The elephant in the room…The tragic disrespect of Israel towards Armenians

It is a relationship that has maintained a natural affinity for decades – two ethnic groups that have suffered reprehensible oppression based on racism, discrimination and dispossession. The Jewish and Armenian people have built strong American diasporas as a byproduct of their suffering. Both peoples remained stateless in modern times until the 20th century. Israel rose out of the ashes of genocide in 1948. The First Armenian Republic was a miracle amidst post-WWI chaos, only to fall under Soviet rule and regain statehood in 1991. Jews and Armenians in the diaspora have placed a high value on education, remarkable entrepreneurial achievements and clannish cultures that resist assimilation. Faith has also been a central part of each civilization for centuries. There is far more historically that bonds these peoples than divides them. Despite this history, there has been growing and often unspoken tension that has challenged their traditional, mutual respect. Differences have emerged between an ethnic group in the diaspora and the policies of a nation-state.

For several decades the global Armenian nation has been perplexed and upset by the refusal of the State of Israel to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide. It has been a subject of occasional internal debate in the Israeli Knesset but has only been advocated for by a small political minority. The Israeli academia has been more vocal but is essentially powerless in foreign policy matters. In the case of genocide, there is no room for middle ground with vague rhetoric. If you have not recognized the crime committed against the Armenian people as genocide, then you fall into the denier class. There have been several reports in the past that the Israeli government has worked to squash attempts for recognition in the United States and worldwide, based on fears of Turkish repercussions. This argument has been discredited, as countries such as France and the United States have recognized the genocide and maintain significant economic relationships with Turkey. Turkey’s bark on this issue has proven bigger than its bite. 

If you have not recognized the crime committed against the Armenian people as genocide, then you fall into the denier class.

Armenians have openly speculated about the possibility of Israel’s refusal to share the genocide stage. The current denial is probably associated with Israel’s deep economic and military ties with Azerbaijan, which operates with Turkey as “one nation, two states.” Israel’s position has caused consternation within the American Jewish diaspora. Many Jewish groups have recognized the Armenian Genocide. Former national director of the Anti-Defamation League Abraham Foxman caused a controversy in 2007 when his vague wording of “tantamount to genocide” angered Armenians. The tension continued until 2016 when Foxman’s successor Jonathan Greenblatt issued a clear statement of recognition from the ADL. The recognition of the Genocide by major elements of American Jewry has created an awkward and morally embarrassing dilemma for most Jews in the United States. Similar to Armenians and Armenia, most American Jews have strong relations with the State of Israel. Understandably, Jews in America are uncomfortable with the policy of Israel and feel their moral foundation should take priority over political concerns. The U.S. recognition of the Genocide by the president in 2021, preceded by overwhelming resolutions from the U.S. House and Senate, only increased that dilemma for Jews as American citizens. 

If the policy disconnect remained limited to Armenian Genocide denial, the response would be contained to continuing lobbying efforts and dialogue with the hope that when the environment is more favorable, recognition will be achieved. In other words, the lack of recognition is driven by current political considerations and not historical facts. It is a point of significant contention, but no lives are at stake. Unfortunately, Israeli foreign policy is overtly hostile to the security of Armenia and is costing Armenia lives. According to military experts, Israel supplied Azerbaijan with nearly 70-percent of its military arsenal from 2016 to 2020, including heavy artillery, rocket launchers and drones. In return, Azerbaijan supplies Israel with over 40-percent of its fossil fuel energy. There have been several reports that Israel also takes advantage of the Azeri relationship to gather intel on arch-enemy Iran. The United States and Turkey turn a blind eye to this unholy alliance since it benefits both parties. 

In the 2020 and 2023 unilateral assaults on Artsakh and Armenia’s border regions, which eventually resulted in the genocidal deportation in Artsakh, Azeris used Israeli weapons to kill Armenians. This is not about free enterprise at work within the military industrial community. The Israeli military suppliers conduct this business with the full knowledge and support of the government. It is a deplorable use of military capability supplied to a rogue dictatorship that has brazenly murdered civilians and violated the sovereignty of Armenia. Israel is complicit in this assault on the Armenians. Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself is not at issue here. It is a morally corrupt policy for a country like Israel founded on the ideals of self-determination and freedom after a horrific attempt at liquidation to deny others their rights.

