Originally posted in themedialine.org

Concerns grow over the proposed lease for a luxury hotel in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter, which could displace residents, businesses, and religious institutions, irrevocably changing the landscape of the historic quarter

The developer who leased a large portion of the Armenian Quarter has presented to the Jerusalem Municipality a concept for a luxury hotel complex that would encompass 10 to 20% of Armenian land with the potential to tack on “adjacent” properties during the duration of the lease.

Details of the contract between the Armenian patriarch and Xana Gardens Ltd. were made public for the first time during the presentation on Friday of a fact-finding report by a team of international lawyers from the United States and Armenia, including Karnig Kerkonian, Elizabeth Al-Dajani, Garo Ghazarian, Arman Tatoyan, and Ani Nazaryan.

Audible groans rippled through the main square of the Armenian Convent as Setrag Balian, one of the activists opposing the deal, read the report’s conclusions during a press conference. Residents lingered after the presentation to pore through the information, which included a copy of the contract that shows what appears to be an altered date.

If this lease goes through, many fear it will forever alter the Armenian and Christian presence in Jerusalem.

“I feel betrayed,” Serop Sahagian told The Media Line. “It’s against us and our interests.”

He fears the company, Xana, is a front for a Jewish organization that seeks Old City land.

“We are at a very dangerous crossroads,” Sahagian said. “I hope we can survive this. Our community activities are in real danger. We cannot have any community activities if we don’t have a parking lot—the school and our clubs will be under real pressure.”

The plan presented to City Hall calls for a sprawling luxury hotel complex, managed by the exclusive One&Only chain, between 14,000 and 16,000 square meters (3.5 to 4 acres), well beyond the 11,500 square meters mentioned in the contract. The parking lot alone is 7,000 square meters.

This would mean the eviction of residents, businesses, and the Armenians’ seminary hall.

The lease in question is a 49-year contract for the Cow’s Garden, the name for the land currently used as a parking lot for Armenian residents of the quarter. The contract allows the lessee to extend the contract another 49 years. The Armenian Patriarchate, according to details of the contract signed by Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, an archbishop and the patriarchate’s then-real estate director, would receive an annual rent of $300,000 for the land during the duration of the lease.

The Media Line was able to view, but not copy or photograph, the documents.

Balian believes the report also offers hope in an expected legal battle to try to reverse the deal. The date on the contract appears to be altered from July 7 to July 8, 2021, to reflect the day that Xana Gardens Ltd. was incorporated in Israel. Also, the contract has three confirmed signatures on the Armenian side but only a stamp from the company without a signature or a position associated with it.

One of the signatories, now deposed priest and then-real estate director Khachik (formerly Baret) Yeretzian, told The Media Line in an interview in May that the land had been shopped around to hotel investors for decades. He said this one was the most financially beneficial for the Patriarchate.

Yeretzian brushed off comparisons to the sale of the Greek Patriarchate land including two hotels at Jaffa Gate to a Jewish land redemption group, saying that the developer, Danny Rothman (also known as Rubinstein), is not religious.