Armenia–Israel relations

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Armenian - Israeli relations
Map indicating locations of Armenia  and  Israel



Armenia–Israel relations are bilateral relations between Armenia and Israel. Since independence, Armenia has received support from Israel and today remains one of its major trade partners. During the period of 1993-2007 Armenia was covered from the Embassy of Israel in Georgia. Since 2007 the residence of the Embassy moved to Jerusalem. On October 2010 Shmuel Meirom was appointed as Ambassador of Israel in Armenia. In 1996 Mr. Tsolak Momjian was appointed as Honorary Consul of Armenia in Jerusalem.[1] On 2012 Mr. Armen Melkonian was appointed as Ambassador of Armenia to Israel with residence in Cairo.[2] On October 2012 Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Armenia to Israel Mr. Armen Melkonyan presented his credentials to the Israeli President Shimon Perez.[3]

The Armenians and the Jews have been often compared in both academic and non-academic literature since at least early 20th century, often in the context of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust,[4][5] which along with the Rwandan Genocide are considered among the most notorious genocides of the 20th century.[6] Historians, journalists, political experts have pointed out a number of similarities between the two ethnic groups: the wide dispersion around the world, the relatively small size, the former lack of statehood, the fact that both countries are largely surrounded by Muslim and mainly hostile countries, their influential lobby in the United States, and even their success in chess.[7][8][9][10]

Armenian community in Israel[edit]

An Armenian priest in Jerusalem (left) and a Jew in Armenia circa 1900 (right).
An Armenian ceramicist in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Armenian pottery painting in Armenian Quarter, Jerusalem

The Armenian community has been resident in the Levant for two millennia. According to Yoav Loeff, a professor of Armenian language and history at the Hebrew University, the Armenian presence in Jerusalem dates back to 301 AD.[11] The community remained relatively small until World War I, when Armenians fled to Israel to escape the Armenian genocide.[11]

The first contacts between the Armenians and the Jews date back to the antiquity. Tigranes the Great, under whom Armenia reached its greatest extent, deported thousands of Jews into Armenia in 1st century BC.[12] Israel itself is home to the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.[13][14] Today, there is only a small, mostly Russified Jewish community of 800 in Armenia still remaining.[15]

Armenians have had a presence in Israel for centuries. The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem was founded in 638. It is located in the Armenian Quarter, the smallest of the four quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem. According to a 2006 study, 790 Armenians live in the Old City alone.[16]

One of the earliest mentions of the Armenians and the Jews is in the 1723 book Travels through Europe, Asia, and into parts of Africa by French traveler Aubry de La Motraye, where the author writes that the Armenians and Jews are "reckon'd more honest" compared to the Greeks in the Ottoman Empire.[17]

Roughly 25,000 resided in the former British Mandate of Palestine by the time of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, but the majority fled the area in the ensuing violence.[11] After the establishment of the State of Israel, most of the remaining Armenian community took up Israeli citizenship and settled in the Old City's Armenian Quarter.[11]

Israel supported Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh War against Armenia in the early 1990s.[18][19][20] According to the Journal of Turkish Weekly, "Turkey's and Israel's good relations with Georgia and Azerbaijan cause conspiracy theories in Yerevan, and the radical Armenians argue that the Jews play the main role in this 'anti-Armenian great strategy'."[21]

In 2004, a private TV company named ALM owned by Tigran Karapetyan has "used the platform to air views that portrayed Jews as an unsavory race bent on dominating Armenia and the wider world." In 2005, Armen Avetisyan, the leader of a small radical nationalist party, Armenian Aryan Union, was arrested on charges of inciting ethnic hatred. The Holocaust memorial in a Yerevan park was vandalized in 2004.[22]

Nourhan Manougian, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, stated that Armenians are treated as "third-class citizens."[23]

During her visit to Armenia in 2012, the Israeli Minister of Agriculture Orit Noked stated, "We are like each other with our history, character, with our small number of population and having communities abroad."[24]