Some dialogue should be devoted to the misconception that any critics of the policies of Israel are anti-Semitic. Certainly there are anti-Semitic individuals who hide behind criticism, but such is not the case with the interests of Armenians. The current Palestinian/Israeli conflict in Gaza has clearly illustrated that one can criticize the policies of Israel and not be anti-Semitic. Thousands of Jews in America and Israel have raised their voices against the horrific violence, and they clearly support the rights of Jews to practice their culture in freedom. Many Armenians remain silent over the Gaza and Azeri issues for that exact reason. With good reason, no one wants to be labeled “anti-Semitic” just as “racist” is deplorable. Labels become a defense mechanism when antagonists seek to limit the debate. We can respect the rights of Jews (and Israel) and still exercise civil criticism without inappropriate labels. Armenians criticizing the offensive policies of Israel towards Armenians is not anti-Semitic.

Members of Save the ArQ in the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem

The first two examples illustrate some of the diaspora/Israeli policy dynamics in the region. Another area of major concern is the policies of the Israeli government towards the Armenian population in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank. The current Cows’ Garden crisis is an affront to the centuries-old presence of Armenians in Jerusalem and violates the well-established “status quo” that maintains the shared presence of various religious sites. The Armenian resistance has reached out to the diaspora and Armenia through a group called Save the ArQ. It is important for Armenians to understand that this crisis began with the lease agreement signed by a rogue former priest under the Patriarchate. Several internal controls were violated to sign the lease agreement with a Jewish Australian investor at Xana Capital. The role of the Patriarch has been questioned. He has claimed he was deceived and has since annulled the agreement, which is currently in Israeli courts. Negotiating any agreement was naive at best and perhaps done with ulterior motives.

Armenians in Jerusalem have long been subjected to aggressive Israeli policies that constrain real estate and economic activity. The property in question represents approximately 25-percent of the Armenian Quarter. Losing it would be devastating. Once the Armenian cancellation of the agreement was employed, intimidating tactics, including violence, were used against Armenian clergy and community members. The land grabbing Israeli settlers lurk on the sidelines, waiting for opportunities to steal more land. The illegal tactics used by the “investor” and “settlers” are enabled by the passive response of the Israeli authorities. These are the same tactics the anarchist settlers have used against Palestinian civilians for years with the illegal acquisition of homes, olive groves and other Palestinian properties. This has accelerated under the Netanyahu administration, which has only emboldened oppression. 

Armenians tend to decouple our plight in the West Bank from the current carnage in Gaza. There is a common thread in expansionist Israeli policies at the expense of others. While we watch the current violence in horror, we should understand that Palestinians have lived under Israeli occupation with little freedom for decades. Thousands are arrested and jailed while water, energy and the economy are externally controlled. With unspeakable indignities on a daily basis, radical groups such as Hamas become the alternative. This does not justify the terror deployed. Armenians have a variety of opinions on this conflict. Those with roots in the Middle East tend to understand the dynamics with a more balanced perspective. Given the traditional support of the United States for Israel and cordial diaspora relations, many Armenians have ignored the plight of the Palestinians in favor of Israel’s right to defend itself. The current conflict seems to have altered that perception, as Netanyahu has lost the confidence of most of the world’s nations and the Hamas hunt has evolved into atrocities against Palestinians. Armenians should embrace the concept that Hamas’ terror does not negate the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. A large plurality is emerging that opposes Hamas’ tactics but supports Palestinian rights. Likewise, the horrific atrocities committed by the Netanyahu government cannot negate the right of the Israeli people to freedom.

As Armenians, we must understand that our brethren and holy presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank are under duress. There are many conservative Israeli settlers who would prefer that the holy sites become museums devoid of any indigenous Christian population. In terms of free expression, is that any different than the Palestinians? The headline of this column uses the term “tragic” to describe the current decline. This tragedy has been created by the policies of the state versus the global ethnic group. It has sharpened the difference between respecting the Jewish people while opposing some of the policies of Israel. Armenians should free themselves by decoupling these two and engaging in the defense of the rights of Armenians. There is a path for meaningful advocacy without the risk of being labeled anti-Semitic.

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Stepan was raised in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at the St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the AYF Central Executive and the Eastern Prelacy Executive Council, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently , he serves as a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also serves on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired executive in the computer storage industry and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.


