Today continuing this story from RIA about the Russia Day festivities in Jerusalem, which gives us an opportunity to delve into the history of the Sergiev Courtyard, which, by the way, is located in West Jerusalem. It would have been more of a scandal if the party had been held in East Jerusalem. And, the more I research and write this post, the less convinced I am, that there even is a scandal. But we shall see…
Where we left off in our story: In 1886 the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (Russian acronym ИППО) had purchased 4252 square meters of prime real estate in West Jerusalem, and built this compound. Which was like a 5-star hotel (in its time) for Russian dignitaries and Russian Orthodox pilgrims to the Holy Land. The Fund which purchased this land and paid for the construction was a joint project of the Russian Emperor and the Russian Orthodox Church.
We got up to the year 1917 when the British took over Palestine. But before we examine the frictions between the Brits and the Russians in Palestine, we need to go back one step and look at World War I:
During the years 1914-1919 a man named K.N. Petropulo was technically in charge of managing the Sergiev Compound for Russia. Unfortunately, Petropulo turned out to be a bit of an international maverick. I couldn’t find a wiki page on this guy, even in Russian. The Sergiev Courtyard wiki page just says that Petropulo allowed Turkish officers and soldiers into the compound as early as 1914. I reckon this was considered a no-no, since Turkey had originally entered WWI on the side of the Central Powers, with a secret Ottoman-German alliance signed behind the scenes. Whereas Russia was on the other side: allied with England and France. Putting aside the issue of which side Russia should have been on — and I believe that Russia should have joined with Germany against England, but that’s just my personal opinion — anyhow, one can see that Petropulo’s actions might have been seen as improper at the time, possibly even treasonous. But Petropulo was nothing if not a flexible traitor: When the Brits invaded Palestine he allowed their soldiers also to bivouac in the compound. We shall see the relevance of this later, when there be some finger-pointing and a bit of “Who dunnit?” and “Twasn’t me, it was the dog.”
We previously mentioned the English General Sir Edmund Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby. Ed, as his friends didn’t call him, because he wasn’t an American, was particularly noted for swaggering about Jerusalem with a brown fuzzy caterpillar attached to his upper lip, and always accompanied by his orderly, Baldrick.
Then in 1919 a Russian guy named Nikolai Romanovich Seleznev arrived in Jerusalem. Seleznev was totally familiar with the Compound, having lived there for years as the Facilities Manager prior to WWI. Seleznev’s first job was rectify Petropulo’s mistakes and get the compound back under Russian control. Seleznev acquired the support of the White Generals (currently fighting in Russia’s Civil War), Kolchak and Denikin. Admiral Kolchak, in particular, had enough clout with the British, that they came around to accepting Seleznev, prior to this they wouldn’t even take his business card, but now they graciously allowed him to return to his functions as Manager of the Compound. Where, entering it for the first time since the start of the war, Seleznev almost had an embolism. He was shocked to see that his once sparkling 5-star hotel had been turned into an egregious pig-sty. Everything that wasn’t nailed down, had been looted; and that which was not looted, was now all nasty, and filthy, and yucky.
For the sake of the delicate-minded and also so as not to offend my legions of Turkish readers, I won’t go into the gory details; we shall just stipulate that the Turkish soldiers had not left things in very good shape, and that there was quite a lot of clean-up to do. On the other hand, one must recall that the Brits also had occupied the hotel from time to time; that British soldiers are not always as fastidious as one might think (one just needs to read Napoleon’s thoughts on this matter, especially when he was fighting against the English brutes in Egypt); and hence one cannot leap to conclusions about who stole what, or who did what on the floor.
Be that as it may, we now skip forward to 1922, the start of the so-called “British Mandate” over Palestine. The British benevolently agreed to take over the (now cleaned-up) Sergiev Compound and run it on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church and the ИППО Fund, which had gone into exile to Berlin. (Due to the fact that the Reds had won the Civil War, and the Bolsheviks were not always able to reclaim all the Imperial property abroad.) The British colonial powers continued to manage properties of the Russian Orthodox Church in Palestine right up until 1948, when they were about to get kicked out by the Jewish insurgency. As the Sergiev Compound is located in Western Jerusalem, it eventually fell to the new Israeli government. A White Guard exile Colonel V.A. Samarsky managed the Compound from 1948 to 1951. In all these years since the Russian Civil War, the Soviet government had never been able to get this valuable chunk of real estate back into their red-octopine tentacles.
And then, in 1951, Stalin got personally involved, and things started to change. And, by the way — this is relevant to the current theme of Russo-Israeli relations — one needs to keep in mind, that the Soviet Union not only supported Israeli independence, but was the first nation on the planet (17 May 1948) to recognize Israel as a legitimate state.
[to be continued]