By Hagop Hagopian, Toronto, 5 April 2022
People who are familiar with the illegal and treacherous real estate transactions of Patriarch Nourhan of Jerusalem this past year should brace themselves for another real estate outrage engineered by the patriarch and his enforcer Fr. Baret Yeretsian, director of the patriarchate’s real estate office.
Two weeks ago, Yeretsian, with an Israeli lawyer in tow, convened a meeting of the Synod (Dnoren Joghov) where he unveiled a plan which would see the lion’s share of the patriarchate’s West Jerusalem real estate holdings leased for 99 years to an Israeli developer.
The properties on Jaffa Rd. (the main artery of West Jerusalem’s commercial center) and adjacent streets cover 15,000-square meters and include several two- and three-storey buildings which house shops and offices, including government offices. The lease would cover 120 businesses of a total 180. The unnamed developer plans to build a giant hotel on the site… it’s all reminiscent of last year’s Goveroun Bardez boondoggle which also entails the construction of an elephantine hotel on Armenian land. The West Jerusalem sites are double the size of Goveroun Bardez. Presumably, once the transaction goes through, the developer would give a lump sum to the patriarch. As in the case of Goveroun Bardez, Yeretsian is keeping a tight lid on the amount. If the transaction goes through, for the next 99 years the patriarchate will accrue no income from the 120 properties. This is tantamount to endangering Armenian financial presence in West Jerusalem.
Map of part of West Jerusalem and the Old City
Shaded Black (top left corner): Part of the properties of the Armenian Patriarchate in West Jerusalem (Jaffa, Koresh and Shushan Streets}
Shaded in red (bottom in the middle): The Goveroun Bardez in the Armenian Quarter
When several clergymen expressed their shock at Yeretsian’s bizarre and odious proposal, Yeretsian typically exploded into a well hewn rage. The often-deployed ire is the uppity vartabed’s favorite instrument of intimidation. That’s when nauseating Nourhan—acting as a docile straight man to brackish Baret—suggested that the proposal be presented to the Sts. James Brotherhood at some undecided future date. It was a blatant and rehearsed pas de deux by the noxious pair. While last year the majority of the Brotherhood members opposed the Baret/Nourhan’s Goveroun Bardez designs, Nourhan has been working hard since to create a more amenable Brotherhood Council: he dismissed five overseas bishops who had opposed the Goveroun Bardez project and became uncharacteristically chummy with the local Brotherhood members. Meanwhile, several Jerusalem clergymen who had opposed the Goveroun Bardez project were cowed and would now give the thumbs up to Baret’s most recent conspiracy.
A view of Jaffa Street: the St. James sign (ՍՅ) is engraved on each store
If we step back and ponder about what’s going on in Jerusalem and consider the bizarre conduct of Baret we could easily conclude he is a covert member of the hotel developer’s board or that he is being blackmailed into promoting the project.
The writing is on the wall: because the remaining 60 properties will not generate sufficient income to cover the patriarchate’s expenses, patriarchs would be forced to sell all or most of the Armenian properties in West Jerusalem. Wayward Baret’s lease would result in the near demise of Armenian financial presence in West Jerusalem and in a severe shrinkage of Armenian institutional presence in the Holy Land. Finally, the destruction of the Armenian economic base would relegate Armenians to a second-class status. It’s worth remembering that Jerusalem real estate prices can compete with that of Manhattan and the Armenian properties happen to be at the heart of the much-coveted West Jerusalem. The Baret-Nourhan duo is responsible for similar outrageous transactions in Ramle and in Old Jaffa.
If the operation to liquidate two-thirds of Armenian properties in West Jerusalem is successful, the patriarchate will depend for its survival on the diaspora. While diaspora has for a millennium acted as an ATM for the patriarchate, nowadays repugnant Nourhan and Co. can’t depend on the generosity of the diaspora.
Jerusalem Patriarchate watchers are at a loss when they try to explain the inexplicable behavior of the so-called patriarch and his henchman. Baret had an impoverished and troubled Jerusalem childhood. It’s possible that his behavior is rooted in his turbulent childhood, his dubious career in North America and his forced return to Jerusalem. The surprise is Nourhan and his role as yes-man to a questionable character such as Baret…a clergyman who is still a vartabed more than fifty years he was ordained. Of the two obese clergymen, who is the boss? Who is the underling? Nourhan’s snoozing behavior echoes King Louis XVI’s notorious “Après moi, le déluge” (“After me the deluge”). Meanwhile, Baret’s actions will deal a death blow to what Armenian Jerusalem means to the Armenian Nation. The pair have openly sworn to strip off all patriarchate properties. They have also declared a vendetta against the Jerusalem Armenian community which finds their reign intolerable.
Since the pusillanimous priests of the Sts. James Brotherhood have proven themselves too timorous to stop the depredations of the treacherous twins, it’s high time Armenia and the diaspora mobilized to save Armenian Jerusalem. Catholicos Karekin should send a delegation to Jerusalem to investigate the maddening decisions of Nourhan/Baret. There’s a precedence for such action. About thirty years ago Catholicos Vazken I sent a three-man delegation to Jerusalem to investigate the status of the patriarchate’s properties during the offices of Patriarch Yeghishe Derderian. They stayed in Jerusalem for a month and made a thorough survey of the patriarchate’s land holdings. It also happened just before the First World War when Patriarch Malakia Ormanian was sent by the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople along with writer Vahan Tekeyan to investigate land issues and irregularities in Palestine.
As well, the media in Armenia and in the diaspora should dispatch journalists to Jerusalem to expose the activities of the duo.
If the Armenian Nation continues to be indifferent to Armenian Jerusalem, the sun will soon set on the 2,000-year-old community and 1,400-year patriarchate. It’s the 11th hour for the first and the oldest Armenian diasporic outpost. Not stopping these the two clerical outlaws would dishonor our nation and our ancestors who built the glory that is Armenian Jerusalem.
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