Jerusalem’s Armenian community is worried they will be forced out of their neighborhood due to a land development deal.
The community has resided in that part of the city’s Old City section since at least 25 B.C. Some 2,000 Armenians still live in the Armenian Quarter.
Some Christian historians believe the land is also the Biblical Mount Zion, an area that is coveted by other nations and religions.
The land in question is roughly 8 acres, according to the Jerusalem Post, and is a quarter of the current Armenian Quarter, which itself is about 14% of the Old City.
The 99-year lease has touched sensitive nerves, the Associated Press reports.
There are concerns that the Christian minority will be squeezed out. Alarm over the lease spread in April after Israeli land surveyors suddenly appeared.
Word got around that an Australian-Israeli investor planned to transform the parking lot and limestone fortress of Armenian apartments and shops into an ultra-luxury hotel.
The Armenian body that manages the community’s civil and religious affairs admitted that the church had signed the 99-year lease.
The Armenian patriarch, Nourhan Manougian, alleged that a now-defrocked priest did the deal without his full knowledge.
The admission inflamed passions in the Armenian Quarter, where activists decried the deal as a threat to the community’s longtime presence in Jerusalem, according to the Associated Press.
The now-deposed priest who coordinated the deal, Baret Yeretsian fled to California for his safety.
Yeretsian identified the investor as Australian-Israeli businessman Danny Rothman.
Rothman declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press. “I never get interviewed by the press. I’m a private person,” he said before hanging up.
Yeretsian said the project would be managed by the One&Only hotel company based in Dubai.
Kerzner International, the owner of One&Only Resorts, also declined to comment to the Associated Press.
Palestinian officials accused Manougian of helping Israel in a decades-long battle between Israel and the Palestinians over a city that both sides claim as their capital.
Yeretsian dismissed fears of an Israeli settler takeover of the Armenian Quarter as “propaganda” based solely on Rothman’s Jewish identity, according to the report.