The Armenian Quarter Inside Jerusalem's Old City: A Mosaic under Threat
The Armenian Quarter Inside Jerusalem's Old City: A Mosaic under Threat
Every year, on 7 January, Armenians around the globe celebrate Christmas. In Palestine, and per the Status Quo of the Holy Sites, Armenians celebrate Christmas on 18 January (along with the Epiphany). Three annual Christmas celebrations are held in Palestine every year (25 December, 7 January and 18 January) at the Nativity Church of Bethlehem, a UNESCO World Heritage Site built over the site of Jesus' birth. This year, the celebrations occur as Armenians raise their voices against attacks by the Israeli occupation, whether it be against their properties, religious celebrations, or even their very presence in the historic Armenian Quarter.
As part of its plans to alter the character and identity of occupied Jerusalem, Israeli colonial policies continue to target the Palestinian presence outside the Old City, particularly in Sheikh Jarrah and in Silwan, as well as inside the Old City. Among various targets, its colonial plans aim at the Christian Quarter in the Old City and also the Christian presence in the occupied Palestinian capital. The most recent schemes include the targeting of the New Gate, the main entrance to the Christian Quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Israeli settler groups organize various activities involving loud music in Hebrew, which also disturb and obstruct the movement of the residents and shop owners in the area.
This media brief focuses on the Armenian Quarter inside the Old City as a case of how Israel and its settler organizations target the Christian presence in occupied Jerusalem.
Armenians in Palestine: The Armenian community in Palestine dates back over 1600 years. While the most prominent community has been based in Jerusalem, there has also been a significant presence in Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth, Ramleh, Bethlehem and Jericho. The number of Armenians significantly increased over a century ago, with many being well integrated into Palestinian society. They, too, have suffered the consequences of the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe), where several Armenian families lost their properties and became refugees. Armenians from West Jerusalem who fled to the Armenian Quarter suffered heavy losses of property and businesses (about 100 shops and businesses). They also lived with the hope of soon returning home, just like the dispossessed and dislocated Palestinians, only to discover that their forced exile had now become permanent. Armenians were also hard hit by the 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem, the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the subsequent economic hardships caused by a volatile political climate and conflict. As a result, Armenian families who lost their businesses moved elsewhere, searching for safety and security. Around 1,000 Armenians remain in Jerusalem today, compared to over 10,000 on the eve of the Nakba (1948). They are primarily concentrated in the Armenian Quarter.
The Armenian Quarter Since 1948: The Armenian Quarter was severely damaged by Zionist bombings and attacks during the Nakba of 1948, which resulted in the killing of almost 40 Armenians , the injury of over 250 others, and the destruction of several buildings. Bombs also damaged the St Jacob's Convent, the Archangels Convent, the school, the seminary, and the library, among other sites. The community was organized and resisted the attacks while providing medical care to those injured. According to some accounts, the Armenian Quarter's resistance significantly contributed to preventing the fall of the Jaffa Gate. While in 1948, there was a significant loss of Armenian property in West Jerusalem. The 1967 occupation forced a gradual status change for all Palestinians and their property, including the Armenian Quarter, in the occupied territory.
Expanding the Jewish Quarter: The Jewish Quarter originally occupied a small area adjacent to the Armenian Quarter and other Old City neighbourhoods severely damaged after 1967. The Moroccan Quarter was entirely demolished, and the Syrian Quarter (built around the historic Saint Mark Church) was annexed into an "expanded" Jewish Quarter. With the expansion of Israel's colonial settlements inside the Old City, large portions of the Armenian Quarter were impacted. Lately, Armenian-Palestinian have denounced the parking area project and the advancement of a potential hotel in the Armenian Quarter that will benefit the Jewish Quarter and Israeli settlers. The Palestinian government has also condemned this.
