council. The matter will be raised on Sunday – right now is a holiday with pressure on the police- with the police liaison to the community.
    We want this stopped, responded to with vigor, and inculcated regularly in the local educational streams that it is intolerable. Spitting is not the equivalent of the physically attacks in France and elsewhere on Jews, in response to the earlier talkback- that does not matter in terms of our responsibilities here to put a stop to this. Our adults must take responsibility for wayward children and immature youths.

    Finally, I interviewed the Archbishop some twenty years ago about the history of the Armeninans in Jerusalem over some 1700 years. I am sure good relationships will continue.

    With best wishes, and apologies on behalf of my community,

    Barnea Levi Selavan

    • garbis koptas said:

      If this happend only ones I Understand But if it’s going to continue I wouldent understand is Childish and needs to be stopped Appreciate your concern to thank you…

    • Adam Va said:

      Thank you rabbi. We Armenians and Jews share very similar history, we should embrace one another and grow together.

  5. SoaringEagle said:

    Israel is a democracy where there is no discrimination, Armenians and Arabs are all persecuted equally.

  6. Anooshig said:

    The Karanian photo is not taken in the Armenian Quarter, but rather in in the Moslem Quarter of the Old City in front of the Guest House of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate. It is a fact of life that Israel is the Government under which Armenian Jerusalem must live. Arman’s comment is very sad but quite true.

  7. Zaven Adamian said:

    Idealy the Armenian quarter should be fenced off from the rest of Jerusalem.

  8. Marshall said:

    Our Jewish brothern need to respect all Chistians and not forget it was for Chistians that they have a homeland!

  9. Edward Demian said:

    I was going to suggest something worse than spitting. I was going to suggest retaliating with a bucket full of pig urine. However, after reading the rabbi’s earlier post, I am left with shame for my thoughts.

  10. Harry Armen said:

    This could be very well part of land grabing like writer said “gradually shrink the Armenian presence by harassing them and strangling them economically”

  11. Vahan Setyan said:

    Քանի դեռ հայը ինքն իրեն քրիստոնյա է համարում, հրեան դեռևս կմնա նրա տերն ու Աստվածը:

  12. Matthew Karanian said:

    The photo that illustrates this story is an image I made in 2010. I took the photo in the Muslim Quarter of Old Jerusalem, near the Armenian Catholic Church.


  13. Atara Kennedy said:

    This upsetting article came as a shock to me but relief was found in Rabbi Selavan’s response. As an Orthodox Jew (but one who has only visited the Old City as a tourist), I have never heard any statements spoken by Jews against Armenians. I practiced law in a firm in the U.S. with 2 Jewish lawyers and 1 highly appreciated Israeli Armenian. Respect for the Armenians in Israel is something I demand but to date have simply assumed. I trust that your community has now a direct link to a Jewish community leader to address any intolerable immature youth behavior. The norm in Judaism is to care.

    Best wishes and due respect,
    Atara Leora Kennedy