The shame I feel as an Armenian Jew - opinion

The author expresses his thoughts and opinions on the Israel and Azerbaijan alliance.

 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT Ilham Aliyev (right) is welcomed by Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala at an EU summit in Prague last week. (photo credit: Eva Korinkova/Reuters)
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT Ilham Aliyev (right) is welcomed by Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala at an EU summit in Prague last week.
(photo credit: Eva Korinkova/Reuters)

On September 14, a gruesome video began circulating on social media. The video showed a naked woman – Anush Apetyan, a mother of three – whose legs and fingers had been chopped off and her eyes gouged out. One of her fingers was stuck in her mouth and a stone was placed in one of her empty eye sockets. 

The perpetrators of this egregious crime against humanity laughed and pointed the camera at her exposed genitalia. They also made sure to show dozens of other corpses, joyfully trampling over them, laughing and cheering each other on as they went.

This video was not posted by ISIS. It was not posted by al-Qaeda, Hezbollah or the Taliban – all internationally recognized terrorist organizations. Instead, it was filmed and publicized by the official representatives of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. It was initially posted on an Azeri-run Telegram page called “Khacherubka,” which translates from Russian, in which “khach” is a racist slur used to refer to Armenians, to “Armenian chopping board.” It quickly spread through Azerbaijani social media, gathering mass applause from tens of thousands of Azeris.

This is, unfortunately, just one glaring example of a continuous pattern of war crimes committed by Azeri troops over the last several years. It is not even the only video of its kind to have been publicized following clashes – initiated by Azerbaijan – that began on September 13, when its soldiers launched strikes against dozens of cities, towns and villages located within the internationally recognized borders of Armenia.

More brutality toward Armenians from Azeri troops

 An Azeri soldier and police officer talk as they stand guard at the Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, December 21, 2020 (credit: AZIZ KARIMOV/REUTERS) An Azeri soldier and police officer talk as they stand guard at the Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, December 21, 2020 (credit: AZIZ KARIMOV/REUTERS)

During these clashes, Azeri troops – with the support of Israeli and Turkish military technology – overran several Armenian border posts and occupied an estimated 10 sq. km. of sovereign Armenia, mainly in the directions of Vardenis and the gorgeous resort town of Jermuk. On September 30, another video was published by Azeri soldiers showing the execution, at point-blank range, of a group of Armenian POWs who had clearly surrendered and put their hands up.

These videos immediately gave Armenians flashbacks to the 44-day war of 2020 in which Azerbaijan – emboldened by support from Turkey and a sizable stockpile of Turkish and Israeli weaponry – launched a full-scale invasion of the Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh region, known to Armenians by its historical name: Artsakh. During that conflict, Azeri soldiers published dozens of photos and videos of themselves torturing, executing, mutilating and decapitating Armenian captives – soldiers and civilians alike.

In one video, Azeri soldiers decapitated a clearly malnourished Armenian POW while he was still alive. In another, an Azeri Special Forces soldier decapitated an elderly Armenian civilian as he begged for mercy. Another showed Azeri soldiers slamming an elderly Armenian man’s head to the ground and cutting his ear off. Yet another showed Azeri soldiers cheerfully stabbing Armenian POWs with skewers. 

For those who must see to believe, the videos of these atrocious war crimes can be found online. I must warn, however, that the footage is extremely graphic.

Being an Armenian Jew

Feeling sick to your stomach yet? Imagine how I feel. As an Armenian Jew, I have an immense amount of love and admiration for both sides of my ethnic lineage. I have visited both Armenia and Israel, and prior to the last several years, had a deep respect for both countries. Unfortunately, as much as it breaks my heart to admit it, I can no longer say I have a single ounce of respect left for Israel.

The fact that Israel was born from genocide makes it even more saddening that it has degenerated to the extent of supplying state-of-the-art weaponry to an authoritarian, genocidal regime that encourages – through state-sponsored Armenophobia – such vile acts of barbarism.

In 2015, Azerbaijan’s autocratic president, Ilham Aliyev, tweeted that “Armenia is not even a colony, it is not even worthy of being a servant.” For the last 30 years, the Azerbaijani regime – headed by Aliyev’s father before him – has cultivated a horrific breed of ethnic nationalism, built on a foundation of Armenophobia, at every level of Azerbaijani society. Children are taught that Armenians are nothing short of subhuman.