Armenians in Israel are ethnic Armenians with Israeli citizenship. There are currently 3,000[25] Armenians living in Israel, including 1,000 in Jerusalem's Armenian Quarter.[26] Around one thousand Armenian-Israelis have Israeli citizenship, residing mainly in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv Jaffa and Haifa. Additionally "The Institute of African and Asian Studies" at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem established a chair of Armenian Studies programme, specialising in the study of the Armenian language, literature, history and culture as well as the Armenian Genocide. Jewish Virtual Library describes Jerusalem's Armenian Quarter as follows:

Unlike other Quarters in the Old City, the Armenian Quarter is well preserved. The St. James Convent is a complex of several churches with open spaces and gardens covered with a variety of greenery. The Patriarchate building next door is an impressive structure consisting of the Patriarch's residence, gold embossed throne room and several offices. Behind its main gate, the convent contains priest's quarters, a library building, a museum, printing press, elementary and high schools and residences, youth and social clubs and residential shelters for the poor and employees of the Patriarchate. Currently the Theological Seminary is located outside the convent across the street from the main gate.[26]

Much of Jerusalem's artistic heritage has been influenced by Armenian ceramics and tile-painting.[11]

Jews in Armenia[edit]

Jew and Armenian by James Tissot, 1880s, Brooklyn Museum

Prior to the 1996 discovery of a medieval Jewish cemetery, it was believed that there had been no Jewish presence in Armenia before modern times.[27] A team of Armenian and Israeli historians and archaeologists excavated the site of the original discovery and managed to find 64 more graves.[27] It was ultimately determined that the Jewish community of Armenia dated back to at least the 13th century.[27] Bishop Mkrtchyan, who first discovered the cemetery, commented, "At a time when you can't imagine that a country... in Europe either helped create or didn't destroy a Jewish settlement... It is fantastic how they could gather cultural, architectural symbolism of Jewish Armenians... and they were connected, and built one of the strongest kingdoms during time of Mongols."[27]

Subsequently, historians conjectured that the first Jews arrived in Armenia shortly after the destruction of the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem.[28] They lived relatively peacefully alongside the Armenian Christians and continue to do so, with anti-Semitic incidents being a rarity.[28] Many immigrated to Israel following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948,[28] and 2002 estimations place the number of ethnic Jews living in Armenia at below 1,000.[29]

Economic relations[edit]

Since independence, Armenia has received support from Israel and today remains one of its major trade partners. According to the CIA World Factbook, Armenia receives 4.8% of its imports from Israel while Israel receives 7.1% of Armenia's exports.[30]

Diplomatic relations[edit]

Israel and Armenia have maintained diplomatic relations since the latter's independence from the Soviet Union in 1992.[1] From 1993 to 2007, the Armenian embassy to Israel was located in Georgia, though Tsolak Momjian was appointed as Honorary Consul of Armenia in Jerusalem in 1996.[1] The embassy was eventually moved to Jerusalem.[1]

There have been several high-level official visits to Israel by Armenians in the last several years. In January 2000, former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan traveled to Israel and met with high-ranking Israeli officials, including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The two sides pledged to strengthen relations and signed agreements on health and bilateral investment.[31] In 2003, the Catholicos of All Armenian Karekin II visited Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger who accepted an invitation by Karekin to visit Armenia.[32]

High-level visits and meetings
Date Location Note
December 1994 Israel Armenian Minister of Forign Affairs Vahan Papazian visits[1]
February 1995 Israel President Robert Kocharyan of the Republic of Armenia visits[1]
October 1998 Israel Armenian Minister of Forign Affairs Vardan Oskanian visits[1]
January 2000 Jerusalem Armenian President Robert Kocharyan meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, President Ezer Weizman, Speaker of the Knesset Avraham Burg, Minister of Interior Natan Sharansky, and Mayor of Jerusalem Ehud Olmert[1][33]
November 2005 Yerevan Israel's chief rabbi Yona Metzger visits Armenia and declares that the Israeli Jewish community recognizes the Armenian Genocide[34]
August 2011 Yerevan Israeli diplomats headed by Foreign Ministry official Pinchas Avivi and Armenian diplomats headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Arman Kirakosian meet to discuss the relationship between their countries[35]
April 2012 Yerevan Israeli Agriculture Minister Orit Noked meets with Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan and Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian[36]
July 2013 Yerevan Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan meets with Yair Auron, an Israeli historian who specializes in genocide studies[37]

