BY MARY HOOGASIAN and BEDROSS DER MATOSSIAN
The situation gripping the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem is more than distressing—it is an urgent call to safeguard cultural heritage and defend the rights of the Armenian community within the Holy Land. The ongoing destruction using bulldozers within the Cows Garden in the Armenian Quarter not only wounds the local fabric, but also strikes at the heart of global heritage.
The demolition of this property, steeped in centuries of history and the use of force against those protecting it, sends shockwaves. The Armenian Quarter falls under the UNESCO World Heritage Site status of the Old City, thus demanding an immediate and thorough investigation into the motives behind this grievous act—especially when the entire region is currently embroiled in a major conflict. It is non-negotiable that the rights of the Armenian community be not just acknowledged but fiercely defended.
The Armenian Quarter, representing one-sixth of the Old City, has been inhabited by Armenians since the 4th century during the inception of Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem, adding to its historical and cultural richness. Preserving such heritage is not just a matter of local importance; it holds global significance, contributing to the collective history of humanity. The situation demands a thorough investigation into the motivations behind this illegal destruction and a respectful acknowledgment of the Armenians’ rightful connection to this invaluable piece of history.
On November 4, Armenian residents peacefully protested illegal construction within their Quarter. Things turned confrontational when armed settlers arrived, prompting police intervention. The next day, Xana Gardens Ltd, linked to the controversial deal, showed up with Danny Rothman (aka Danny Rubenstein)—the Australian owner of Xana Gardens Ltd and allegedly demanded the Armenians’ expulsion.
Reports suggest Rothman aimed to purchase 13 percent of the Armenian Quarter for a luxury hotel, endangering many Armenian homes. However, after intense scrutiny by the members of the Armenian community of Jerusalem, the clergy, and Armenian-American lawyers, and Armenian lawyers from the United States, the deal was found riddled with discrepancies and declared invalid in Summer 2023.
The presence of armed settlers in the Armenian Quarter, owned by the Armenian Patriarchate, intensifies tensions between local Armenian community of Jerusalem and Xana Gardens Ltd. Despite the Armenian Patriarchate nullifying the lease on October 26, 2023 in writing, Xana Gardens Ltd is resorting to aggressive tactics, including property destruction, hiring armed agents and other provocations, leading to recent widespread destruction in the Quarter, including demolishing a stone wall. Already five members from the Armenian community have been arrested and put in house arrest.
We call upon the international community and the media to shed light upon and intervene in this ongoing conflict that is endangering the physical as well as the spiritual presence of the Armenian Patriarchate and the Armenian Community of Jerusalem, one of the oldest communities in the Holy Land. Failure to take such actions will have severe repercussions on the beleaguered Armenian community of Jerusalem who is standing on its last breath.
Mary Hoogasian, an author specializing in young adult fantasy fiction, also contributes to health-related articles. Presently based in Italy, she is editing her third novel while hosting writing and health retreats. In 2008 she co-founded the nonprofit Save the ArQ, which is committed to preserving the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem.
Bedross Der Matossian, born and raised in the Old City of Jerusalem, was also the co-founder of the non-profit organization Save the ArQ. He is a professor of Modern Middle East history and the Hymen Rosenberg Professor in Judaic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.