Lawyers Acquired Illegal Land Lease Contract Despite Stonewalling Patriarch

  • 30.07.2023
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Keghart.org interviews Jerusalem activist Hagop Djernazian, who along with Setrag Balian and 

several other concerned Jerusalemites, helped expose and publicize the illegal Goveroun Bardez (Cows’ Garden) contract secretly signed by Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, now defrocked Rev. Baret Yeretsian, and Archbishop Sevan Gharibian. The 98-year lease gave away twenty-five percent of the Armenian Quarter to Israeli interests. Djernazian comments on the findings of the lawyers who recently returned from a fact-finding mission.

KEGHARTTell us about the recent fact-finding mission of the team of mostly Armenian-America lawyers to Jerusalem? 

HAGOP DJERNAZIAN: The day Jerusalem’s Armenian community rose and drove out the defrocked Fr. Baret Yeretsian from the Armenian Convent international lawyer Karnig Kerkonian texted me asking about the situation in Jerusalem. I told him of the latest developments. We agreed to work together. Few weeks later, a delegation of Armenian lawyers arrived in Jerusalem. The delegation was headed by Mr. Kerkonian, international lawyer Elizabeth Al-Dadjani, criminal lawyer Garo Ghazarian, human rights defender Arman Tatoyan, and senior law clerk Ani Nazaryan.

The lawyers first stopped in Amman (Jordan) where they met Dr. Wasfi Kilani and Dr. Ramzi Khoury representatives of the Jordanian and Palestinian governments. Two days later they came to Jerusalem where they started their meetings, beginning with community members. Afterwards, they met representatives of the  Patriarchate, heads of the other Churches, local lawyers, Palestinian government representatives, and Jerusalem municipality representatives. Their visit to Jerusalem was very helpful: for one thing, it gave the community hope and thus the impetus to continue the struggle. The most important accomplishment of the lawyers was the acquisition of a copy of the 98-year lease contract.  The lawyers completed their 184-page report a few weeks ago.

The lawyers’ report is of historic importance. For two years the Goveroun Bardez scandal has been on the table unresolved. No community member had seen the contract. It’s worth mentioning that Keghart was the first in publicizing the scandal and staying on top of developments. After two years of uncertainly and the absence of facts, Jerusalemite Armenians and  Armenians worldwide are now better informed about the scandalous deal due to the lawyers’ report. Their document will be used for legal proceedings and, of course, by reading it, future generations will learn about the historic importance of Jerusalem and about the scandal which shook not just Jerusalem Armenians but all Armenians.

KEGHARTWhat are the contract details which Patriarch Nourhan kept under wraps for more than two years and what are the highlights of the lawyers’ report? 

HD: The document includes 31 pages of reports, conclusions and steps to be taken to reverse the illegal contract. It also includes the 10-year lease contract with the Jerusalem municipality in addition to the illegal 98-year lease contract as well as numerous appendices collected throughout the past two years. As well, it includes the plan presented to the Municipality by the Australian-Jewish developer Rubinstein/Rothman who has stated he would build a seven-star hotel at Goveroun Bardez.

KEGHARTTell us more about the 98-year contract. 

HD: The 98-year lease contract contains 21 pages with page four missing. Thus our knowledge of the contract is incomplete. The contract is written in English and is signed by the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, Archbishop Sevan Gharibian, defrocked Fr. Baret Yeretsian, and  Rubinstein/Rothman of Xana Capital.

KEGHARTWhat are the highlights of the contract? 

HD: Some 11,500-sq. meters were leased as part of the 98-year contract to Xana. That includes Goveroun Bardez, five homes, the Patriarch’s Garden, the Patriarch’s private parking as well as the hall of the seminary. It covers 25 percent of the Armenian Quarter. In effect, all of the western part of the Armenian Quarter.

The first phase of the lease covers 49 years. After that, there’s an option for another 49 years. Only Xana Capital has the right to decide whether to extend the contract for another 49 years. Xana Capital has also the right to use adjacent lands. Unfortunately, we don’t know what are these adjacent lands.

Xana Capital will pay an annual fee of $300,000 to the Patriarchate. That is $25,000 per month for 11,500 sq. meters. An incredible bargain for Xana.

Scheme I: Total units: 69 (target 75); total area:14,500 gross SQM (target 16,000 SQM) 

KEGHARTHow did the lawyers get a copy of the contract? From the Patriarchate or the municipality? If not from the Patriarchate, why not?

