Armenia and Israel: The road to better relations
Armenia and Israel: The road to better relations

The Eastern Mediterranean region is not known for having the easiest of political situations. Two nations not typically focused on in tandem, but share similar struggles are the states of Armenia and Israel.

From both experiencing genocides, to being minorities surrounded by what can be considered hostile neighbors, Armenia and Israel have similar backgrounds. Despite that, due to geopolitics, including Israel’s relationships with Azerbaijan and Turkey, relations between the two nations are not where they would be expected to be.

Israel’s recent motion to recognize the Armenian Genocide (and the concurrent Assyrian and Greek Genocides) committed by Ottoman Turks and Kurds is commendable and certainly a great step in the right direction.

Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, said that the issue of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide will be brought to a plenary voting when the Knesset secures a majority for recognition.  “The Israeli Knesset must recognize the Armenian Genocide because it is the right and moral thing to do- and not because of political or momentary diplomatic interests…The moment we are convinced the Knesset will have a majority for recognition, we will bring it to a plenary voting,” he added.

Meretz chairwoman, Tamar Zandberg, who introduced the motion to the Knesset, said that recognizing the Armenian Genocide “shouldn’t hurt ties with any country. This is a basic moral issue.... We, the Jewish people, know the value of recognizing national tragedies.”

Israel’s lack of official recognition of the Armenian genocide and its ongoing support of Azerbaijan, which actively seeks the annihilation of Armenia, Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), and Armenians, has added to the lack of otherwise presumed cooperation between the two countries. Israel supplying weapons to Azerbaijan—a country that actively teaches that Armenians are devils and deserving of death—while the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict has no foreseeable conclusion, is a major point of contention for Armenians.

The 1988 “Karabakh File” by the Zoryan Institute states that “Karabakh, the historic Artsakh province, is central to Armenian cultural and historical identify and statehood… [and it is also] one of the few remaining districts of historic Armenia still inhabited by a majority Armenian population.”

The Nagorno Karabakh or Artsakh Republic is historically and demographically Armenian territory.  In the face of continued Azeri persecution, Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence in 1991. Its constitution “recognizes the fundamental human rights and freedoms as inalienable and supreme value, for freedom, justice and peace.” Armenian officials have long been seeking a peaceful resolution for the Artsakh-Azerbaijan conflict while the Azeri military continuously targets Artsakh in an attempt to destroy it.

Between April 1 and 5, 2016, for example, Azerbaijan launched a full-blown attack on multiple positions of Artsakh and targeted Armenian civilians indiscriminately. Casualties included the 12-year-old Armenian boy, Vaghinag Grigoryan, and elderly couple, Valera Khalapyan and his wife, Razmela, who were found shot in their homes with their ears cut off. Another resident, Marousya Khalapyan, born in 1924, was also murdered by the Azeri military.

Azeri soldiers also beheaded the 20-year-old Yazidi soldier of the Armenian army, Kyaram Sloyan. Pictures of Azeri soldiers holding Sloyan´s decapitated head surfaced on first on social media and then the incident was covered by several news outlets.

The Azerbaijani officer who decapitated Sloyan has become a national hero in Azerbaijan, after Azeri president, Ilham Aliyev awarded him a medal, once again demonstrating his annihilationist ideology against Armenians.

Azerbaijan’s policies affect Armenia more than others, but Azerbaijan has caused problems for Maltese citizens using its oil and natural gas as leverage, has attempted to have French journalists arrested for reporting “negatively” on Azerbaijan, and a plethora of other such policies and conflicts from the autocratic state.

For relations to improve tremendously between Armenia and Israel, the official recognition of the Armenian Genocide and halting the supply of weapons to Azerbaijan would certainly put the nations on the same path.

The Jews and Armenians have a lot in common in their grievances caused by historic persecution and genocides they had suffered. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, during the 1915 Armenian Genocide, “US Ambassador to Constantinople Henry Morgenthau Sr. [who was a Jew] was deeply troubled by the atrocities committed against the Armenians and was among those who sought to rouse the world's conscience in response."

“The Armenian genocide cast a long shadow into the Holocaust era. Ambassador Morgenthau's son, Henry Morgenthau Jr., was secretary of the treasury in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In part due to his memories of the Armenian genocide, Morgenthau Jr. was a key advocate for the establishment of the War Refugee Board which rescued as many as 200,000 Jews from Nazi Europe. Perhaps most hauntingly, a novel about Armenian self-defense (Franz Werfel's The Forty Days of Musa Dagh) was secretly passed from hand-to-hand among Jews imprisoned in ghettos during the Holocaust, who saw in it an inspirational analogy to their plight and a call to resistance.”

Armenia currently does not recognize Palestine as an independent nation, while Israel continues to not recognize the Armenian Genocide and has not ceased its support of Azerbaijan.
Among the rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust were Armenians— some of them motivated by the memory of the atrocities committed against them at the beginning of the 20th century. These acts of rescue took place where the Armenians fled subsequent to the genocide—Ukraine, Crimea, France, Hungary, and Austria, according to the Jewish “Yad Vashem” Museum-Institute. “Having witnessed the Armenian Genocide, we decided to save them,” a rescuer, Pran Tashchiyan, said.

Another hero, Haroutyoun Khachatryan, a military physician during World War II, was posthumously awarded the “Righteous among the Nations Award” by the Yad Vashem.

During the award ceremony, Director of Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, Hayk Demoyan, said that the event is not only dedicated to the salvation of one person by another, but it is Armenian and Jewish genocide victims’ commemoration ceremony, as well. He also commemorated U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the genocide, saying, in part:

“Ambassador Morgenthau was not obliged to protect the rights of Western Armenians [Armenians in Historic Armenia, which is today within Turkey’s borders], but he did it, seriously spoiling his relationship with Young Turk criminals [the genocidal Ottoman government]. In the years of Armenian Genocide, Henry Morgenthau was not the only Jew who raised his voice in the favor of the Armenians.”

Armenians and Jews have another strong element in common—both nations are surrounded by people dedicated to their extermination. Today, Armenia and Artsakh are viciously attacked by Azerbaijan supported by Turkey. Moreover, Turkey not only denies the Armenian Genocide, but also punishes today’s citizens of Armenia by closing its border with the country. Similarly, Israel is continuously targeted by Hamas, Islamic jihadists, other terrorist organizations, and hostile states that do not recognize Israel’s existence or right to exist.

However, that’s where things begin to snag. Armenia currently does not recognize Palestine as an independent nation, while Israel continues to not recognize the Armenian Genocide and has not ceased its support of Azerbaijan. This effectively puts the ball in Israel’s court to begin alleviating issues between Israel and Armenia—hopefully in a way that would make Ambassador Morgenthau proud.

James Hasso is an Assyrian-Armenian American activist whose great grandparents had survived the 1913-1923 Armenian-Assyrian-Greek Genocide and the ongoing pogroms against Assyrians in the Middle East after WWI.