Jaffa Gate: Since 2005, Israeli settler organizations have claimed ownership over two strategic buildings belonging to the Orthodox Patriarchate in Jaffa Gate, including the Imperial Hotel. Since the Saint John Hospice takeover during Easter 1990, this would be one of the largest Israeli settlements outside the Jewish Quarter. Taking over the buildings would effectively cut off the Christian Quarter from the Armenian Quarter. This would also disrupt several religious processions held in the area starting at Jaffa Gate, in violation of the historic Status Quo agreement. Several religious leaders have stated that the Armenian and Christian Quarters are "inseparable and contiguous entities that are firmly united by the same faith".
Attacks by Israeli Settlers: Armenian Clergymen have consistently condemned Israeli settlement attacks throughout the Old City, including while on their way to pray at the Holy Sepulcher. The latest attack occurred in May last year when young Jewish extremists attacked a member of the St. James Brotherhood of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem- vicar of the Armenian Superior of the Holy Sepulcher Church, en route to conduct a religious service at the church. Previously two Armenian seminarians were almost deported in 2009 after getting into a fight with a Jewish religious student who spat at them. Nourhan Manougian, the current Armenian Patriarch, had the cross worn around his neck (worn by Armenian Bishops since the 17th century) broken in a fight with a yeshiva student who spat at him. There was an attempt to prosecute Manougian for slapping the student; however, the student was not jailed. In this context, it should be noted that the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem have repeatedly warned against the desecration of the Christian churches, attacks on clergy and other religious leaders, as well as the intimidation of Jerusalem's Christians who should have the right to worship and to a normal life. Systematic violations by Israeli settler organizations are part and parcel of Israel's colonial plans, which create a coercive environment for forcing Palestinian Christian families out of occupied Jerusalem.
East Jerusalem is Occupied Territory: According to international law, Israel's efforts to alter the status of occupied Jerusalem are illegal. In many resolutions adopted by the United Nations, including UNSC Resolutions 252 of 1968 and 478 of 1980, the international community recognizes that any legislative and administrative action taken by Israel - attempting to change the legal status of Jerusalem - is invalid.
For centuries, Armenians have been deeply integrated into Palestinian society, and the Armenian Quarter has been a significant part of the occupied territory of Palestine. As part of a unique mosaic, they are threatened by Israel's attempts to turn Jerusalem into an exclusively Jewish city, per the racist Jewish Nation-State Law and other laws aimed at preserving Jewish supremacy throughout Palestine. As Armenians in Palestine celebrate Christmas, it is momentous to emphasize that the only way to protect the cultural mosaic of Palestine, including the Old City of Jerusalem, is to end Israel's colonial-settlement occupation and Apartheid regime, thereby fulfilling everyone's rights to equality, freedom and security.
 Varsen Aghabekian, A Palestinian Armenian: The Intertwine Between the Social and the Political (2021).Dar al-Kalima University Press, Bethlehem -Palestine.
 Bedross Der Matossian “The Armenians of Palestine 1918 – 48”, in Journal of Palestine Studies , Vol. 41, No. 1 (Autumn 2011), pp. 24-44 available at The Armenians of Palestine 1918–48 | Institute for Palestine Studies (palestine-studies.org), last accessed on 15 January 2022.
 Available at Palestinians challenge Armenian Patriarchate over Jerusalem land lease - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East, last accessed on 15 January 2021.
 Available at Presidential committee criticizes Armenian patriarchate in Jerusalem for renting church land to Israeli municipality (wafa.ps), last accessed on 15 January 2021.
 New York Times, 16 April 1990. Available at In Old Jerusalem, Christians and Muslims Protest Settlement - The New York Times (nytimes.com), last accessed on 15 January 2022.
 Letter from the Heads of Armenian, Latin and Orthodox Churches to the participants in the Camp David Summit, 17 July 2000. Available at Fifteen Centuries and Still Counting—the Old City Armenians | Institute for Palestine Studies (palestine-studies.org), last accessed on 15 January 2022.
 A statement by the Armenian Patriarchate