Palestinian “Fatah” Party’s delegation has arrived in Yerevan. In September, Palestine intends to raise the issue of its independence’s recognition in UN and Palestinians strive to enlist the support of as many countries as possible.
Palestinian delegation’s visit to Armenia is not random at all, since the sides are connected with many ties, even if sometimes not visible. One of the most important factors is the fate of the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem.
In 2000, it was suggested at the negotiations in Camp David separating the Old City into two parts. According to this formula, the Jewish and Armenian sectors would be under control of Israel, and the Christian and Muslim ones should be under the control of Palestinian autonomy. The Heads of Christian Churches of the Holy Land -- the Armenian, Orthodox and Catholic -- were not informed on this formula, and already post factum they addressed U.S. President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Barak and the Head of Palestinian autonomy Yasser Arafat with the suggestion to invite representatives of the Churches to the next round of negotiations “so that our collective presence in Jerusalem is unambiguously preserved and fully guaranteed”. “We perceive Christian and Armenian quarters of the Old City as inseparable sectors, which are strongly connected by a common fate”, the Heads of the Churches were writing.
The Armenian quarter takes one sixth of the Old City. The entire property of the Armenian sector of the city belongs to the Patriarchy. The Armenian Patriarchy also occupies the position of the owner of not only the monastery land, where almost 50 monks and priests reside, but also the residence of 6-7 hundreds of laymen, who live inside the fenced complex.
Almost half of 2000 Armenians, who live in Jerusalem, live in the Christian and Muslim parts of the city. They are concerned that the division of the city may lead to split of the Armenian community. Another problem is education. Children of Armenians, who reside outside the Armenian quarter, attend the school of Surb Hakob Complex, and if the city is divided, they may be deprived of the chance to receive national education.
One of the main goals of Armenian President Robert Kocharian’s unofficial visit to Israel and Palestinian autonomy in January, 2000, was to express support for the Armenian community of Jerusalem, which is on the edge of a collapse and assimilation.
Back in late 2000, Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vardan Oskanyan stated that Armenia was against separation of the Armenian and Christian quarters of Jerusalem. “We believe that given any solution to the issue of Jerusalem’s status, the Armenian quarter of the city should not be separated from the Christian one. Along with the Greek and Latin Patriarchies, the Armenian Patriarchy has been “the Christian image of Jerusalem” for centuries, the Minister said then.
In August, 2000, already after the failure of the negotiations in Camp David, Yasser Arafat refuted the information of Israeli sources, according to which he had agreed to leave the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem under Israel’s control. Arafat said in an interview to Palestinian “Al-Ayyam” newspaper then: “The Armenian quarter belongs to us; we and Armenians are one city”. And in October, 2002, Arafat stated in an interview to Arabic “Al-Hayat” newspaper, which was being published in London: “Israel wanted to control the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem and I told them that I will never betray Armenians”.
In 2003, Catholicos Garegin II spoke for attaching Jerusalem a special status. He noted then that not a single decision of Jerusalem should endanger the inviolability of the city’s sacred places.
Thus, despite the fact that Armenian authorities do not have direct levers of pressure the Armenian Patriarchy of Jerusalem, Yerevan has emphasized its stance numerous times over the past years.
Despite that, it is not obvious at all that Armenia will support in UN the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. And in this case, this is not an issue of political sympathies or antipathies, but the principle, which the Armenian President voiced after the Georgian-Russian war in August, 2008:
“Recently the question “Will Armenia recognize independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia?” is voiced more an more frequently. Just like in case with Kosovo, it is obvious that in conditions of Karabakh problem, Armenia cannot recognize independence of analogous formations without recognizing independence of Nagorno-Karabakh”, Serzh Sargsian was saying. There are grounds to assume that this approach of official Yerevan is applicable for the case of Palestine as well. Otherwise, if we recognize independence of Palestine, it will be extremely difficult for us to turn down possible “requests” on recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Ara Tadevosyan is the Director of Mediamax.