Armenian Jerusalem
tradiotional site

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of the tomb of Jesus

of Nazareth, and regarded by many as the holiest relic in the whole of

Christendom, has once again become the unwelcome theatre of an

unsightly brawl between two brotherly Christian denominations.

               Though   not   a   stranger   to   such   flagrant   eruptions,   the   extent   of   the   violence   this   time repelled   every   one   who   witnessed   the   drama   as   graphically   captured   videos   streamed   it   on world TV.                Relations   among   the   three   guardians   of   the   Holy   Places   in   and   around   Jerusalem,   the Latin   Custodia   and   the   Greek   and   Armenian   Patriarchates,   are   governed   by   a   "status   quo" that   relies   in   turn   on   edicts   issued   by   the   Ottoman   sultans   who   ruled   the   land   for   over   5 centuries.                The   guardians   enjoy   exclusive   proprietary   rights,   guaranteed   by   Sultan   Abdul   Majid, under   the   "status   quo"   arrangement   which   encapsulates   the   final   and   most   important   pledge, his    "firman",    which    he    made    over    150    years    ago,    and    which    "defines,    regulates    and maintains, without change" these rights, according to Jerusalem church sources.                This   declaration   officially   established   the   principle   of   "Status   Quo"   (i.e.   existing   "as   is" condition)   in   the   Holy   Places,   which   defines,   regulates   and   maintains,   without   change,   the proprietary   rights   in   the   Holy   Places   granted   exclusively   to   the   three   major   Christian,   thus making   the   Armenian   Church   equal   in   stature   to   the   Catholic   and   Greek   Orthodox   Churches despite its relatively small size, the sources said.                With   these   edicts,   or   "firman"s,   spelling   out   in   general   terms,   the   rights   and   privileges   to be    enjoyed    by    each    Christian    denomination,    any    departure    would    inevitably    result    in confrontation,   and   if   not   controlled   or   resolved,   the   issue   would   spell   out   into   a   major confrontation.             The   "status   quo"   covers   every   aspect   of   the   ownership   and   maintenance   of   the   Holy Places,   including   such   seemingly   innocuous   activities   as   the   number   of   floor   tiles   each denomination   can   lawfully   sweep.   Sweep   one   more   outside   your   jurisdiction,   and   you   have committed an unforgivable breach.                One   side-effect   of   the   status   quo   is   the   paralysis   it   imposes   on   some   aspects   of governance   and   maintenance:   take,   for   instance,   the   case   of   the   ladder   placed   on   a   ledge   at the   entrance   to   the   church.   It   has   been   lying   there   untouched   for   decades   because   of   the inability of the guardians to decide who had the right to access it.                The   three   guardians   endeavor   to   keep   relations   among   the   various   Christian   churches harmonious, but it is a daunting task because of territorial jealousies, church sources say. The   issue   this   time   was   whether   the   Greek   Patriarchate   had   the   right   to   place   one   of   its priests    inside    the    Edicule,    the    vestibule    outside    the    entryway    to    the    tomb,    during    a procession   conducted   by   the   Armenian   Orthodox   church   on   the   occasion   of   the   marking   of the discovery of the cross on which Jesus was crucified.                Citing   an   1829   firman,   which   stipulated   that   "no   interference   or   interventions   should   ever be   allowed   to   occur   in   respect   of   the   celebration   of   mass   and   other   processions   of   the [Armenian]   community,"   the   Armenian   Patriarchate   charged   the   Greeks   with   gross   violation of its old rights. "Despite   several   written   protests,"   the   Patriarchate   said   in   a   statement,   "numerous   attempts to   peacefully   resolve   this   conflict   at   Status   Quo   Committee   meetings,   and   despite   the   most recent   negotiations"   with   the   Christian Affairs   Department   of   the   [Israeli]   Interior   Ministry,   as well   as   Jerusalem's   Old   City   police   commander,   the   Greeks   again   disrupted   an   Armenian solemn procession, by placing a monk within the edicule.                Outraged,   Armenian   priests   tried   to   physically   prevent   the   Greek   from   entering   the edicule.   But   dozens   of   Greek   monks   who   had   gathered   prior   to   the   commencement   of   the procession,   came   to   the   aid   of   their   compatriot,   and   "forcibly   attempted   to   enter   the edicule," the Armenian Patriarchate said.                Israeli   police   had   to   intervene,   forming   a   barrier   between   the   two   warring   sides,   but could   not   prevent   the   Greeks   from   attacking   the Armenian   priests   and   seminarians,   resulting in bloody scuffles, according to the Patriarchate.      One Armenian monk was briefly retained before being released.                "The   presence   of   a   Greek   monk   inside   the   edicule   is   a   serious   violation   of   the   status   quo governing   the   Holy   Places,   over   which   the Armenians,   Latins   and   Greek   Orthodox   share   equal rights of custodianship, "the Armenian Patriarchate said.                "The   Armenian   Patriarchate   has   made   its   position   clear   that   on   the   feast   of   the   holy cross,"   which   falls   on   the   fist   Sunday   of   Great   Lent,   Palm   Sunday   and   Holy   Fire   Saturday (marking   the   resurrection   of   Jesus),   when   they   are   in   procession   of   the   Holy   Tomb,   the Greeks should refrain from placing their monk inside the edicule," it added.      This was something the Greeks were evidently unwilling to concede.               And   not   until   such   time   as   the   message   of   peace,   mercy   and   love   that   Jesus   of   Nazareth preached   two   thousand   years   ago,   does   finally   overwhelm   the   heart   and   mind   of   those   who follow     him     in     Jerusalem,     and     they     acknowledge     their     common     bond     in     Christ's lovingkindness, will conflict be banned from Christendom's holiest shrine.      (November 11, 2008)  
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian