By Hagop Hagopian, Toronto
The abusive and irascible Vartabed Baret Yeretsian, who acts as Jerusalem Patriarch’s enforcer, denies the financial assistance the Armenian Nation has provided to the patriarchate. The intemperate Yeretsian, who is the captain of the treacherous Goveroun Bardez project, has said he did not need the approval of the Armenian Nation when making “for my eyes only” real estate deals. The cigar-chewing vartabed failed to mention that in recent decades the patriarchate has received millions of dollars from Alex and Edward Manougian, the Gulbenkian Foundation, Samuel Garabedian, and Garo Gharibian, plus $1.2 Euros from the Republic of Armenia in addition to $650,000 from a single donor in Los Angeles. Without the donations from the Armenian Nation—pilgrims to princes, penniless beggars to benefactors–the patriarchate would have become a footnote centuries ago.
Below are edited excerpts from “The Travel Account of Simeon of Poland” [translated by George A. Bournoutian] which provide details of a dark page of the patriarchate’s history when the drowning-in-debt patriarchate was rescued from certain demise by donations from Armenians.
Simeon of Poland was descended from Armenians who had immigrated from Ani to Eastern Europe after the fall of Armenia’s capital. He visited Jerusalem in 1615 when the Celali Rebellion raged across Asia Minor as Armenians wore the brunt of the rebels’ plunder. As a result, Armenians stopped making pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Without their donations the debt of the patriarchate grew to an unsustainable 40,000 kurus.
Rev. Baret Yeretsian enjoying the good life in Istanbul
“The church’s gold and silver vessels, be they crosses, chalices, censers, books, chasubles, or everything else was seized by the unbelievers, who benefited greatly from this—taking ten, fourteen, or fifteen percent interest a month…
“Long before this, the Armenian Patriarchate in holy Jerusalem was seized and looted. All the holy places were emptied and God’s churches were mortgaged. All this had occurred because of the carelessness and weakness of former Patriarchs. If one wanted to serve Mass, there was no cross, no chalice, nor a Gospel. They went and gave bribes, brought chasubles and other necessities, conducted Mass, and hurriedly returned them. The debts increased so much that even the holy places were taken away from the Armenians, so that nothing remained…
“On July 18 of the year 1059 [1610 CE], God the Lord Awakened a certain Khoja Engi of Amid so that he, with great spiritual care and worry, traveled to Aleppo for the sake of the debts of holy Jerusalem. Finding noted khojas and merchants there, he wrote to [noted Armenians] of other capitals, asking them to hurry to Aleppo and to confer as to how to free Jerusalem from its debts.
“Then the pious, who had come from various lands and kavars, joined the vartabeds and kahanas in one mind and aim, came to Aleppo, stayed there for three months and became acquainted with the dubious affair—that is the debt of the 40,000 kurus. They found no other solution but to pay the debt. All the men began to give according to their ability, some one thousand, others two thousand, yet others five thousand and more kurus. There were also some who gave 10,000. The less fortunate ones gave one hundred, fifty, and so forth. They collected a treasure more than the debt, for even the poor, beggars, the blind, and women gave.
“They selected twenty wise and reasonable men and together with Khoja Engi, they rushed to holy Jerusalem. Entering the castle, they informed the governor of their purpose, saying, “We want to pay all the debts.” The governor ordered criers to inform all the inhabitants in the city that all the lenders were to appear before him and bring everything that was pledged and woe to him who didn’t come in three days’ time and did not appear to bring the pledge, for he would not receive payment and the money they had lent would be lost…
“When they had paid all the debts, they entrusted the excess funds to a monk named Krikor. Soon after, Krikor was elected patriarch. With the money entrusted to him, he renovated the twelve Armenian churches in the city and its environs…he built rooms for guests and the sick, stone cells for the brothers, nice gates, proportioned refractories, orchards, vineyards, flower gardens, and other buildings. He renovated the 365 cells in Surb Hagob and its church. During his time, the Armenian Patriarchate thrived; in fact, it became rich and magnificent.”
It wasn’t the last time the Armenian Nation would rescue the patriarchate.
Vartabed Yeretsian denies the financial support patriotic Armenians have provided to the patriarchate in recent decades. The bullish vartabed and the other once poor boy (now patriarch) behave as if the patriarchate is their family heirloom.
It’s worth mentioning that Yeretsian was born and raised in the Armenian Convent. He attended the Armenian school. Like other impoverished families, the Yeretsians lived rent-free. Yeretsian and his two sisters attended the tuition-free Armenian school. The Armenian Convent, which sheltered the ingrate vartabed’s family, exists because for a millennium Armenians have filled its treasury with donations. Yeretsians’ parents did not pay his tuition fees because the Gulbenkian Foundation and hokapartous in the Americas and Europe covered its expenses. Yet the ingrate vartabed denies the nation’s financial support to the sacred institution he and the patriarch have misruled, betrayed, and besmirched.