HD: The lawyers got a copy of the contract from a third party and not from the Patriarchate. As many of us know, the Patriarchate tried to hide the contract. Many Jerusalemite Armenians asked to see the contract, but the Patriarchate refused to show it to them. The Patriarchate didn’t give a copy of the contract to the lawyers either.

Some have asked that since the Patriarchate didn’t give the contract to the lawyers, how are we sure what was received from the third party is genuine? We know what we have is genuine because we were able to confirm it with the Patriarchate that it is a genuine copy. The Patriarchate has the contract with the missing fourth page.

The contract is absolutely scandalous and a disaster. According to the report prepared by the lawyers,  Yeretsian’s role in the negotiations on behalf of the Patriarchate is corroborated as is Yeretsian’s working relationship with counsel for the Patriarchate (Joseph Avneeri) to whom the development contract awards significant fees to be paid by Xana Gardens Ltd.

It is important to mention also the role of Patriarch Manougian. According to the lawyers’ conclusion: “While Patriarch Manougian has denied any role in the negotiations of the development contract in response to the accusations levelled by Yeretsian, we have not been able to independently confirm the truth of the Patriarch’s denial. “

It is worth recalling that Yeretsian refused to meet the lawyers despite many attempts by the commission to interview him.

KEGHARTNow that lease details (minus p. 4 and the annexes) are known, the next concern is how to cancel/reverse the contract. What’s the advice of the lawyers? What are the steps necessary to cancel the deal?

HD: The community is working with the lawyers to find a way to reverse the deal. A glimpse of hope is that the deal violated the constitution of the Patriarchate and that there are manipulations in the deal. According to the report prepared by the lawyers, the manipulations are as follows:

1.The date on the contract appears to be altered from July 7 to July 8, 2021 to reflect the day that Xana Gardens Limited was registered in Israel.

The date appearing on all the pages have been typewritten as 7 July 2021 and then on the first and last page a handwriting changes the 7 to 8. Xana Gardens, as mentioned above, wasn’t registered as an Israeli company until July 8, 2021. The contract was signed on July 7, 2021. That is, Xana Gardens Ltd. didn’t exist yet as a registered company in Israel when it purportedly signed the contract.

2. Another point which can be considered manipulation is that nowhere in the contract does it specify the identity of the individual signing the contract on behalf of Xana Gardens Ltd. The certification part, which was supposed to be signed by Danny Rothman is not signed by him while the certification part for the Patriarchate is signed. The lessor is not only identified by label but by individual names and positions of the people signing on behalf of the Patriarchate. An attorney certification appears for the Patriarchate’s signatures.

KEGHARTWhat’s next as far as the community is concerned?

HD: The community is working in many different ways to reverse the deal and also to make the public aware of the scandal. In the upcoming weeks, the community will announce its steps and the way people can help us.

KEGHART: The Patriarch and Archbishop Gharibian have said they would reverse the deal. Are they working at it? If not, why not?

HD: From what I know and have heard from the Patriarchate clergy, those who hold high positions in the Patriarchate are working on canceling the deal. I don’t know how they are planning to do it. The Patriarch and those around him said at the outset that they needed two months to reverse the deal. But we are entering the end of the third month since the Patriarch said he would reverse the deal in two months.

KEGHARTHow much would it cost the cancel the contract? Where will the money come from? What’s the community’s mood like?

HD: I don’t have a specific figure. None of us, including the lawyers, know the amount. If money is needed, I’m sure the Patriarchate, the community and the Armenian nation will work together to raise the required amount to pay the cancellation penalty. Our goal is to reverse the deal and return Goveroun Bardez to Armenians.

We, meaning the community, are full of hope that we will succeed in the struggle. The visit of the lawyers gave everyone a glimpse of hope. We should stay positive to reach our goal.

Regarding the above, I would like to make something very clear: there are many sensitive points in the struggle. We all should be very smart and think twice before we act. We are fighting against very powerful people. But we, as a community and a nation, are stronger than those who are trying to change the integrity of the Armenian Quarter.  We will succeed if we stay united, act wisely, and believe in those who are working 24/7 to reverse this deal.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Keghart.org team for being at the forefront of reporting, since 2021, the Goveroun Bardez and other real estate scandals of the Armenian Patriarchate .

Note: Photos represent the developer’s plan for Goveroun Bardez. They were obtained from the municipality by the Armenian lawyers.

Lawyers Acquired Illegal Land Lease Contract Despite Stonewalling Patriarch – Keghart

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