Armenians Voice Fears Over Threat to Rights in Holy Land
Posted 30 December 2012 - 02:02 PM
21:33, December 30, 2012
Jerusalem, Dec 30, 2012 - The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a
member of the triumvirate of Guardians of the Christian Holy Places,
has voiced grave fears over the threat of the erosion of its historic
and traditional rights in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.
The rights and privileges that are the legacy of the Armenians are
indelibly inscribed within the tenets of a Status Quo that has been in
place since the Ottoman administration of the land.
But recent developments in Bethlehem, involving its sister Guardian,
the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate (with the Latin Custodia forming the
third member of the triumvirate), are threatening to seriously impact
on Armenian rights, church officials claim.
The Patriarchate has lodged an urgent call for a return to the Status
Quo that has governed relations between the churches, and with
governments, ever since its promulgation in the 19th Century.
The Guardians, as well as the dozen other Christian denominations of
the Holy Land, are bound by the tenets of the set of agreements
thrashed out by the Ottoman Sultans with the aim of safeguarding
Christian rights and avoiding internecine clashes.
While not perfect, the Status Quo, outlined in a 1929 document
entitled `The Status Quo in the Holy Places' by L.A.G. Cust, an
official of the British Mandate of Palestine, seems to have served the
Christians well over the centuries.
Departures from the spirit of the agreement are rare, and any that do
occur are mostly of a temporary nature, meant to accommodate a one-off
event, agreed to by the parties concerned.
But according to the Armenians, there have been some serious
infractions recently, with unpalatable results.
To impartial Western observers, the sweeping of a neighbor's tile, or
the movement of a ladder from one part of a wall to another, may seem
trivial in the cosmic order of things, but to the owner of the tile or
wall, in the troubled Holy Land, the action is viewed as an
unwarranted encroachment on its territorial rights.
The Armenian Patriarchate says the latest breach concerns the annual
cleaning arrangements within the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, jointly
`owned' with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
Conflicts over the threat of territorial encroachment have been a
festering wound for the Armenians for years, culminating in an
incident in December 2007 when the Greeks unilaterally `imposed' some
amendments on the cleaning process.
The Armenians charge that the Greeks had decided to move a ladder
`three places' during the annual cleaning of the church.
As things have stood for years, the ladder is placed in the (northern)
Armenian section of the church, and would be used during the cleaning
process, to reach the upper walls belonging to the Greeks.
The Armenians promptly objected to this variation of the Status Quo,
pointing out that the ladder stays only in one designated place during
the cleaning chore. They also wanted to be around when the Greeks
start their cleaning.
The Greeks were adamant and a scuffle broke out, captured graphically
The next year, to avoid a recurrence of the clashes, Palestinian
Authority Minister for Christian Affairs Ziad Bandak, brought the two
sides to a negotiating table and succeeded in hammering out an
agreement allowing the ladder to be moved twice only.
The Armenians considered the change a `one-off' to cover the 2008
annual cleaning arrangements only, and said it should in no way be
construed as a permanent amendment to the standing protocols of the
The Greeks, supported by the Palestinian Authority, whose Presidential
Committee for the Christians is composed overwhelmingly of Orthodox
Greeks, with not a single Armenian aboard [the Armenians point out],
thought otherwise, and attempted to clean the Armenian section of the
church as well, and another scuffle broke out, necessitating police
The Armenians considered the Greek move null and void and demanded a
reinstitution of the Status Quo but despite official protestations to
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the next three years saw a
repetition of the same scenario.
Reinstitution would mean that both churches begin the cleaning
`We are against being forbidden to enter the church while the Greeks
start cleaning, because that gives the Greeks a `superiority' over the
holy site when we are equal partners in its ownership,' a church
`We have complained repeatedly against this breach of the Status Quo,
but to no avail,' he added.
The Palestinian Authority response has been that the matter is one for
the two Patriarchates to settle, with Committee president Hanna Amireh
declaring: `The same arrangements which were reached last year are
the most suitable arrangement for this year too.'
The Armenians have urged the Palestinian Authority to reconsider,
pointing out that the annual cleaning the year before had ended with a
clash between the Armenians and Greeks, a doubted this was a "most
Two weeks ago, the most senior Armenian church official in Jerusalem,
Archbishop Nourhan Manoogian, met with Amireh and reminded him that
the Greek cleaning `re-arrangement' was intended for that year only,
and that thence it would be `a breach of the centuries old Status Quo
and must be cancelled, that the Armenians stand firm on their
historical rights and shall never sacrifice their centuries old rights
in favor of the Greeks.'
In a last-ditch attempt to paper over their differences,
representatives of the Armenian and Greek Patriarchates met in
Bethlehem earlier this month with Amireh, but despite Armenian
insistence on a return to the Status Quo and cancellation of the
one-off arrangement of 2008, the Greeks refused to give ground, the
Meanwhile, Amireh declared that the decision of the Palestinian
Authority `shall remain unchanged and the Armenians must submit to the
Authority's decision,' warning it will `take all measures against
those who dare to cause any kind of clash,' this correspondent was
The Armenian reaction was swift. It vociferously objected to Amireh's
declaration, calling it `an unprecedented injustice against the
Armenian Patriarchate' and wondering about the impartiality of the
`The Armenian Patriarchate is seriously concerned about its historical
rights in the Nativity Church,' church sources said, adding that it
feared this year's annual cleaning of the church (scheduled for
January 2), `which is as sacred service to us as one of the solemn
ceremonies in the Holy Places,' may be denied to the Armenians, `who
for centuries have had the right of equally sharing in the Holy Places
of Christendom together with the Greek Orthodox.'
