In an opinion piece published by a former Armenian diplomat Grigor Hovhannissian “Don’t fall for the lie of Armenian antisemitism,” facts were brutally distorted and replaced by half-truths and pure lies.
I consider it my obligation as a scholar who is researching Armenian-Azerbaijani relations to shed some light on the situation with antisemitism in Armenia.
Firstly, this should be very clear – antisemitism in Armenia exists. It is neither an Azerbaijani invention nor an Israeli one.
During the last year, we’ve been witnessing multiple antisemitic incidents in Armenia, some of them completely ignored by the authorities. Furthermore, the level of hatred and anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish speech online has risen significantly over the past year, especially since the beginning of the “Swords of Iron” war in Gaza.
Since September 2023, the only synagogue in Armenia has been the target of three consecutive arson attempts. The group behind the last two arsons, the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), threatened to attack rabbis and Israelis throughout the world and praised Hamas and Hezbollah following the October 7 massacre. While local security services did nothing to protect the synagogue, the authorities claimed that ASALA doesn’t exist anymore since it was disbanded decades ago.
Moreover, it was stated that some unidentified individuals who traveled to Armenia from Russia and left the country on the very same day committed the most recent attempt to burn down the synagogue. No evidence was provided, and no attempts were made to catch the criminals, probably because ASALA’s leaders, who fought against Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s together with Palestinian terrorists, are considered Armenian national heroes.
Armenian antisemitism hasn’t been limited to fringe extremists. Vladimir Pogosyan, a former adviser to the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Armenia and assistant to the former chief adviser to the President of Armenia on national security issues, filmed himself in an antisemitic rant, claiming that he will assist Hamas and Hezbollah in killing Jews. Pogosyan, who is well-known as an expert on national security in Armenia, said: “I never recognized the Holocaust,” and added, “Jews are destructive people who have no right to be on this earth.”
Pogosyan posted numerous similar videos expressing similar ideas, and he is far from the only government official to do so. Earlier this year, the first commander of the Artsakh Defense Forces, Colonel Arkady Karapetyan said in an interview that “Israeli instructors shot at us to test their weapons… Jews recently celebrated the day of remembrance of the victims of concentration camps and it was widely covered by the world media. Meanwhile, Israel is actively promoting the transformation of Artsakh into a death camp – with the tacit consent of the entire ‘civilized’ world… Israel uses Azerbaijan as an executioner, but the executioners themselves do not understand that they will also face a terrible punishment.”
Many Armenian mass media outlets, both local and international, support this view. Armenian Weekly, an English-language publication, claimed Baku and Tel Aviv were working together to “ethnically cleanse” Armenians from Karabakh.
“The former wants to resolve the Artsakh issue by force and ethnically cleanse Armenians from their homeland so that later it concentrates on its southern neighbor, perceiving it as an ‘existential threat.’ As for Israel, by resolving the ‘Armenian issue’ from Artsakh and having Russian forces removed, it could freely use the Azerbaijani military infrastructure in the bordering areas with Iran to launch future attacks against Tehran. Hence, the presence of Armenians in the region and the deployment of Russian troops are the only obstacles for Israel and its allies to launch coordinated attacks with Azerbaijan against Iran”.
This approach towards the State of Israel leads the media in Armenia to openly celebrate the October 7 massacre of Jews. The mainstream Armenian Report wrote, “There is the highest justice in the fact that citizens of the Jewish state now feel fear, despair, and defenselessness… Not only has Israel been guilty of heinous crimes against the Palestinian people, it has also taught Azerbaijan how it is ‘possible’ to act against the people of Artsakh.”
This antisemitic environment that was established in Armenia during the last year was mentioned by the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism in its official reports, while the latest one was published on September 25, 2023.
In its paper, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs pointed out that Armenians continued to exploit the Holocaust for propaganda purposes, comparing the mass murder of Jews during World War Two to the situation in Karabakh.
The footage of the Jewish prisoners’ liberation from the Dachau concentration camp in 1945 is used in an attempt to draw a comparison between the life of Jews during the Holocaust and the life of Armenians in Karabakh. According to the document, “on social networks in Armenia, they continue accusing Israel and Jews of supporting Azerbaijan while using antisemitic motives.”
Earlier that month, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs noted that when a well-known Jewish organization “The Rabbinical Center in Europe” asked Armenian officials to stop exploiting the Holocaust for propaganda purposes, “on the social networks of Armenia, there was a noticeable growth of antisemitic rhetoric, which included calls for violent actions against the Jews.”
These were just several examples of Armenian antisemitism over the last year. Many more cases have been documented by various professional media assets, Israeli government institutions, and think tanks like The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy and the Begin-Sadat Center.
Armenian antisemitism is not new, but it was downplayed over the years. Erecting the monument in Yerevan honoring Nazi collaborator Garegin Nzhdeh and glorifying him through a statue in Gyumri and streets in nearly 20 municipalities is one of the actions that were quite ignored by Israel.
According to an Index of Antisemitism published in May 2014 by the Anti-Defamation League, more than half (58%) of the adult population of Armenia had some kind of antisemitic stereotypes. 72% of respondents were sure, or did not rule out, that Jews had too much power in the business world; 68% believed that Jews had too much power in international financial markets; the traditional accusations that Jews “control the U.S. government” and have “too much control over global affairs” were shared by over half of the national respondents, while almost 40% believed that “Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars.”
According to the 2016 survey of antisemitism, conducted in 18 European countries by the American “Pew Research Center”, 32% of Armenian respondents would not be ready to accept Jews as fellow citizens – the highest percentage of any of the studied countries in the research. Only 18% of Armenian respondents were ready to accept Jews as their family members.
As it can be seen, Armenian antisemitism is real and shouldn’t be ignored. It is clear that Armenian officials are trying to distort the picture and prefer playing a double game – supporting antisemitism inside the country and pretending it doesn’t exist on the international level. However, the facts are quite clear, and while the situation with antisemitism in Armenia is deteriorating, it is important that the State of Israel continue supporting Armenian Jews and monitoring the situation.
The war in Gaza became a dramatic trigger for Jewish haters all over the world to raise their voices. It is sad that Armenian people are once again among them.
Dr. Elina Bardach-Yalov