Holocaust and Armenian genocide[edit]

Armenian Theological Seminary on April 24, Armenian Remembrance Day in Israel.
President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi with the leader of the Armenian Church in 1958

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Israel, has paid tribute to 10 Armenians as Righteous Among the Nations for risking their lives during the Holocaust to rescue Jews. However, Israel has yet to recognize the Armenian Genocide, and the Armenian community in Jerusalem has vocalized that it believes this is due to fear of jeopardizing diplomatic relations with Turkey.[11] It is suggested by Yair Auron that Israel doesn't want to hurt its relations with Turkey and wants to retain the "uniqueness" of the Holocaust.[38] Recognition of the genocide became a subject of debate in the years following Armenia's independence, with Israeli politicians, rabbis, and the country's Armenian community calling on Israel to formally do so. At the same time, Turkey has warned of harming ties with Israel if Israel or the United States recognizes the killings as genocide.[39] As of 2008, there has been an ongoing debate regarding recognition in the Knesset with Turkey lobbying hard to prevent it.[40] According to The Jerusalem Post, "many Israelis are eager for their country to recognize the genocide".[41]

In the summer of 2011 the Knesset held its first open discussion on the matter. By a unanimous vote of 20-0, Israel's Parliament approved referring the subject to the Education Committee for more extensive deliberation.[42] Israel's Speaker of Knesset told an Israel-based Armenian action committee that he intends to introduce an annual parliamentary session to mark the Armenian Genocide.[43]

Ambassador Morgenthau's Story (1918), one of the major primary sources discussing the Armenian Genocide, was written by Henry Morgenthau, Sr., an American Jew. Similarly, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933), one of the best-known novels about the Genocide, was written by Franz Werfel, an Austrian Jew.[44] Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer, coined the concept of Genocide as a crime against humanity, basing it on the Armenian experience.[45][46][47]

In 2001, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres described the Armenian Genocide as "meaningless." In response, historian and genocide expert Israel Charny accused Peres of going "beyond a moral boundary that no Jew should allow himself to trespass." In his letter to Peres, Charny stated:

It seems that because of your wishes to advance very important relations with Turkey, you have been prepared to circumvent the subject of the Armenian genocide in 1915–1920 ... it may be that in your broad perspective of the needs of the state of Israel, it is your obligation to circumvent and desist from bringing up the subject with Turkey, but, as a Jew and an Israeli, I am ashamed of the extent to which you have now entered into the range of actual denial of the Armenian genocide, comparable to denials of the Holocaust.[48]

In 2008, Yosef Shagal, former Israeli parliamentarian from far-right Yisrael Beiteinu in an interview to Azerbaijan media stated: "I find it is deeply offensive, and even blasphemous to compare the Holocaust of European Jewry during the Second World War with the mass extermination of the Armenian people during the First World War. Jews were killed because they were Jews, but Armenians provoked Turkey and should blame themselves."[49]

The Knesset failed to vote for the Armenian Genocide bill in 2011.[50] Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, among its supporters, stated "It is my duty as a Jew and Israeli to recognize the tragedies of other peoples."[51]

Some Jewish lobby groups in the United States, such as the prominent American Jewish Committee, oppose the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the US, while others support it.[52]

Notables of mixed Armenian-Jewish descent[edit]

Levon Aronian, the son of a Jewish father and an Armenian mother





See also[edit]


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  10. ^ Edmonds, David (18 November 2009). "The lion and the tiger". Prospect. Retrieved 25 August 2013. "The parallels between Jews and Armenians are striking. Both have well-knit diasporas—there are more than three times as many ethnic Armenians living outside the country as inside and remittances are key to sustaining the economy. Both have strong lobby groups in Washington. Both take inordinate pride in the achievements of their ethnic group—singer Cher and tennis player Andre Agassi are two Americans that Armenians claim as their own. Both have histories marked by identity-shaping tragedies. And both Israel and Armenia are small nations and chess giants." 
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