By Hagop Hagopian, Toronto, 20 January 2022
After six months of controversy, exposes, accusations and counter-accusations, a misleading calm has descended upon Jerusalem’s Goveroun Bardez scandal. The core of the conflict remains Patriarch Nourhan Manougian’s illegal signing of a 99-year contract leasing the strategic Goveroun Bardez tract of land to Dany Rubenstein of Australia. According to unconfirmed reports, the Australian millionaire has close ties to Jewish fundamentalists who are aggressive proponents of Judaising East Jerusalem where the Armenian Quarter is located.
A testimony to the brewing storm is Manougian’s decision not to participate in any of the major feasts preceding Christmas. As well, rather than celebrate Christmas with the Sts. James Brotherhood, Manougian had dinner at the home of one of Armenian Convent’s gatekeepers.
Manougian also canceled the traditional midnight prayers at the main square of the convent during New Year celebrations. As well, contrary to tradition, Sts. James Cathedral’s bells didn’t ring the following day. The patriarch also refused to host the community at the patriarchate’s reception hall. At the traditional gathering, the patriarch gives oranges to attendants.
Archbishop Sevan Gharibian leading the Armenian procession to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem
However, the strongest indication that Manougian’s and that of his right-hand man Rev. Baret Yeretsian’s reign has become shaky was Manougian’s absence from Christmas ceremonies at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. He attended the ceremony last year despite the covid-19 pandemic lockdown. The consensus among Armenian Jerusalemites is that the patriarch played truant from one of the major ceremonies of the Jerusalem Armenian Church because of his concern in negative reaction from the Palestinians of Bethlehem who, like other Palestinians, feel betrayed by Manougian’s signing of the unconstitutional Goveroun Bardez lease.
The patriarch’s trepidation about attending Christmas ceremonies was justified. While in the past Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh have attended the midnight ceremony, this year the Palestinian government was represented by Bethlehem Mayor Tony Salman and Dr. Ramzi Khouri, president of the Higher Presidential Committee of Church Affairs in Palestine.
“Patriarch” derives from the word “pater”—Latin for father. It’s obvious Manougian is neither the father of the Sts. James Brotherhood nor of the community. He is described by a person who closely follows the affairs of the patriarchate as uncommunicative, capricious, undiplomatic, petulant, and food obsessed. Manougian is obese and can hardly walk. He doesn’t interact with the Brotherhood, the civilians, or other Jerusalem church leaders. He has become a cipher, a dictatorial hermit, and an irrelevance with a knack for ostracizing people. His only support is eminence grey Yeretsian and the half-dozen clergy whose salaries he pays.
Since 1936, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” has sold 30 million copies and taught unknown millions of readers “people skills”. Manougian’s behavior suggests he is qualified to write “How to Lose Friends and Ostracize People.”
Manougian’s and Yeretsian’s strategy in the past six months can be described in one word: stonewalling. The best example of the strategy is their refusal to show the lease contract to anyone. Any reasonable person would wonder why the pair refuse to let anyone see the patently illegal contract. Any reasonable person would also wonder whether the pair have made financial gains by signing the treacherous lease. According to a source close to the patriarchate, Manougian is planning not only to lease but also sell Armenian Church properties in Jerusalem’s Old City.
If the Goveroun Bardez lease is legitimized and Manougian doesn’t back down or withdraw his signature, the Australian businessman’s building project at Goveroun Bardez will change the features of the Armenian Quarter and advance Israeli occupational process of East Jerusalem and particularly the Old City.
Since the declaration of the 17 members of the Sts. James Brotherhood condemning the Goveroun Bardez lease, communication between the patriarch and the Sts. James Brotherhood has ceased and the patriarch is no longer considered a faithful custodian of the Armenian properties.
The rupture of the relations between the patriarch and the two-thirds of the Sts. James Brotherhood has severely compromised the daily operations/functioning of the affairs of the patriarchate. The Armenian Church in Jerusalem is not a parish or a prelacy. It is an important institution in an international city. Patriarch Manougian must be aware of the dire current situation. If he is honest with himself and his high office, he should step down. In view of the continuing paralysis of the Armenian Patriarchate, the Sts. James Brotherhood and the community expect a speedy solution so as to salvage the image of Armenians among the public in Jerusalem and the Middle East.