Posted 08 January 2013 - 10:09 AM
January 7, 2013 - 10:01am,
by Elizabeth Owen Tamada Tales Armenia Armenian Apostolic Church
Cleaning days are rarely happy times. Even less so when you've got
to fight over who cleans where and with what.
For years, Armenians and Greeks have been battling over who has the
right to polish a step or dust a lamp in one of the world's oldest
churches -- Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, a 1,687-year-old
structure built to commemorate the supposed birthplace of Jesus Christ.
Jointly run by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Greek
Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Roman Catholic Church's
Order of St. Francis, the church, now a UNESCO World Heritage site,
shows that, when it comes to housekeeping, three heads do not
necessarily work together as well as one.
Windows, walls, the roof -- you name it, there's been conflict. In
December 2011, the scuffles required police intervention when Greek and
Armenian priests furiously battled each other with brooms and blows
over a "new" approach to cleaning. (The Franciscans, for their part,
get to give "the general cleaning" a miss.)
But, finally, hopes are surfacing that 2013 might prove the year of
Last month, after intricate negotiations with the Armenians and Greeks
over, yes, a ladder, the Palestinian Authority, which administers
Bethlehem, announced that a critical breakthrough had been reached:
Church of the Nativity cleaners this year will wield their mops and
brooms according to rules laid down when Bethlehem was under Ottoman
Known as the Status Quo, the rules, specifying territorial rights in
the church down to the nitty-gritty, do not exactly read like Good
Housekeeping, but their familiarity reassured the Armenian side.
Nonetheless, the Church of the Nativity's official cleaning day on
January 2 had been awaited with trepidation. Some feared fresh funny
business from the Greeks, investigative news site Hetq.am reported.
Cleaning the church is "as sacred [a] service to us as one of the
solemn ceremonies in the Holy Places," an unnamed Armenian Apostolic
Church source explained.
But, in the end, with police at the ready, cleaning day reportedly
went off without a hitch.
"Both sides (Greeks and Armenians) were on their best behavior,"
an unidentified individual "close to the Armenian church" told a
former Armenian Patriarchate spokesperson, whose story about the rift
appeared in the Palestinian News Network.
Yet a further test of the cleaning-conflict ceasefire could lie down
Although Armenia itself celebrates Christmas on January 6 (the Greek
Orthodox Church on January 7), the Armenian Apostolic Church's
Jerusalem Patriarchate holds celebrations on January 18, with a
processional to and service in the Church of the Nativity.
Get that Windex at the ready.
Posted 08 January 2013 - 10:12 AM
17:00, 7 January, 2013
RARELY in this fractious holy city do clerics cede rights for which
they used to wage holy wars. But from the Abbey of the Dormition
to Jesus's resting place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the
bell-ringers of Jerusalem are abandoning their ropes after a century
and a half, and installing automated timers instead.
As a result of the Crimean war that Britain, France and the Ottoman
Sultan fought against Russia, a Turkish imperial edict in 1856 lifted a
ban on Christian bell-ringing in Jerusalem, then part of the Turkish
empire. The British were given the honour of erecting the city's
first outdoor bell since the crusades, next to the Protestant church
they had built in 1849. In the decades that followed, European powers
jostled to put up the tallest belfry. The Russians and Germans boasted
views of the distant Mediterranean or Dead Sea. Only the Armenians
modestly kept their gotchnag, a wooden sounding-board they fashioned
to circumvent the old Muslim ban. It still hangs in St James's Chapel,
inside the old city's Armenian Patriarchate; a sacristan beats it
with a wooden hammer every day at dawn.
But times and technology change. The churches now compete for the
latest mod cons, including manpower-saving bells that chime at
the touch of a button. "The old way was kind of a hassle," sighs
Athanasius Macora, a Franciscan friar whose church was the city's
first to automate its bells. "You had to be there on time." Moreover,
with their bells on auto-pilot, the churches can compete with the
mosques and the air-siren that Israelis use to call in the Sabbath.
Aesthetes say they can hear a difference between traditional
bell-ringing and today's phoney jingling bells. Eastern ascetics chide
the Catholics for committing the original sin of putting convenience
before ancient custom. "They're Europeans," snoots a Greek Orthodox
priest, attributing the decline of old ritual to a Western weakness for
ways of the flesh. A Franciscan casuist says there is no theological
impediment against an automated bell.
But both he and his Greek Orthodox brother agree that Muslims led the
local Christians astray by recording and broadcasting their calls
to prayer over loudspeakers. "Muezzins used to be forever catching
pneumonia, calling people to prayer in the cold and the rain before
dawn," says George Hintlian, an Armenian historian of the city. "It's
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