By Rimma Varzhapetyan-Feller
On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, when the civilized world stands together with Armenia and the Armenian people to honor the memory of one and a half million innocent victims killed in the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish-Azerbaijani propaganda machine has become agitated. Pursuing a goal to distract the attention of the international community and attract support from different Jewish community structures, targeted efforts have been exerted recently to cast a shadow on Armenian-Jewish relations through publications of paid and one-sided articles in various media outlets.
These attempts cannot but fail. The history of the two ancient peoples—Armenians and Jews—is full of similarities. Even with the utmost effort in the world, one cannot derail those relations.
Nevertheless, in the presence of a political agenda and irresponsible analysts, one cannot avoid comments based on void arguments, trying to prove the reverse.
An old Jewish proverb says, “Hatred makes the straight crooked.” Rabbi Joseph Telushkin thinks that when people lapse into anger, their common sense fails. Unfortunately, some journalists, politicians, pseudo-diplomats, and public figures in pursuit of profits and in the process of cajolery go against all ethics.
The articles by Maxime Gauin and Alexander Murinson on www.haaretz.com, by Arye Gut on www.jns.com, and by Alexander Murinson on www.thehill.com are of that kind. The biography and activity of these authors leaves no doubt about the one-sidedness of their analysis.
Maxime Gauin, who presents Armenia as an anti-Semitic country, himself publicly supports the ultra-right party of Turkey, the Nationalist Movement Party. Apart from its stated position supporting the denial of the Armenian Genocide, that party is known for propagating anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Yet, Gauin turns a blind eye to this.
Arye Gut has for quite a long time been at the service of the Azerbaijani propaganda machine, and is a member of the Azerbaijan-Israel International Association.
Alexander Murinson takes as a reality his doctoral thesis—that Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Israel are an entente alliance—and develops the idea that the enemy of one of these states is the enemy of all three.
By some strange coincidence, though, on Jan. 5 Raoul Contreras, who supports conservative views and had never before published anything on Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Jewry, developed the ideas of the abovementioned authors on thehill.com, purporting to demonstrate his “extensive knowledge” of Israel, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
It is no secret what methods the dictator of Azerbaijan is using to mold opinions in the West; in fact, they’ve been mentioned by many highly influential editions, such as in the New York Times in September 2014 and Foreign Policy magazine in June 2014. Influential international Jewish structures should not allow themselves to get involved in such speculations.
It is necessary to reveal the falsehoods in the writings of Gauin, Murinson, and Gut. Their attempts to present Armenia as an anti-Semitic state are doomed to failure for their apparent lack of any reliable facts. Indeed, no such arguments exist, as Armenian-Jewish relations have long been a rare example of tolerance and co-existence. The history of these two ancient peoples of the Middle East derives from the depth of centuries. The Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem serves as the best example, as does the existence of densely Jewish-populated towns in Armenia in ancient sources.
The “examples,” on the other hand, that are brought by the above falsifiers of history make no sense, and are directed at discrediting Armenian-Jewish relations. During World War II, they say, an Armenian legion fought on the side of the Nazis; in reality, the unit was comprised of Armenian prisoners of war, serving in the Soviet Army. Such national legions were also formed from various nationalities of the former Soviet Union. The idea of creating an Armenian legion was suggested to the Nazi leadership by some representatives of the Armenian Diaspora; the aim was clear—to save the POWs from physical extermination and afford them an opportunity to escape and rejoin the Soviet Army. Numerous soldiers of the Soviet Army were saved this very way: Armenians, Yazidis, Greeks, Assyrians, Russians, and Jews among them.
Regarding modern Armenia, even if there are some signs of anti-Semitism, which, unfortunately, may happen in every corner of the world, they have never enjoyed the support of the authorities, or influential social and political entities. Can the restoration of a medieval Jewish cemetery in one of the provinces of Armenia—at the expense of the government—be considered as an expression of anti-Semitic policy?
