Exclusive: Priest Says He Became ‘Scapegoat’ for Controversial Armenian Land Deal Armenian Patriarchate tells TML that the patriarch was deceived by the priest By Nicole Jansezian/The Media Line The Armenian priest recently defrocked by the patriarchate said that he is being made the scapegoat in a controversial property deal involving a large swath of land […]
The Media Line: Exclusive: Priest Says He Became ‘Scapegoat’ for Controversial Armenian Land Deal
Exclusive: Priest Says He Became ‘Scapegoat’ for Controversial Armenian Land Deal
Armenian Patriarchate tells TML that the patriarch was deceived by the priest
By Nicole Jansezian/The Media Line
The Armenian priest recently defrocked by the patriarchate said that he is being made the scapegoat in a controversial property deal involving a large swath of land in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter.
Father Khachik (Baret) Yeretzian—former real estate director of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem—signed the contract but said his signature is only one of three.
“My signature doesn’t mean anything. Nobody’s signature means anything, just the patriarch, because the patriarch is the legal owner of the property,” Yeretzian said.
The deal in question—details of which have neither been confirmed nor denied by the Armenian Patriarchate—is supposedly a 99-year lease to a Jewish developer who will build a luxury hotel on the land.
Though signed in 2021, the deal became reality in April when Xana Capital took over the parking lot and placed signs announcing its ownership, sparking protests in the Armenian Quarter against the patriarch and Yeretzian himself.
“I have done nothing illegal and nothing wrong. That decision (to laicize me) was based on personal vendettas. For them to do this kind of act, to break somebody whose signature doesn’t even mean anything … there is another signature more important,” Yeretzian added, referring to Archbishop Sevan Gharibian. “The patriarch used me as a scapegoat.”
In response to Yeretzian’s statements, the Armenian Patriarchate told The Media Line that the former priest deceived the patriarch, Nourhan Manougian.
“He has been appointed as a real estate director to explain the details of every contract and deal to His Beatitude and the Holy Synod,” the Armenian Patriarchate told The Media Line. “However, former Fr. Baret not only didn’t do it but also deceived His Beatitude that it is a very good deal for our Patriarchate. In other words, former Fr. Baret exploited His Beatitude’s trust, in order to implement his fraudulent and deceitful dealings.”
The Synod voted unanimously in May to defrock Yeretzian “for his disloyalty and especially the series of frauds and deceptions he committed regarding” the real estate transaction. The vote came after the Hashemite Kingdom and the Palestinian Authority announced their refusal to recognize Manougian as patriarch.
Yeretzian alleged that Manougian signed the 99-year lease without seeking Synod approval. However, the Patriarchate said it was Yeretzian who “asserted that Holy Synod in the past has already given its approval to such a deal and there is no need to bring it to the Holy Synod or to the General Assembly.”
The contract has not been made public, and Yeretzian would not say what is in it, but he told this reporter that the concept of building a hotel in the parking lot which abuts the Old City walls between Jaffa and Zion gates predates the current patriarch. As far back as 1994, a map in the Armenian Patriarchate shows “Goverou Bardez—Future site of the hotel,” Yeretzian said.
Danny Rubinstein, an Australian developer who is believed to have closed the deal, is one in a long line of potential buyers who negotiated with the Patriarchate including a Jordanian hotel owner, Armenian businessmen from Russia, and a Palestinian, Yeretzian said.
Land transfers in Jerusalem are sensitive because they can upset the status quo and final status arrangements of the city. During the Camp David Summit in 2000, Israeli negotiators proposed that the Armenian Quarter remain under Israeli sovereignty and administrative control. However, the late PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat demanded it fall under Palestinian sovereignty. No agreement was reached, and talks failed.
In their statement last month, the PA and Jordan noted that the patriarch’s “dealings constituted a clear violation of relevant international covenants and decisions, which aim to preserve the status quo in Jerusalem and protect the authentic Jerusalemite Armenian heritage.”
However, Yeretzian vouched for the deals made under his watch, even this latest one which he believes “is in the best interests of the Patriarchate.”
Other deals involving Armenian property in the Old City occurred before his time and under different patriarchs, Yeretzian said. He also insisted that residents who are now protesting the deal knew about the hotel project for a long time.
“Everybody knew about the projects,” but nobody objected at the time, he said. “When this Jordanian (hotel owner) came, nobody spoke about it.”
A 2021 article in which Yeretzian was interviewed about the deal was sent to every priest at the time, he said, “Also members of the synod—why they didn’t argue then?”
He also contends that Jordan and the Palestinians were aware of the deal.
“The king and the Palestinians had a copy of the contract before. We sent the contract to his majesty. They knew it a long time ago,” he said.
The Armenian Patriarchate countered this as well.
“Even the Brotherhood did not know about this deal except a few clergymen; how do you expect the Jordanians and Palestinians to know?” the Patriarchate said.
Yeretzian, calling from the United States, said he has no documents with him to support his claims because he left them in the Armenian Patriarchate. When he was moving out of his home in the convent, Armenian residents there chased him to a waiting taxi with shouts of “traitor” for his part in signing away the land.
“I don’t know politics. I’m a clergyman. I did in my good heart for the interests of the patriarchate and what they did (to me) is totally wrong and what the people did was totally wrong. They were like gangsters, like a mob. They thought they were going to find millions of dollars,” he said. “I never received a single dollar.”