Following Azerbaijan’s partial victory in 2020, an “amusement park” was opened in Baku featuring burnt-out Armenian military vehicles and racist mannequins of chained-up, big-nosed Armenian POWs. Although Azerbaijan – after broad international condemnation – eventually removed the mannequins, the fact that they were placed there in the first place speaks volumes. In recent years, numerous reports have surfaced exposing the erasure of Armenian heritage sites, including ancient churches and tombstones, by the Azerbaijani regime.

What all these horrific atrocities have in common is that they all serve to demonstrate Azerbaijan’s commitment to wiping the region clean of Armenians and erasing all historical traces of Armenian civilization there spanning thousands of years.

When I visited Israel in 2016 through the Birthright Israel program, I did not yet know of the Azerbaijan-Israel alliance. I naively saw Israel as an opponent of terrorism and defender of the victims of Islamic extremism. It gave me pride to see a nation born from genocide build itself into a technologically advanced regional power, capable of defending itself against any external threat while also achieving incredible economic success and providing significant opportunities to its people.

Today, that illusion is shattered. Today, I see Israel as being complicit in modern-day ethnic cleansing. Today, I see Israel as having blood on its hands – the blood of innocent Armenians. Armenia, much like Israel, is a tiny nation that has endured the bitter sting of genocide and continues to survive and prosper. Roughly 100 years ago, beginning in 1915, Turkey – a country with which Azerbaijan shares an official policy called “two countries, one nation” – carried out a horrific campaign of ethnic cleansing against its Armenian minority population.

Over the course of a few years, 1.5 million Armenians were systematically massacred, and roughly 500,000 were forced to flee. Yet Israel has still not formally recognized the fact of the Armenian Genocide.

TODAY, AS MUCH as it pains me to say it, I feel nothing but shame when I think of Israel. Although the Israel-Azerbaijan alliance might have been rationalized prior to 2016, when Azerbaijan first began using Israeli technology and weapons to kill Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh, it surely no longer is. Israel can no longer justify this partnership with its need for a reliable energy provider.

Following the normalization of relations with the Arab states, there is nothing stopping Israel from buying oil and gas from countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Not even Azerbaijan’s potential to serve as an anti-Iranian vessel, or the fact that Jews have long lived in Baku, can justify this alliance’s existence any longer.

A service member of the Russian peacekeeping troops stands next to a tank near the border with Armenia, following the signing of a deal to end the military conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces, in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, November 10, 2020 (credit: REUTERS/FRANCESCO BREMBATI)A service member of the Russian peacekeeping troops stands next to a tank near the border with Armenia, following the signing of a deal to end the military conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces, in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, November 10, 2020 (credit: REUTERS/FRANCESCO BREMBATI)

From this point onward, every shekel’s worth of support provided by Israel to Azerbaijan serves as proof of Israel’s complete state of moral decay. From this point onward, the continuation of the Israel-Azerbaijan alliance can be seen as nothing less than Israel’s participation in modern-day acts of genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. From this point onward, Israel’s continued denial of the Armenian Genocide can be seen as nothing less than the lowest form of political prostitution.

Eventually, the world will come to condemn Azerbaijan. Eventually, the world will come to see the true face of the butchers in charge of that country. Eventually, it will become abundantly clear that those who stand with Azerbaijan stand on the same side of history as Hitler and the Nazis.

Fortunately, it isn’t too late. Although an alliance with Azerbaijan may serve to benefit Israel’s short-term geopolitical interests, an alliance with Armenia would be much more farsighted. Armenia, much like Israel, is a small nation boasting a prodigious amount of intellectual prowess. Much like Israel, information technology makes up a large chunk of the Armenian economy and is one of the country’s fastest-growing economic sectors.

In fact, the hi-tech sector is expected to become the largest branch of the Armenian economy in the next several years. Together, there is no limit to what these two incredible nations can achieve.

I have a dream; a dream in which Jews and Armenians, two small, genocide-surviving peoples with thousands of years of history, can work side-by-side to fight genocide and extremism in the modern age. In this dream, Armenian Jews such as myself can finally stop feeling shame and revulsion at the thought of one of their ancestral homelands actively supplying weapons to those who wish to wipe their other ancestral homeland off the face of the Earth. Please, Israel: Help bring my dream to fruition instead of contributing to my nightmare.

The writer is a political scientist, former law student and current IT professional residing in Colorado.