Keghart.org Editorial, Ontario, 24 September 2021
“One of the most striking differences between a cat
and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.”
Following Keghart.org’s revelations of the illegal goings on at the Jerusalem Armenian Patriarchate, the latter issued a communique (Sept. 6) to defend its wrongheaded actions. Perhaps concluding that the communique had failed to sway the public, Patriarchate’s number-two man–Fr. Baret Yeretsian—was ushered as pinch-hitter for a second attempt. Thus, his interminable interview in the “Armenian Mirror-Spectator” (Sept. 17).
We could call Fr. Yeretsian’s interview a compendium of evasions, digressions, sins of omission/commission, sleight of hand, dissembling, chicanery, equivocation, smoke and mirrors, and worse… all to veil the truth. However, we shall simply call it an exercise in futility: the truth is out and no smooth-talking vartabed (still a vartabed after 55 years of priesthood) can mislead the public despite the newspaper’s generously-provided (2,100 words) interview. It will not change Armenian hearts and minds because it fails to justify the Patriarchate’s actions.
Because of the length of the Yeretsian’s opus, we will address only the major points of his outburst. While the Armenian public’s, Keghart.org and other Armenian media criticism focused on the illegality of granting a 99-year Goveroun Bardez (“Cows’ Garden”) lease to Danny Rubinstein of Australia and to the hiding of the contract, about 90 percent of Yeretsian’s interview was about matters which were not part of our objections. He evaded the salient issues and digressed by talking about Patriarchate properties in Tel Aviv and Mount of Olives, how the Patriarchate took two brothers to court, and how it had won 20 court cases. He mentioned the concepts of eminent domain and protected tenancy and attacked unnamed enemies and plotters in the local Armenian community, criticized former Patriarchs, polished the reputation of Mr. Rubinstein, accused Armenians of stealing (what?), and attacked the Armenian nation for not sending money to the Patriarchate, etc. etc.
Yeretsian praised the Israeli government in its dealings with the Patriarchate. Yet we know that the government confiscated about half of the patriarchate’s St. Philip Fountain land a few years ago and without the Patriarchate’s required permission built a café and a restaurant on the site. The Patriarchate does not receive any revenue from these businesses. When the municipality allowed the Patriarchate to build a parking lot at Goveroun Bardez, it insisted that Israeli archeologists be allowed to dig at the site. As well, Israelis who attack and spit at Armenian priests get no more than a tap on their hands.
To drag the voluble Yeretsian to the heart of the matter…
1. Neither the Synod nor the Sts. James Brotherhood’s General Assembly were allowed to vote for the 99-lease although it’s the Brotherhood’s and the Synod’s constitutional right. Taking advantage of the absence of two vocal Synod members (Chancellor Father Goryuon Baghdasarian and Dean of Manougian Seminary Father Theodoros Zakarian), the Patriarch and Yeretsian hastily convened with Archbishop Sevan Gharibian and approved the dubious deal. The aged and doddering Archbishop Gharibian is almost deaf. As a result, he goes with the flow. Yeretsian is not authorized to vote because of conflict of interest: as director of the Patriarchate’s Real Estate Department, he is not allowed to vote on real estate matters. Besides, the Synod has eight members. Three votes hardly make a majority.
Fr. Yeretsian foolishly and misleadingly said: “All Synod members have been aware of the hotel negotiations…it’s an internal matter to our Brotherhood…the Brotherhood can speak out on it if it wants to.”
Yeretsian pretends he is unaware of the difference between being partly aware after the fact and being allowed to vote. His words that the members of the Brotherhood can speak up is the height of hypocrisy when he knows that a priest who speaks against the illegal deal would be dismissed from the Brotherhood.
Yeretsian’s reference to Synod meetings re the contract was again pure sleight of hand. He said: “We did have a meeting, but not with large numbers.” That was his description of the briefing made to part of the Synod’s membership. In another misdirection to justify the lack of Brotherhood and Synod participation in the decision-making process, Yeretsian said Covid-19 had made such meetings impossible. However, priests have their meals together at the refractory and participate in church services apparently immune to the virus.
The Synod has to meet once a week but Synod members can’t recall the last time they met. Finally, no lease can be approved unless Fr. Parsegh Kalamandarian, chairman of the General Assembly (Miapanagan Joghov), is among those who sign it. He was not shown the contract.
Yeretsian boasted about the Patriarchate’s court successes. He didn’t mention that half of the cases were against Armenians and sometimes it was because of rent increases. In a city economically struggling, the Patriarchate has taken to court Armenian tenants who had refused to pay rent hikes from $200 to $500 a month.
