JERUSALEM (AP)–One person was sent to a hospital with a knife wound and another was slightly injured from a blow by a stone when Armenian and Syrian Orthodox Christians fought Monday in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in a dispute over who has the right to display religious joy.
The dispute took place as some 15,000 Orthodox Christians jammed the historic church for the Ceremony of the Holy Fire–the highlight of the Orthodox Easter celebration. Police detained three men for questioning but released them at the request of their bishop–police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.
"Our main concern was to calm the tension between the two groups," said Ben-Ruby.
According to George Hintlian–an historian of local Christianity and a former official of the Armenian Patriarchate–only one group of young men–the Greek Orthodox–are allowed to display religious exuberance according to the status quo on holy places–an arrangement that has lasted for more than a century.
Hintlian said that for the past seven years–the Syrian Orthodox had tried to organize their own procession of religious happiness. He said Syrian youths came armed with metal bars–stones and knives. "I blame the Religious Affairs Ministry and the police for not keeping these people from entering–despite our warnings," Hintlian said. Jack Khazmo–a prominent lay member of the Syrian Orthodox community–said the fighting started after one Syrian Orthodox youth mistakenly began to shout. Although other members of the community immediately hushed him–the Syrian Orthodox worshippers were immediately set upon by the Armenia’s.
Khazmo accused the police of being biased against the Syrian Orthodox. He also said the Armenian patriarch and Syrian Orthodox archbishop had since met and reestablished peace between the two communities.