17415Moment of Truth in Jerusalem
- Jan 23, 2013http://www.mirrorspectator.com/2013/01/22/moment-of-truth-in-jerusalem/
Moment of Truth in Jerusalem
Editorial | January 22, 2013 2:51 pm
By Edmond Y. Azadian
An eerie silence reigns over the Armenian news media, both in Armenia
and in the diaspora, on one of the most crucial issues facing the entire
Armenian world. Indeed, the election of a patriarch in Jerusalem is
around the corner when the Brotherhood of St. James convenes on January 23.
We cannot lull ourselves into believing that this is an issue which
concerns only the Brotherhood, or for that matter only Armenians.
What happens at the Armenian Patriarchate on that date has far broader
ramifications than many of us believe. The interested outside parties
have their own plans. Rival churches have their own. Indeed, the only
people indifferent to these developments appear to be the Armenians who
hold the key to the situation. All that needs to be done is to use that
key wisely to preserve the treasures and the legal rights which our
ancestors have attained through blood and sweat over the centuries.
The Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem traces its roots all the way to
the sixth century, when a congregation and monastery were
established. Without enjoying the support and the protection of a
powerful Armenian state, the Armenian Patriarchate has won and
maintained equal rights along with the Greeks and Catholics and it
controls one sixth of the Old City.
In addition to legal and ceremonial privileges, the Patriarchate has
vast real estate holdings to the envy of other denominations
and ruling authorities of Jerusalem. After the Matenadaran in Yerevan,
the Patriarchate boasts the largest collection of Armenian
ancient manuscripts which have been jealously guarded and catalogued by
the monks, the last one being Bishop Norayr Bogharian
of blessed memory.
Although Greeks have suffered the same bitter fate at the hands of the
Turks as have the Armenians, Jerusalem has been a place where
historically there has not been any empathy from the Greek Patriarchate
toward the Armenians. On the contrary, they have taken every opportunity
to trample Armenian rights, the last one being recorded in the Church of
the Nativity. There are probably more problems in store in this
relationship, in view of the rapprochement between Israel and Cyprus in
exploring the continental shelf of the island for oil and gas, despite
threats issued by Ankara.
The rights of different faiths are guaranteed and governed by the
clauses of the Status Quo, decreed by the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Majid in
the 1880s. The Status Quo protects the rights of each denomination
against encroachment by the other churches. For the convenience of the
authorities ruling the holy places, that covenant also discourages any
interference by outside powers. However, historically the Vatican has
been successful in influencing the conduct of the local authorities as
well as the Russians and the Greeks. Only the Armenians have failed to
exert any influence, seldom having a sovereign or powerful government.
Additionally, the Brotherhood has been loath to encourage any outside
influence nor has it sought advice from any hierarchical authority. And
the weaker the Brotherhood has become, the more it has overplayed its
authority, sometimes to the detriment of the Patriarchate’s interests.
We all remember the degree of importance the Armenian Quarter attained
when it became a political hot potato at the Camp David negotiations.
Since the future of Jerusalem has not been determined yet, the destiny
of the Patriarchate still hangs in the balance.
As the Brotherhood convenes for the election, all the challenges facing
the Patriarchate must be the prime concern rather than the
personalities — and likes and dislikes — of the potential candidates. A
responsibility of historic magnitude rests on the shoulders of
each member of the Brotherhood.
We may briefly outline those challenges, and the Brotherhood in its
wisdom may decide on the commensurate qualities of the candidates and
cast their votes, realizing fully the far-reaching consequences of that
The Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem will remain a bone of contention
between the Israelis and the Palestinians for the foreseeable future.
And when the historic opportunity arises for a final settlement, that
person at the helm will determine the future course
of history for the Armenian Patriarchate. The Brotherhood has to foresee
who the best individual will be for that watershed moment.
Until 1967, and following the take over of Jerusalem by Israel, two
clergymen demonstrated their diplomatic skills in maneuvering between
the feuding forces to preserve the interests of the Patriarchate. Those
leaders were the much maligned late Patriarch Yeghishe Derderian and the
Chancellor, Archbishop Shahe Ajemian.
Our skirmishes with the Greeks and Ethiopians will continue, perhaps
even intensifying. Determination, patience and diplomacy have to play
their role, alternately, as the case may warrant, so that no legal or
ceremonial rights are compromised.
Nowhere in the world does the Armenian Church possess more holdings than
in Jerusalem. And those properties have whetted the
appetites of many parties.
Historically real estate has been poorly managed in Jerusalem, costing
tremendous losses. Any property leased for 99 years, as the precedents
have demonstrated, must be considered lost. Because, in time, real
estate changes its value and the legal manipulations by hostile parties
may take their toll. The patriarch himself cannot be a real estate
expert, but must have the prudence of delegating the responsibility to
the clergy or lay parties, skilled in the trade.
Property management in the hands of clergy has historically proven to be
a losing proposition. Not only have Armenians lost valuable property in
Jerusalem, but also in Venice, where the Mkhitarist fathers lost $50
million worth of property, claiming that it was only the monastery’s
business and no one else’s. The properties in Jerusalem and elsewhere
have been donated by benefactors or been acquired through the
contributions of ordinary church members and, the clergy, in principle,
plays the role of custodian rather than owner.
For many centuries the Jerusalem Patriarchate has served as the center
of academic activities, producing a valuable body of scholarly works.
Recent years have seen a sharp decline in scholarship, somehow
indicating that the historic mission has been abandoned.
The collection of rich manuscripts and historic documents, coupled with
an invigorated leadership may warrant the resumption of that historic
role. Especially throughout the 20th century, when Echmiadzin was under
Soviet rule, Jerusalem assumed the role of educating young members of
the clergy who eventually all took leadership positions throughout the
diasporan churches and they continue serving eminently. As Echmiadzin is
in the process of catching up in its role of clergy training, a heavy
responsibility still rests on the shoulders of the Jerusalem
Patriarchate in that area.
The Patriarchate at one time had been physically and spiritually
catering to a thriving community in Jerusalem. The dwindling population
of that community has added responsibilities to the Patriarchate’s
As the election date approaches, we have yet to witness a consensus
among membership of the Brotherhood around a leading candidate.
There are precedents when the Brotherhood elected patriarchs outside its
ranks, but we believe deserving members may emerge from within — a
candidate trained in Jerusalem and who has served around the world, with
broad experience in the Armenian Church structure as well as in the
ecumenical realm; a clergyman fluent in several languages and with
experience with many dioceses.
Certainly age discrimination cannot be a consideration, but age
eventually may become a factor in an atrophied leadership as it happened
with the late patriarch.
Also, whether we like it or not, a silent tug-of-war continues behind
the scenes, between the forces that have divided the Armenian Church and
the forces that uphold the supremacy of the Holy See and Echmiadzin. Any
candidate with a record of standing for the unity of the Armenian Church
will not only contribute to Jerusalem, but also to the healing process
of disunity through the entire structure of the church.
As we can see, the challenges are great and overwhelming. When a new
patriarch is elected, he will need the cooperation and the talents of
the entire Brotherhood.
We do hope the members of the Brotherhood will be able to envision the
historic perspective over their personal priorities and rise to the
occasion. The challenges are overwhelming, the choices are painful but
the impact of individual visions is critical.
This is no time for personal ambitions — the moment of truth is
approaching in Jerusalem.