JERUSALEM (Armenian News Network/Groong)–Israeli Police prevented Saturday hundreds of Armenian pilgrims from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The pilgrims–from Jerusalem–the United States–Canada–and Australia–were there to attend the annual Holy Fire Ceremony.
On Saturday morning–the Armenian procession participating in the Holy Fire Ceremony began walking from the Cathedral of St. James in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City. The procession was led by the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul–His Beatitude Archbishop Mesrob II Mutafian–and the Grand Sacristan of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem–His Eminence Archbishop Nourhan Manougian. Following them were numerous Armenian priests–scouts–and pilgrims.
That day–3,000 Israeli police were deployed in and around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre–located in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. They were present for security reasons–as well as to preserve order during the rituals. These procedures were partly due to rising tensions among members of the Greek Orthodox Community–as a result of recent Greek Patriarchal elections.
While some Armenian worshippers were able to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the Holy Fire Ceremony–about 500 Armenian pilgrims were prevented from entering. After showing Israeli police the special entry permits that were issued by the police themselves–the Armenian pilgrims were told that there was not enough space in the church. Those inside the church–however–said that only one third of the church’s Armenian section was filled.
This action by the police led to a scuffle between the two groups and resulted in the arrest of several Armenia’s–including community leader Serop Sahagian.
In another incident–two Orthodox Jews disrupted a procession of Armenian Scouts–which caused a scuffle between them and resulted in the arrest of two Armenian scouts. Both Armenian scouts were beaten and taken to the Police station.
While they were being questioned–about 800 members of the Armenian community gathered in front of the Israeli police station demanding the release of the five Armenia’s inside. The Israeli Police then agreed to release the Armenian detainees in order to ease rising tensions in front of the police station.
In an interview with the Haaretz newspaper on the evening of April 22–Archbishop Nourhan Manougian said that the police only allowed about half of the 700 Armenian pilgrims to enter the Holy Sepulchre Church for the Holy Fire Ceremony–despite the fact that all had entry permits as required by the police.
Haaretz quoted him as saying–"Israel has always declared that it allows free access to the Holy Places–but in fact the police acted like a despot to the pilgrims. There were some who had come especially for the ceremony from the United States–Canada and Australia–and were not allowed in."
Community leader Serop Sahagian expressed his frustration regarding the situation saying–"This is totally ridiculous. The entry permits that were issued by the Israeli Police in conjunction with the Armenian Patriarchate were not accepted by the same authority that issued them."
Sahagian added: "For the past 15 years we have become extremely frustrated with the manner in which the Israeli Police have treated us. They have placed obstacles in front of our community and have interfered with our right to freely worship in this holy city."