One of the articles refers to an opinion poll, whose methodology begets more questions than it solves. The questions were formed in such a way that if one were to conduct the poll in a country with the highest Jewish population, that country may find itself considered as the most anti-Semitic country. It should be noted that the authors of that “opinion poll” considered it unnecessary to hear the views of the Jewish community of Armenia on the questions raised.
The Jewish community feels itself protected in Armenia, and the authorities respect their rights, culture, and traditions. There is no anti-Semitism in Armenia, and we enjoy good relations with the Armenians. Of course, the community has certain problems that originate from the general situation of the country. Numerous citizens—Armenians and representatives of national minorities—have emigrated from Armenia as a result of grave economic conditions. Jews of Armenia share all the difficulties of the country and, at the same time, consider themselves proud citizens of the Republic of Armenia.
With regard to the society, Armenians always treated Jews and the state of Israel with admiration. One cannot even imagine anti-Semitic and anti-Israel demonstrations being held in Armenia, even though they took place in different towns of Azerbaijan a couple of years ago.
I am neither a political figure, nor an analyst, and I do not want to comment on the relations of Armenia and Iran, or of Armenia and Israel or Azerbaijan and Israel; however, the fact that in the aforementioned articles attempts were made to present the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict in an extremely biased manner reveals that Azerbaijani and Turkish lobbyists are attempting to use Jewish structures in moving forward the policy of denial of the Armenian Genocide, while covering Azerbaijani aggression against Nagorno-Karabagh. The Jewish people are well aware of what happened to Armenians in Azerbaijan and Karabagh.
In the 1990’s, when bandits from the People’s Front of Azerbaijan organized and committed pogroms against the Armenian population in Azerbaijan, one of the slogans used was: “Azerbaijan will prosper without Jews and Armenians.” No matter how hard the authorities of Azerbaijan try to present themselves as friends of Israel, they cannot be one for the Jewish people. If there is anyone who doubts this argument, I urge them to read the publications on the numerous, flagrant human rights violations by the Aliyev administration, or, at least, the articles on the funding of anti-Jewish demonstrations in Europe. There is no doubt that Azerbaijan is using its relations with Iran and Israel, and presenting itself in Israel as the most reliable regional partner in its policy against Iran. Clearly, the leaders of Azerbaijan are playing a dangerous game if they think they will succeed in using Israel and world Jewry to promote their personal interests.
It is well known that during the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, along with other national minorities the Jews were also a target of the Young Turks. Jemal Pasha had declared that “the policy of massacre of the Armenians is to be pursued against the Jews.” During the Gezi Park demonstrations in Istanbul last year, one of the policemen, shooting at the demonstrators, said, “You are not Turks, you are Armenians and Jews.” Today alarming news continues to come from Turkey, that against the backdrop of growing anti-Semitism, the Jews have started to immigrate to other states.
The bitter fate of the Jewish and Armenian peoples is abundant in distress, persecutions, and pogroms. With their paths of history crossing, and full of horrendous ordeals, the two peoples, more than anyone else, understand the pains of one another, and are well aware of what life looks like when surrounded by hostility and hatred.
And if the ignorance of journalists and analysts is condemned, the ignorance of political figures, moreover, democratic states, is unforgivable irresponsibility, which can not have any excuse. On Dec. 12, 2014, Congressman Steve Stockman (R-Texas), known for his pro-Azerbaijani views, delivered a speech reflecting the article by Arye Gut. This was overtly disrespectful, not only to the voters in Stockman’s district but also to American democracy. The promotion of ordered and false articles should not be allowed to echo from the rostrum of America’s legislative power. One should not be able to present hate propaganda and to promote the agenda and interests of a dictator as an expression of freedom of speech, especially when it uses Jews, in particular the Jewish community of Armenia. I would like to draw the attention of the Jewish community of the United States to these facts, and urge them to stay alert and condemn any attempt to exploit the Jewish factor in such a despicable way by certain political circles.
Rimma Varzhapetyan-Feller is president of the Jewish community of Armenia.