17375Armenians, Greeks Reach Ceasefire on Church-Cleaning Conflict
- Jan 12, 2013http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66363
Armenians, Greeks Reach Ceasefire on Church-Cleaning Conflict
January 7, 2013 - 10:01am, by Elizabeth Owen
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 a
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
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 the
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.