Armenia’s antisemitism? The truth is different

Armenia sent its highest-ranking citizen to the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, H.E. Armen Sarkissian, the president of Armenia.

President Reuven Rivlin holding a working meeting with President Armen Sarkissian of Armenia.  (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin holding a working meeting with President Armen Sarkissian of Armenia.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman describes two monuments in Armenia and Azerbaijan, in an attempt to portray the Armenians as antisemitic as opposed to Jew-loving Azeris (“At Auschwitz liberation tribute, Israel should study tale of two monuments,” January 21). The problem is that the author uses facts selectively, and even with some significant inaccuracies.
The article opens with the monument of Garegin Nzhdeh in Yerevan, giving the impression that the “antisemitic” Armenians chose to glorify his heritage as a Nazi collaborator. But Nzhdeh was first and foremost a military hero and a central leader of the Armenian liberation movement who sought to achieve independence for his nation after hundreds of years of occupation. He fought against the Ottoman Empire when it systematically slaughtered its own Armenian minority and played a major role in the establishment of the First Republic of Armenia (1918-1920) which, post-genocide, gave the suffering Armenian nation a short period of renewed hope.
That hope was brutally cut off by invasion by the Red Army in 1920, and the fledgling Republic of Armenia was annexed by the Soviet Union. During that invasion, Nzhdeh led a struggle to prevent a Soviet attempt to hand over major areas in the south of Armenia to the newly established Azerbaijan, a country that was created by the Soviets. That struggle was partially successful, though two historically Armenian areas, Nagorno-Karabakh and Nachichevan (Nzhdeh’s birthplace) were handed to the Azeris as part of the Soviet policy of divide-and-rule.
It is true that Nzhdeh joined the army of Nazi Germany where he served for a short period. There is no justification for that collaboration, though it is quite clear that his motivation in joining the Wehrmacht had nothing to do with antisemitism, but an unrealistic hope that this collaboration might have led to re-liberation of the Armenian people. That was not the only mistake he made, since just after he realized that this way would not be effective, he tried to establish a new collaboration, this time with Stalin.
Stalin sent him a message to come to discuss this issue in Moscow, where Nzhdeh was arrested and finished his life in jail. It is also important to note that at the same time that an Armenian legion fought for Germany (unlike Nzhde and Kanayan, Armenians who for the most part were Red Army prisoners of war forcibly recruited to the Wermacht). Hundreds of thousands of Armenians served in the Soviet Army and took an active part in the victory against the Nazis. Nzhdeh is not praised in Armenia for his collaboration with the Nazis, but for his unceasing, lifelong struggle to liberate the Armenian people.
JAFFE-HOFFMAN goes on with her theory about antisemitism in Armenia. I travel quite a lot all over Armenia, both on my own and with other Jews and Israelis. I always make it clear that I am a Jew and an Israeli, and never heard a hint of antisemitic expression. If there is some criticism, it is usually about Israel’s hesitation to recognize the Armenian genocide that was perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire and led to the extermination of some 1.5 million Armenians during WW1, and was a kind of a “general rehearsal” for the Holocaust.
The other criticism is about Israel’s alliance with the Azeri dictatorship, Armenia’s enemy. What you can unfortunately find in Armenia is a strong sense of nationalism, not very different from what we experience here in Israel.
Armenia’s small Jewish community never suffered antisemitism in their adopted homeland. Most of them left in the early 1990s, after the severe earthquake in the north of the country in 1988 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time, during the Karabakh war, Armenia suffered from a harsh economic crisis and shortage in basic necessities. Many people left the country seeking better life abroad. Not only Jews left, but the Jews had an easy way out – moving to Israel. They did not leave because they faced any antisemitism; they left because they sought better life.
Jaffe-Hoffman refers to what she calls the “brutal invasion” of Nagorno-Karabakh by Armenia. She “forgets” to mention that this region has been inhabited since antiquity mainly by Armenians. They were still the majority there even after 70 years of Soviet Azeri sovereignty and Azeris striving to change that demographic situation.
She also ignores the fact that Karabakh’s Armenians demanded liberation after a long history of pogroms by Azeris in Baku, Shushi, Sumgait and other places, starting in the early 1900s, then around 1920, and again in 1988. History is a wonderful Hollywood-style movie with clear distinction between good guys and bad guys when you ignore facts that do not support your thesis.
I will conclude with drawing the attention to three facts. The first is that for many years now there is a monument standing in the heart of Yerevan with inscriptions in Hebrew and Armenian, commemorating both the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. Unfortunately, there is no parallel such monument in Israel.
Second, Armenia sent its highest-ranking citizen to the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, H.E. Armen Sarkissian, the president of Armenia.
The third is that Armenia has decided to open an embassy in Israel soon, regardless of whether Israel opens one in Yerevan. There could be no clearer statements that Armenia opposes antisemitism.
The writer teaches Armenian History and culture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.