    • Given the close relations between the Palestinian authorities, Hamas in particular, and the Turkish genocide denier and Islamo-fascist terrorist-in-chief Erdoagn, the Armenian stand on Palestine is absolutely the correct one. Suggesting the recognition of Palestine in this context is not much different from suggesting the Armenian recognition of Northern Cyprus as Turkish. You don’t reward those who associate with your existential evil Turkish enemy to punish the anti-Armenian actions of another evil regime. You end up being the only loser by doing so. What you do instead is to expose Israeli hypocrisy in the international arena by pointing out to the fact that while they preach to the world about and against genocide they arm a terrorist state, that is the artificial criminal pseudo-Turkish Azerbaijan, to commit genocide against the Armenians. To point out to the world that when Israeli relations are good with the Turks, they use their connections (aka agents) in foreign governments, in USA in particular, and use their influences across the Globe to help deny and sabotage Armenian Genocide resolutions. It wasn’t so long ago that Hamas leaders received a heroes’ welcome into the Turkish parliament by Erdogan himself. Of those 34 countries officially recognizing the 1915 premeditated and state-sponsored Armenian Genocide how may are Muslim countries? None! Lebanon is the exception but Lebanon unlike the rest is run by a Maronite Christian president, Sunni Muslim prime minister and Shia Muslim speaker of the parliament. How is it possible for all those countries to officially acknowledge what was done to the Armenians by the Turks but not find one Muslim country in that list? A coincidence? I think not. They refrain from condemning another fellow Muslim country no matter how evil their deed against those outside of their faith. They remain neutral at best. Armenians need to wise up and learn lessons from others in this evil world that often times it is best to keep their opinions to themselves and stay out of situations where they do not belong.

      P.S. Ever wonder why the Muslim-American congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a close friend of Erdogan, voted “present” instead of “yes” to the Armenian Genocide resolution passed recently? Food for thought!

  1. Armenia doesn’t help itself as usual, it doesn’t recognise Palestine there again it never really recognised Arktash, it seems that Armenia refrained perhaps mindful of the welfare of the Armenian community in Israel and hoping to find solidarity over genocides which now seems to have been a case of hiding to nothing. It should be noted that Azerbaijan and Georgia both recognise Palestine and their relationship with Israel especially in Azerbaijan case is much better than Armenia. Also there wasn’t a particular Azeri nor Georgian community in Israel for their governments to factor into their calculations .

    • Jewish hatred for Armenians goes back for millenia.

      The Jews and the Armenians were the two entrepreneurial people in biblical times. Economic and relgious rivalry, the Armenians, at that time, were Zoroastrians, gave way to hatred.

      The Jews referred to the Armenians as the Amaleks and openly called for their genocide.

      Armenia can retaliate by recognising Palestine but for that to happen Armenia must have a real leader and not a coward and a traitor like Pashinyan.

      Armenian recognition of Palestine is only a matter of time.

      I think every Armenian knows that Israel is not a friend.

    • The Armenian stand on this issue is the right one. Would you recognize a state whose leaders have very close relations with your genocidal Turkish enemy? You don’t reward one who associated with your existential enemy to get back at another. They two, Israel and Palestine, should be handled independently of one another. When was the last time you heard the Palestinians authorities make a statement on Turkish crimes against the Armenians and declare solidarity with the Armenians? I say never!

      As for relations between the Palestinians and the Turkified Georgia and artificial criminal Azerbaijan, I say we need to conduct our own independent foreign policy regardless of policies pursued by these two. Artificial criminal Azerbaijan does not need to have a community in Israel to do what they do or what they did because the incentive for them was all the deadly weapons they received from Israel to kill the Armenians.

  2. @Robert Whig, Pashinyan simply inherited an established position of Yerevan not recognising Palestine, thus whilst he might well be a coward and traitor the previous apparently patriotic prime ministers could have done so or made sincere efforts to of which it appears in the usual way of Armenia did nothing, even it’s erstwhile patron patron Russia does recognise Palestine.

  3. Armenians are not Ameleks. We are descendants of Japheth. Armenia is the first Christian nation in the world. This gives the Semitic tribe great grief as we took their place as the “chosen people of God.” They rejected their Messiah. We Armenians sit by the side of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen…

  4. Armenians should create world wide awareness of “anti Armenianism” – its is as real as anti semitism for Jews. Anti Armenianism is openly practiced by Azerbaijan and Turkey today. Armenians are murdered, beheaded, imprisoned and their very existence questioned by those two countries. It is important that scholarly research expose these anti Armenian activities. On a more practical level Azerbaijan should become a pariah state under Armenian and international pressure. More recently Israel under its right wing government has also developed anti Armenian policies towards Armenians in Jerusalem. Local US politicians, the State Department and the White House should be made aware of this and not be drowned out by the Gaza war. Local Jewish organizations such as the Anti Defamation League, the Shoah center and similar organization should be confronted and challenged to support basic rights of Armenians.

