By Hagop Hagopian, Toronto, 25 April 2023
In an interview with the AGBU magazine in 2018, Patriarch Nourhan Manougian described the Armenian presence in Jerusalem as “one of the most miraculous sagas of the Armenian people.” He went on to describe the Armenian Quarter as a “miraculous possession…a spiritual fortress.” In the same interview, he promised: “We plan to build a housing project for young Armenian couples on a plot belonging to the Armenian Patriarchate…” The plot of land is Goveroun Bardez (“Cows’ Garden”).
But last year he and his right-hand man (75-year-old but still a Vartabed Baret Yeretsian) signed a secret and illegal 99-year lease with Australian businessman Danny Rubinstein who would build a 7-star hotel in Goveroun Bardez, in the shadow of the Patriarch’s residence.
What happened between 2018 and last year? Why did the housing project for young couples go the way of gone with the wind to be replaced by a hotel? Since the lease included the parking lot at Goveroun Bardez Rubinstein has taken over the parking lot and replaced the two guards appointed by the Patriarchate with guards hired by him. Some Armenians worry Rubinstein will ban Armenians from parking at the Goveroun Bardez lot. That would pose more than an inconvenience to Armenians since parking space in Jerusalem is as hard to find as locating an Israeli settler who doesn’t hate Palestinians. If denied parking space, some Armenian workers would be deprived of their livelihood. As in the past, it could result in immigration and in further shrinking of the tiny community.[Rubinstein recent maquette indicates that instead of a hotel, he would build a housing complex for Israelis. It would have two large swimming pools and cover all of Goveroun Bardez from the city’s southern wall to the police station. A secret agreement, which has been recently revealed, indicates that in addition to Goveroun Bardez, Rubinstein would take over several Armenian houses, the landmark Boulghourji mill/restaurant, and the shops facing the main entrance of the convent. As a result, the Armenian Quarter would be squeezed between the Jewish Quarter in the east and Rubinstein’s Jewish housing complex in the west. Already the south (despite the Armenian St. Savior’s Convent) is Israeli territory and in the north Israeli settlers recently took over several hotels. This is the strangulation of the Armenian Quarter…inch by inch.]
In the same AGBU magazine the so-called shepherd of the community, boasted: “We invest heavily to strengthen the infrastructure of the community… We need Armenia’s and Diaspora’s moral and political support. We need heightened consciousness and vigilance on the part of the Diaspora to help keep our presence in the Holy Land inviolable.” How can a person spout the above words when soon after he sells his nation and Church? How can a man who gave away so much of the Armenian lands have the nerve to ask for the Armenian nation’s help? How can an Armenian consider making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem when the so-called Patriarch is shrinking–square-meter-by-square meter Armenian lands?
Since the so-called Patriarch began to give away Armenian lands to Israeli interests, Armenians and non-Armenians have wondered about the motivation for his treacherous acts.
Is it to enrich himself? Why would he need more money at his age (septuagenarian) when he is already wealthy and lives in palatial accommodations?
Is he a self-hating Armenian? Not likely: he has been a clergyman most of his life.
Is it because of imbecility? His acts speak loudly on that question.
Is it because of lack of character? Very likely. He is a coward and a defeatist with a yellow streak down his chunky back. Not long ago, when a Palestinian Arab with close ties to the Armenian community, asked him why didn’t he “build the promised Goveroun Bardez housing complex for Armenian couples” the ‘Patriarch’ said: “What’s the point when everything would be gone in twenty-five years?” Nourhan the Prophet expressed similar views on another occasion when he promised a young activist that the Patriarchate would grant him scholarship at an Austrian university. He advised the young man not to return to Jerusalem following his graduation because soon “there would be nothing left to return to.” We don’t know whether the coward meant the Armenian Quarter or the Armenian community. The transparent bribe was obviously intended to remove the “troublesome” activist from the scene.
Some leader. Some father of the community. Some patriarch.
Nourhan can hardly walk (he didn’t officiate at the recent Easter ceremonies at the Holy Sepulcher). His phlegmatic demeanor can mislead some into thinking he is a serious person. How this disaster became head of the Jerusalem Church is a mystery. What we have in Nourhan is a slow-witted coward who is fueled daily by countless Ferrero chocolate balls. The man who mismanages the most important Armenian real estate in the Diaspora is a calamity.
Although timorous, he has surprised people by his obstinacy not to withdraw his signature from the treacherous forever leases he has granted to people who are no friend of Armenians. Has he been obdurate because he has secret and powerful non-Armenian backers who want to swallow the Armenian Quarter as part of their “Judaization” of Jerusalem? There is no proof of a blackmail but through a process of elimination, one can wonder whether the cowardly Patriarch has dared to betray his nation and Church because he is protected by shadowy big brothers who although active behind the scenes, have remained cunningly silent throughout “Patriarch” Nourhan’s real estate scandals.
But the tide seems to be turning against Nourhan. The community has become vociferous in its opposition to the Patriarch’s misdeeds. Sending a message to several targets, including Nourhan, at the Easter procession through the heart of the city, the scouts of the Hoyetchmen Club (one of the major Armenian clubs), carried trilingual placards (Armenian, Arabic, and English) which said: “Armenian Lands Are Not For Sale”. Young men have challenged Vartabed Baret at the entrance to the Armenian Convent to confess his misdeeds. The Patriarch’s former co-conspirator replied the hard-to-believe claim that he was following Nourhan’s orders. Representatives of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan demanded, during their recent meeting with Nourhan, that he withdraw his signature from the illegal leases. According to Jerusalemites, people who have been close to Nourhan for a long time, have begun to criticize him. Nourhan and Baret didn’t attend any of the events dedicated to the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
The above are positive signs. But to make the opposition to Nourhan effective, the members of the Sts. James Brotherhood should rise in unison and present Nourhan two choices: withdraw the illegal real estate signatures or resign.