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17375Armenians, Greeks Reach Ceasefire on Church-Cleaning Conflict

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Jan 12, 2013

      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
      rule (1517-1917).

      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 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.