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Armenia recognizes Palestine, strengthening strained ties with Israel

Armenia recognizes Palestine, strengthening strained ties with Israel
Armenia recognizes Palestine, strengthening strained ties with Israel

 


YEREVAN, Armenia The Armenian government announced Friday that it will recognize the state of Palestine, following similar announcements made in recent weeks by Norway, Ireland, Spain and Slovenia. The decision, which made Armenia the 145th country to grant such recognition, drew praise from Palestinian authorities and harsh reprimands from Israel.

Citing the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said it was taking this step because Armenia is truly committed to establishing peace and stability in the Middle East and lasting reconciliation between the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.

But the latest move could only complicate efforts to improve Armenian-Israeli relations and dispel the notion that Armenia is a hotbed of anti-Semitism. Israeli officials summoned Armen Akopian, Armenia's ambassador based in Tel Aviv, to a meeting for a formal reprimand.

Relations between the two countries have already been damaged by billions of dollars in Israeli arms sales to Armenia's archenemy, Azerbaijan, as well as to a bitter land dispute over the ownership of the Armenian church in the Old City of Jerusalem. Adding insult to injury in the eyes of many here, Israel has still not officially recognized the 1915 genocide of nearly 1.5 million ethnic Armenians under Ottoman Turkish rule.

Every year on April 24, Armenians around the world, including in Israel, celebrate Genocide Remembrance Day, a solemn reminder of the first massacre of the 20th century and an event that gave rise to the very term genocide.

We believe that Jews and Armenians have a common destiny. And that's why it hurts us even more when this attitude comes from Israel, said Stella Mehrabekyan, editor-in-chief at the CivilNet news agency in Yerevan. We hope that Israel's actions will be based on moral grounds. It may be naive, but when your children are killed by Israeli drones, you cannot remain indifferent.

Despite Israel's official line, most Israelis accept that Ottoman-ruled Turkey actually killed more than a million ethnic Armenians more than a century ago, said Marina Kozliner, an Armenian Jew living in Bat Yam, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

The Armenian community in Jerusalem's Old City protests the failure of the Israeli government to recognize the historic massacres of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, April 24, 2005 in Jerusalem's Old City. (Kitra Cahana/Reporting by Getty Images)

Ask anyone on the street here: They fully support Armenia, said Kozliner, who led the local genocide commemoration on April 24 in Petah Tikva, home to nearly half of the Armenians living in Israel.

Akopian declined to comment Friday on his government's recognition of Palestine. But in a recent interview in a Yerevan cafe, he said the Jewish state traditionally refused to recognize the Armenian genocide to avoid offending Turkey, one of its few Muslim allies in the Middle East.

However, even if these ties disintegrated under the Turkish president Recep Tayyip ErdoanIsrael has resisted calling what happened to the Armenians during World War I a genocide, even though, on April 24, 2021, Joe Biden became the first U.S. president to do just that.

Armenians care, because when it comes to Israel, it amounts to denial, Akopian told JTA. And this is used by those who deny the Armenian genocide. Basically this means: if Israel doesn't recognize it, that means it never happened.

The controversy comes against the backdrop of three current conflicts: the war sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, ongoing hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza.

As The small Jewish community of Armenia has grown with the arrival of 1,000 Russian and Ukrainian Jews in Yerevan over the past two years, anti-Semitic incidents have also increased.

Rabbi Gershon Burshteyn, spiritual leader of Armenia's Mordechay Navi Jewish religious center, seen outside the center he leads. (Larry Luxner)

Rabbi Gershon Burshtein is the spiritual leader of the Mordechay Navi Jewish religious center in Yerevan and the only rabbi in this country of 2.8 million people, 97% of whom are followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Burshtein said his small synagogue, an outpost of the Chabad movement, has been vandalized three times since Rosh Hashanah, the first time in September, then again three days before the Hamas attack on Israel and a third time in November . In each case, damage was minimal, although the third time masked men set fire to the building and later claimed acting on behalf of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, which opposes ties between Israel and Azerbaijan.

Burshtein and Akopian said they believed the incidents were a blatant attempt to discredit Armenia.

Never in the history of our synagogue has there been an attack, and now there have been three, Burshtein said. I exclude any involvement of locals, because the first news about this came from channels linked to Azerbaijan and Russia. They spread this information in order to present Armenia as a country where anti-Semitism dominates. And Russia's interest is clearly to prevent a rapprochement between Israel and Armenia.

Akopian added: Just 15 minutes after the attack, the Azerbaijani ambassador posted something on Twitter. They weren't smart enough to wait.

Armen Akopian, Armenia's ambassador to Israel, seen here in Yerevan in early 2024, was officially reprimanded after Armenia recognized Palestine on June 21, 2024. (Larry Luxner)

Christian-majority Armenia and Muslim-majority Azerbaijan, two former Soviet republics, had hostile relations before the formation of the USSR. Neighboring countries fought two wars in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, from 1988 to 1994 and again in 2020.

Tensions flared again in September 2023, when Azerbaijan forced more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians, almost the entire population, out of Karabakh and into Armenia proper. help from Israeli weapons and drones and Turkish diplomatic support.

Israel would provide Azerbaijan with nearly 70% of its arsenal of heavy artillery, rocket launchers and drones. In exchange, Israel gets about 40 percent of its crude oil from Azerbaijan, which also allows Israeli drones to monitor Iranian territory from its 428-mile border with Iran.

This is a deplorable use of military capabilities provided to a rogue dictatorship that has brazenly murdered civilians and violated Armenia's sovereignty. wrote columnist Stepan Piligian in the online Armenian weekly. Israel is complicit in this attack against Armenians. Israel's right to exist and defend itself is not at issue here. This is a morally corrupt policy for a country like Israel, founded on the ideals of self-determination and freedom after a horrific liquidation attempt, to deprive others of their rights.

The ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh quickly faded from public consciousness after October 7, when Israel was brutally attacked and responded by waging war against Hamas in Gaza.

As elsewhere, opposition to the war has sometimes veered into anti-Semitism in Armenia as well. A few months ago, Abel Simonyan, a political marketer whose paternal grandmother was Jewish, walked into a Yerevan pub and heard two Armenian-speaking men cursing Israel because of the war in Gaza.

One of them said that Jews were anti-Putin and were trying to sow discord everywhere, he recalled. I intervened and asked them not to spew hatred and to keep it at a low level because they were hurting me. Things got heated and they threatened to slit my throat.

Eric Hacopian, a political consultant who spent years helping prominent California Democrats win elections before moving to Armenia in 2017, said a tiny minority of Armenians indeed clearly express their hatred of Jews , mainly a consequence of Israel's friendship with Azerbaijan and their hatred increasing. since October 7.

But he stressed that these people have no influence or relevance on society as a whole.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a problem in Armenia, Hacopian said. People experience their own trauma. They don't have time for that.

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