Belgium (Brussels Morning) Jerusalem, a city with a storied past, is currently witnessing a crisis that imperils one of its oldest communities—the Armenian community. Anchored in the heart of the Old City, the Armenians have faced challenges spanning decades, and recent events involving unauthorized construction, aggressive land claims, and unprovoked attacks are pushing this resilient community to the brink.

Historical Context

Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Jerusalem has undergone significant transformations that have reverberated across its diverse communities. The Armenian Quarter, constituting 14 percent of the Old City has been a testament to the endurance of the Armenian community, which has called Jerusalem home since the fourth century. The aftermath of the 1948 war and the subsequent Arab-Israeli conflict presented formidable challenges. The Armenians, like other communities, grappled with overpopulation, rising real estate prices, and restrictions on property ownership. The Armenian Quarter, historically vibrant, faced a decline in numbers, dwindling from around 27,000 a century ago to approximately 1,000 today. Internal schisms, mismanagement, and external pressures further contributed to the challenges faced by the community within the Old City walls.

Recent Developments

Fast-forward to the present, the Armenian community is confronting a crisis centered on the Cows’ Garden, a disputed property within the Armenian Quarter. A company named XANA Capital initiated unauthorized construction work on this land, triggering a series of events that have escalated tensions to unprecedented levels. The controversy stems from a contentious lease agreement involving the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem and XANA Capital. The deal initially shrouded in secrecy, came to light in 2023, revealing manipulations and potential fraud. The Armenian Patriarchate, sensing false representation and unlawful benefits, moved to nullify the lease. However, XANA Capital responded with aggression, employing provocative tactics, property destruction, and the hiring of armed provocateurs.

Settler Aggression and Provocation

In early November, a convoy of Israeli settlers entered the Armenian Quarter on a mission to usurp Armenian-held areas. This incursion, described as a “malicious attempt to change facts on the ground,” unfolded against the backdrop of Israeli police arresting Armenians, including a minor, without probable cause. Instead of removing the trespassers, the police allowed settlers to persist in their presence, intensifying the already high tensions. Another assault by armed settlers occurred on 28 December resulting in the injury of dozens of Armenians. Meanwhile, the Israeli police failed to intervene and stop the violent mob from attacking the Armenian Quarter and arrested two Armenians instead.

Israeli settlers, emboldened by the distraction caused by the ongoing war in Gaza, have increasingly pressed illegal land claims in the occupied territories, including the Old City in East Jerusalem. The attempt to overrun the “Armenian Gardens” represents a broader pattern of aggressive land acquisition, with settler organizations actively involved in changing the demographic makeup of the Old City. This is not the first time that settlers have aggressive behavior. The number of attacks and vandalism actions by far-right, extremist Jewish settlers against Armenian individuals, churches, or property has risen over the past years, showing that Palestinians are not the only group targeted by ultra-right groups comprised of Israeli settlers.

Challenges and Threats

Beyond the immediate threat of demolition and forced eviction, the Armenian community faces broader challenges. The housing crisis, persistent since 1948, remains a significant concern. Recent unauthorized construction activities have heightened the vulnerability of the community’s properties, putting at risk not only homes but also centuries-old cultural heritage. The controversial deal with XANA Capital, now nullified by the Armenian Patriarchate, revealed deep-rooted issues in transparency and community involvement. The potential development of the Cows’ Garden into a luxury hotel raises concerns about the economic gentrification of the Armenian Quarter, pricing out longtime residents and altering the cultural and social dynamics.

The Role of the Israeli Government

The Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has created a permissive environment for such land grabs. Settler organizations, purportedly backed by the far-right parties that participate in the coalition government, have been pressuring the Armenian community, putting them in great existential threat. The lack of intervention from authorities to protect the Armenian community further exacerbates the challenges they face.

Conclusion

The plight of the Armenian community in Jerusalem is a complex tapestry of historical grievances, housing crises, contemporary power dynamics, and alarming and increasing settler aggression. The ongoing struggle to protect the Cows’ Garden is symbolic of the broader fight for the survival and identity of the Armenian community in the Holy City. As the international community observes, it is imperative to recognize the urgency of the situation and intervene to safeguard the rights and heritage of the Armenian community, one of the oldest Armenian diaspora communities in the world. The historical significance of the Armenian Quarter, coupled with the current threats and acts of aggression by settlers backed by the Israeli government, demands a thorough investigation into the motives behind the destruction and a concerted effort to ensure the protection of this invaluable piece of history.

Failure to address these issues promptly and effectively could have severe repercussions on the Armenian community, standing at the crossroads of preserving its centuries-old presence or facing the threat of extinction in the city it has called home for over a millennium. The future of the Armenian community, intertwined with the broader Christian community in the Old City, now hangs in the balance. It is a pivotal moment that calls for collective action to preserve the diverse tapestry of Jerusalem’s rich cultural heritage.

Dear reader,

Opinions expressed in the op-ed section are solely those of the individual author and do not represent the official stance of our newspaper. We believe in providing a platform for a wide range of voices and perspectives, even those that may challenge or differ from our ownAs always, we remain committed to providing our readers with high-quality, fair, and balanced journalism. Thank you for your continued support.Sincerely, The Brussels Morning Team

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