Historic Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem Facing Demolition in Luxury Hotel Dispute

JERUSALEM – Here in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter, an ancient Christian community is fighting to protect its historic land. They’re resisting an attempt to put a hotel on property they’ve owned for centuries, and they believe the issue raises broader concerns for the Christian presence in the city. 

The Armenian Quarter, with its ancient heritage, is facing a land dispute that has implications beyond these ancient walls. A land deal with a Jewish businessman leased a large portion of the Armenian quarter of the old city, and the investor plans a luxury hotel that would demolish homes where Armenians have lived for centuries.

Armenian Resident Garo Nalbandian told CBN News, “My family comes in 1920s after the Turkish massacres. My father come along with the sister without their families.”

“I was living, 1948, inside the convent. Afterwards, when we start to work, we make the money… But when we get married… I took from the Patriarchate, this house. (Since) 1969, when I married, until now, I am living there,” he said.

Another Armenian resident, Hagop Djernazian, told us, “Two years ago, an illegal deal was signed to lease this land for a hotel. We were shocked to learn that the deal included not only the community parking lot but also houses, the patriarch’s garden, and the seminary school.”

The Armenian community in Jerusalem is deeply rooted in the city’s history, and now finds itself at the forefront of a struggle for preserving its identity and heritage.

Djernazian explained, “Since the fourth century, the Armenians, continue to live here in the Old City on the highest point in the Old City, which is Mt. Zion. And, we have our own quarter. It is important to mention that the Armenian presence in Jerusalem is an uninterrupted presence.”

While the deal is tied up in court battles, the developer is attempting to begin demolition.  Armenians took a stand to keep that from happening, facing violence from representatives of the corporation. Now, they’re camping out here to avert any further demolition.

“We stopped the bulldozers, we stood in front of them, and we are staying here, we are guarding all day…” Djernazian said. “They will take the land in order to prevent from armed settlers and security guards from the company to attack or take over the land.”

Armenians have been the caretakers of this piece of Jerusalem in the old city since the fourth century, and it might not seem like such a big deal that somebody wants to lease this property and build a hotel on it. But if you come from a people group that has faced genocide and ethnic cleansing as recently as just a couple of months ago in Armenia, when Azerbaijan pushed out 120,000 Armenians off their ancestral lands and made them refugees in their own country, you can start to understand why this is a much bigger deal.

Nalbandian said if Armenians are ousted from their quarter in Jerusalem, he says it will result in “the end of the Christians in Jerusalem.”

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“Not going to leave…whatever is happening, I going to stay. If they shut my house, I going to put (up a) tent. I’m not looking for the money. I love this place. This is kind of Armenian home and this land. It doesn’t belong to the Armenian Jerusalem. Its belong to all Armenians around the world,” Nalbandian said.

The land dispute in the Armenian Quarter might be lost in the news coming out of Gaza, but for these people, it’s a life-or-death issue. And it’s not just Armenians who are concerned; the wider Christian community in Jerusalem also sees this as a pivotal moment for religious and cultural preservation. 

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