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17415Moment of Truth in Jerusalem

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Jan 23, 2013
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      http://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
      vote.

      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
      leadership.

      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.