Not all countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations have resident ambassadors or even a consulate in Israel.
When that happens, the honorary consul takes on regular consular duties and to some extent ambassadorial duties.
That’s the case with Jerusalem- born Tsolag Momjian, who for 20 years has been the honorary consul of Armenia.
Armen Melkonyan, the non-resident Armenian ambassador to Israel, sits in Cairo and visits Israel three or four times a year. The Israeli ambassador to Armenia used to be resident in Georgia, but now operates out of Jerusalem.
There has never been an Israeli embassy in Yerevan, although there has been an Armenian presence in the Holy Land for centuries.
Where there is an official diplomatic representation in Israel, the honorary consul usually works closely with the commercial attaché and with that country’s binational chamber of commerce.
But in Momjian’s case, he has to interact with the Foreign Ministry; he escorts visiting Armenian officials and he represents Armenia at Israel Independence Day and Rosh Hashana events, to which the invitees are generally heads of foreign missions.
When visas between Israel and Armenia were requisite, he used to issue visas. He also replaces lost and expired Armenian passports, and in the case of people who want to be buried in Armenia after they die, Momjian makes the necessary arrangements in the same manner as arrangements are made for Jews living abroad who want to be buried in Jerusalem. He also processes the documentation for Israeli-born Armenians who want to become Armenian citizens.
It’s a little easier for Armenians than it is for Jews of dubious identity to obtain Israeli citizenship or even to be allowed to remain in Israel under the Law of Return.
Israelis or people of Armenian background anywhere else in the world only have to produce their birth and baptism certificates, says Momjian.
Most of them have Armenian names anyway. Momjian himself is a dual national with Israeli and Armenian citizenship.
Whereas nearly all the regular consuls living in Jerusalem are actually accredited to Palestine, Momjian, who was born in the city’s Baka neighborhood in 1940, is accredited to Israel.
When he was a child Baka and Katamon were mixed neighborhoods populated mainly by Jews, Armenians and Arabs.
At kindergarten age, he was sent to an Armenian school, but later switched to a French school, so that he could learn to speak foreign languages. In the interim, language studies at the Armenian school have improved, and today all students learn Hebrew, Arabic, English French and Armenian. Momjian speaks all these languages too, plus Italian and a smattering of Turkish.
His Italian wife, Allegra, whom he met in Milan, is of Armenian background.
When asked whether there’s any conflict in his dual nationality, Momjian smiles and says, “No more than it is for any American Jew living in Israel.”
How does he feel about the rapprochement between Israel and Turkey? “We understand that there are no sentiments in politics,” he replies, but adds: “On the other hand we have to fight our war, to convince the Israel government on the basis of morality and not on politics to recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
In August of this year, the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, headed by Shas MK Ya’acov Margi, announced that it recognizes the Armenian Genocide, in which an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by Ottoman Turks during the First World War.
“It is our moral obligation to recognize the Holocaust of the Armenian nation,” Margi said at the time.
“For us this is one step forward,” says Momjian, noting that there has been a lot of pressure from the Azaris and Turks for Israel not to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
On the other hand, Melkonyan made a special trip from Cairo to Jerusalem last April to demand that Israel stop supplying weapons to Azerbaijan, which are than put to use in the Nagorno–Karabakh conflict.
Momjian completely concurs with this demand saying that “Azerbaijan is using Israeli arms against Armenian civilians.”
Momjian’s father, Krikor, and his father’s sister, Hripsimeh, were orphaned by the Armenian Genocide and brought to the Holy Land by the Near East Relief Society, an American organization which collected orphans of the Armenian Genocide and placed them in orphanages in Lebanon, Nazareth and Bethlehem.
His father and his aunt were sent to Nazareth. His father was six years old at the time and remained in the orphanage till he was 12. He was then placed with the Kashi family in Tel Aviv. The Kashis ran a jewelry company, which is now run by the successor generation. The company was established a century ago.
On September 25, as he does every year, Momjian will host a reception to mark Armenia’s 25th anniversary of Independence.
The venue is on the seam of east and west Jerusalem.
The majority of guests will be people from the Armenian community, along with Jews, Muslims and Christians of other faiths. There will be some Palestinians who are friends of the host, but there will be no Palestinian officials.
Altogether, there are some 12,000 Armenians in Israel, and approximately 800 in Jerusalem. They have a church at the entrance to the German Colony that originally belonged to the German Templars, who were expelled by the British Mandate authorities during the Second World War. The Israeli authorities subsequently gave it to the Armenians, because St. Xaviers Armenian Church on Mount Zion, where members of the Hagana has taken shelter during the War of Independence, was destroyed.
This church in the German Colony was by way of appreciation and compensation.