  5. Were the Canaanites Caucasian?

    Researchers at the Hebrew University have found that the genetic roots of the Canaanites stretch as far as the Caucasus and Iran.
    Who were the Canaanites, the oldest known inhabitants of what was to become Israel, the biblical Promised Land? This is not just a historical and archaeological question, it is now also a political issue. Palestinians claim that they are descendants of the Canaanites in order to gain points in the fight for this Land. Researchers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem have now established that the genetic roots of the Canaanites stretch as far as the Caucasus and Iran.

    The land of Canaan is known to us mainly from biblical stories as the Promised Land, which was conquered by the children of Israel. In archaeological literature, Canaan is a region from the Late Bronze Age in the second millennium BC. In Scripture and other ancient Middle Eastern sources, the peoples of the land are mentioned as Canaanites, but very little is known about them and their origins. The Bible counts seven ethnic groups in the land of Canaan: the Amorites, Girgashites, Hittites, Hivite, Jebusites, the actual Canaanites and the Perizzites.

    The new study suggests that the Canaanites were a mix…

  6. As for international genocide recognition, Uruguay was the first nation to recognise the killings as a genocide in 1965 , Armenia as in Armenian SSR wasn’t allowed it seems due to the internationalist agenda of the Soviet Union until 1988 when there was a general awakening and Soviet authority began to clearly falter. As for Armenians keeping their opinions to themselves and staying out of situations where they do not belong. In many ways this is laudable Armenians globally aren’t deemed an interfering people hence anti Armenianism isn’t a universal phenomena. However the insularity cuts both ways, hence the general indifference to Armenia and Armenians by other countries and peoples around the world. It’s is quite true the Muslim countries and peoples are very indifferent to wrongs wrought upon non Muslims either by other Muslims or by non Muslims. Note how most Muslim countries have been it’s not our fault nor cause about the war between Russia and Ukraine essentially Slavic orthodox although Muslim countries have shown bias in favour of Russia or Ukraine in cases but in essence aloof and indifferent and cynically glad as it shows that it isn’t just Muslim countries which are messed up by brother wars. Whereas in Yugoslavia the (Christian) Western countries seemed very bothered about Muslims being attacked by Christians generally orthodox but also catholic. Given that the killings of Armenians and Syriac and Greek Christians by ottoman Turkey didn’t become a cause celebre internationally and the victims were subjects of the ottoman empire which although defeated wasn’t crushed. Post WW1 ottoman possessions were British or French mandates and it wasn’t a priority issue and independent Iran had other priorities. As for Armenia has no reason to express support for Palestine by default this makes them pro Israel who as is clear is no friend of Armenia. Also Armenia has good relationships with Greece and India who in turn have good relationships with urm Israel! Likewise for Azerbaijan it has good relationships with Israel along with Turkey and Pakistan whom don’t appear to have good relationships with urm Israel!

    That’s the complexity and contradictions of international relations and politics …

  7. Of course Israel doesn’t recognize the genocide. It would have to acknowledge that it’s a state founded on genocide.

  8. I loved the article and enjoyed reading the comments, even more! Thanks. Just a note, that we, Armenians blame everyone, except, us, Armenians, as to why others treat us the way they do…I am not looking for moral people or nations, and I do have no pink glasses and expectations from others…Our history shows that we, Armenians have treated each other, awfully, our kings, municipalities, and communities, have engaged in awful atrocities towards each other, killed each other, sold Armenian lands, engaged in treason…never strived for independence, law and order state, never acknowledged that Armenia was colonized by so many imperialist, racist, fascist states including, but not limited to the Russian communists…instead, we have treated those colonialists, as “saviours” of Armenians…Armenians have not even saved themselves, let alone the colonialists…Hence, we have what we have…total disrespect from the world communities, and countries towards Armenians…and so much respect for the colonialsits, fascists, like Erdogan, and Putin, Netanyahu, Aliev..etc. etc …

    • Russia saved Armenia from anihlation many times. The Soviet leaders were almolst non-Russians like Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Beria.

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