Talking about the financial burdens of the Patriarchate, he said the Patriarchate maintains two schools (theological school and high school). He didn’t mention that the municipality provides 65 percent of the high school’s budget.
After the trio (Patriarch Manougian, Archbishop Gharibian, and Yeretsian) had signed the notorious contract, an ecstatic Yeretsian briefed some of the Synod members.
Fr. Yeretsian, who has had a checkered career as a parish priest in North America, was moved a record eight times in 27 years—from Providence to Pasadena, from Arizona to Montreal. In contrast to the much-traveled Fr. Yeretsian, compare his itinerant record with that of Rev. Zareh Zargarian who has been the pastor of Toronto’s Holy Trinity Church for the past 25 years.
Yeretsian didn’t show the contract nor the map that points the area the hotel would occupy. The proposed hotel’s swimming pool would be 5 meters from the Armenian seminary and the hotel’s wedding balls, bar mitzvahs, and birthday parties would regale the seminarians late into the night.
2. Why do the Patriarch and Yeretsian refuse to show the contract?
After stonewalling two North American media outlets which had asked to see a copy of the contract, Yeretsian wouldn’t show the contract even to the sympathetic “Armenian Mirror-Spectator”.
3. As mentioned in Keghart, Patriarch Nourhan has insisted that the Patriarchate would never grant a 99-year lease to anyone. However, the Patriarch signed a 99-year lease with a businessman who lives 14,120 km away in Sydney. Why the 180-degree turn?
Yeretsian, who is obviously the vanguard of this sorry enterprise, said: “If you don’t give it for 99 years they are not interested.” He exaggerates. According to Investopedia, a ground lease [that’s what the deal is] means for a period of 50 to 99 years. So why agree to the maximum industry practice when the Patriarch has said a 99-year lease would not be granted? Why give away the farm just because the proposed tenant insists on it? Is it the outrageous “real estate baron” Yeretsian who forced the Patriarch to change his mind? Is an aggressive, intimidating and all-knowing Fr. Yeretsian in control of the Patriarchate? The 73-year-old Patriarch suffers from several illnesses and rarely attends religious services or community events. Is the irascible vartabed who has no training in real estate running one of the major treasures of the Armenian nation and church?
The Patriarch and Yeretsian apparently turn into pliable peons in their “negotiations” with the Israeli administration and become megomaniacal feudal lords in their dealings with the Brotherhood and the community.[For a number of years, Patriarch Nourhan and Yeretsian have been regularly traveling to Turkey to ostensibly negotiate the fate of Jerusalem Patriarchate real estate in Turkey. No one other than the pair know what’s going on. Considering the scandal in Jerusalem, one wonders about the outcome of their “negotiations” with Turkish bureaucrats.]
Intemperate Yeretsian, who has a weakness for large cigars and a habit of insulting people (including journalists asking for a copy of the contract) who do not agree with him, said he does not need the Armenian nation’s approval when he signs away Armenian lands.
He accused the Armenian nation of not providing financial help to the Patriarchate. He did not mention when was the last time the Patriarchate asked for the nation’s financial assistance.
- He didn’t mention that the new seminary was built with a donation by Alex Manougian while Edward Manougian gave $2 million to renovate the museum named after him.
- He didn’t mention that the Gulbenkian Foundation paid for the renovations of the Gulbenkian Library and pays all current expenses.
- He didn’t mention the $300,000 Samuel Garabedian donation.
- He didn’t mention Garo Gharibian’s $300,000 donation.
- He didn’t mention the 1,200,000 Euros the Republic of Armenia gave for the renovations of the Holy Sepulcher’s edicule.
- He didn’t mention the $650,000 a Los Angeles resident donated three years ago.
- He didn’t mention the sums Armenian pilgrims donate.
Why would the Armenian nation donate to an institution which has a notorious recent history when it comes to financial corruption?
Why would the Armenian nation donate to an institution whose Patriarch said a few years ago that the Patriarchate’s rental revenues cover its expenses?
Why would the Armenian nation donate to an institution which is stranger to accountability and transparency?
Why wouldn’t the Armenian nation be concerned in an institution which signs an illegal 99-year real estate deal for a strategic parcel of land and refuses to show the contract to anyone?
Why wouldn’t the Armenian nation be concerned that the lease makes the Armenian community an object of hatred to Palestinians who have begun saying Armenians are traitors?
Why consider the Jerusalem Armenian Patriarchate a trustworthy institution when it’s the play thing of two men whose incompetence is not confined to real estate. Although Jerusalem’s Old City land is one of the most expensive in the world, the Patriarch is happy with the $1 million the Australian gave him. What about a share of the loot for real estate impresario Fr. Yeretsian?