History of the Jews in Armenia
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|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Jews, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, Armenian people|
The history of the Jews in Armenia dates back more than 2,000 years.
Classical and Medieval Armenia
A large Jewish population was settled in Armenia from the 1st century BCE. One city, Vartkesavan became an important commercial center.
Tigranes the Great retreated from Israel and encouraged 10,000 Jews to join him on his return to his kingdom. Thus, Armenia's Jewish community was established. Like the rest of Armenia's population, they suffered the consequences of regional powers trying to divide and conquer the country.
There were Jews in pagan Armenia before St. Gregor Lusavorich's coming. Early medieval Armenian historians, such as Moses Khorenatsi, held that the Armenian king Tigranes II (95–55 BCE) deported Jews from Judea to Armenia. Tigranes invaded Syria, and probably northern Israel as well. The Persians also deported thousands of Jewish families from Armenia and resettled them at Isfahan. Jewish families were deported into Armenia and settled in Artashat, Vaghasabat, Yervandashat, Sarehavan, Sarisat, Van, and Nakhichevan.
In 1999 the remains of a medieval cemetery from a previously unknown and unsuspected medieval Jewish community was discovered in the village of Yeghegis in Armenia's Vayotz Dzor region. When excavated, 64 complete tombstones and fragments of a number of others were uncovered. 20 of them had inscriptions, all in Hebrew except for 2 which were in Aramaic. The oldest dated stone was from 1266 and the latest date was 1336/7.
|Historical Armenian Jewish population|
After Eastern Armenia came under Russian rule in the early 19th century, Jews began arriving from Poland and Iran, creating Ashkenazic and Mizrahi communities in Yerevan. More Jews moved to Armenia during its period as a Soviet republic finding more tolerance in the area than in Russia or Ukraine. After World War II, the Jewish population rose to approximately 5,000. However, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union many left due to inadequate services and today the country's Jewish population has shrunk to 750. Despite small numbers, a high intermarriage rate, and relative isolation, a great deal of enthusiasm exists to help the community meet its needs.
The Jewish community has its religious leaders in Armenia headed by a Chief Rabbi and sociopolitical matters are run by the Jewish Council of Armenia.
Notable cases of antisemitism
There were no reports of anti-Semitic violence in Armenia during the last years.
Although contemporary relations between Israel and Armenia are normally good, some anti-Jewish sentiments are still present that may be due to several reasons such as: Israel's alliance with, and ongoing sale of weapons to, Azerbaijan; the fact that a number of the Ottoman empire's Young Turk instigators of the Armenian Genocide were Jewish or crypto-Jewish and the claim by some historians that the genocide was actually part of a Zionist / Masonic plot; the continuing refusal of Israel's leaders to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide; and the prior active support given by Jewish lobby groups in America to Turkey's position of denying the Armenian Genocide.
In April 1998, Igor Muradyan, an Armenian political analyst and economist, published an antisemitic article in one of Armenia's leading newspapers Voice of Armenia. Muradyan claimed that the history of Armenian-Jewish relations has been filled with "Aryans vs. Semites" conflict manifestations. He accused Jews of inciting ethnic conflicts, including the dispute over Nagorno-Karabagh and demonstrated concern for Armenia's safety in light of Israel's good relations with Turkey.
Similar accusations were voiced by Armen Avetissian, the leader of the nationalist Armenian Aryan Order (AAO), on 11 February 2002, when he also called for the Israeli ambassador Rivka Kohen to be declared persona non grata in Armenia for Israel's refusal to give the Armenian massacres of 1915 equal status with the Holocaust. In addition, he asserted that the number of victims of the Holocaust has been overstated. In 2004, Armen Avetissian expressed extremist remarks against Jews in several issues of the AAO run The Armeno-Aryan newspaper, as well as during a number of meetings and press conferences. As a result, his party was excluded from the Armenian Nationalist Front. The Jewish Council of Armenia sent an open letter to President Robert Kocharian expressing its deep concern about the recent rise of antisemitism. Armen Avetissian responded to this by publishing yet another antisemitic article in the Iravunq newspaper, where he stated: "Any country that has a Jewish minority is under big threat in terms of stability." Later while meeting with Chairman of the National Assembly of Armenia Artur Baghdasarian, head of the Jewish Council of Armenia Rimma Varzhapetian insisted that the government take steps to prevent further acts of antisemitism. Avetissian was eventually arrested on 24 January 2005, however several prominent academic figures, such as Levon Ananyan (the head of the Writers union of Armenia) and composer Ruben Hakhverdian, supported Avetissian and called upon the authorities to release him. In their demands to release him, they were joined by opposition deputies and even ombudsman Larisa Alaverdyan as the authorities had arrested him for political speech. On 23 October 2004, the head of the Department for Ethnic and Religious Minority Issues, Hranoush Kharatyan, accused Jewish leaders of preaching extreme intolerance toward all non-Jews. Kharatyan also claimed that the Talmud contained the "aggressive ideology".
In September 2006, while criticizing the American Global Gold corporation, Armenian Minister of Nature Protection Vardan Ayvazyan said during a press-conference: "Do you know who you are defending? You are defending kikes! Go over their [company headquarters] and find out who is behind this company and if we should let them come here!". After Rimma Varzhapetian's protests, Aivazian claimed he didn't mean to offend Jews, and that such criticism was intended strictly for the Global Gold company.
There have been two recorded incidents of vandalism by unknown individuals on the Jewish Holocaust side of the Joint Tragedies Memorial in Aragast Park in central Yerevan. This monument had replaced a smaller monument that had been defaced and toppled several times. About the damage to the first monument, the head of the Jewish community, Rima Varzhapetyan, stated "there is a certain group of people that is trying to make everyone believe that there is Anti-Semitism in Armenia. But that doesn't exist here". On 23 December 2007 a swastika was scratched and black paint was splattered on the stone of the new monument. After notifying the local police, Rabbi Gershon Burshtein, a Chabad emissary who serves as Chief Rabbi of the country's tiny Jewish community said "I just visited the memorial the other day and everything was fine. This is terrible, as there are excellent relations between Jews and Armenians." On October 19, 2010 the Jewish Holocaust side of the Joint Tragedies Memorial in Yerevan was vandalized, with brown paint poured over the memorial and "Death to the Jew" stenciled on the memorial along with a swastika. The city administration removed the signs of vandalism by the next morning, and police launched an investigation. The local Jewish community praised this immediate reaction.
On the occasion of the last presidential campaign in 2008, an attempt was made to stir up antisemitic feeling against an opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosyan, whose wife is of Jewish origin. This involved allegations of a Zionist conspiracy, which were echoed in several mainstream-newspaper articles and on public TV.
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