By Emily Schrader*
Israel and Armenia have numerous historical reasons to be allies. Perhaps the most obvious is that both peoples have faced tremendous persecution for their faith and ethnicity.
The Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict has once again come to violent confrontations between Azeris and Armenians over the hotly contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. The semi-autonomous area has been in dispute since the fall of the Soviet Union, with periods of lasting ceasefire in between, but Turkey’s expansionist and aggressive policies have likely sparked the recent uptick in violence between the two states in recent weeks. With hostile Turkey’s involvement, and Iran’s Azerbaijan alliances, should Israel be continuing to support Azerbaijan? And is the Jewish state committing a moral failure by refusing to support Armenia?
Israel and Armenia have numerous historical reasons to be allies. Perhaps the most obvious is that both peoples have faced tremendous persecution for their faith and ethnicity. The Armenian Genocide, the systematic genocide of 1.5 million Armenian Christians in the early 20th century at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, was a horrific precursor to the Holocaust. Sadly, many states refuse to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide or Turkey’s well-documented role, which the modern state has desperately tried to cover up. Incredibly, the State of Israel has repeatedly failed to recognize the Armenian Genocide, due initially to political interests with Turkey, and later due to alliances with Azerbaijan.
Israel’s political status with Muslim nations is certainly contentious, but there are moral recognitions that should be above political interests. Recognizing genocide is one of them. Israel must recognize the Armenian Genocide, and the international community must hold Turkey accountable for its bullying and war-mongering in response to any such recognition, whether from Israel or any other nation-state.
The complex political interests of Israel only intensify with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict today.
The enclave, which is by majority composed of ethnic Armenians and has voted by referendum to unite with Armenia, has seen sporadic conflict for over two decades, and now is facing all-out war. This recent fighting is backed, and some say initiated, by Turkey, which reports show has been recruiting mercenaries from Syria to fight against the Armenians in Azerbaijan in a continued push for Pan-Turkism in the region.
Indeed, Turkish President Recep Erdogan has made statements alluding to “finishing the job of our grandfathers.” There is little doubt that given the chance, Erdogan would take over Armenia all together. After all, no one seemed to care about Turkey’s recent ethnic cleansing of the Kurds in Syria.
What makes this conflict even more complicated for Israel is that Israel has diplomatic relations with Muslim majority Azerbaijan, a neighboring country of Iran, and relations, albeit cold relations, with Muslim Turkey, despite its increasing hostility to Israel and support for terrorist organizations like Hamas. Israel also receives 40% of its oil from Azerbaijan, and supplies military arms to Azerbaijan (to much deserved criticism).
This conflict means Israel is essentially siding with Turkey and Iran against Christian Armenia – a nation that has faced war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide from neighboring states since its establishment post-USSR. While the pragmatic alliance with Azerbaijan makes sense, especially given the country neighbors Iran, it is far from moral.
Those looking out for Israeli interests would rightly counter that Armenia has warm relations with Iran, but they would also do well to remember that Armenia does so only because it is isolated from all other neighbors and has no source of energy if not for Iran. Imagine if Israel worked more closely with Armenia to reduce their dependence on Iran instead of supplying arms to Azerbaijan.
While the diplomatic situation is extremely complex, and there are strong arguments to be made on both sides, we are nothing if not a nation that can stick to its principles. The side of Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan is not where Israel should be positioning itself, and certainly not by supplying Azerbaijan with arms used to kill Armenians. Morally, Israel must stand with Armenia, a nation with shared values and history similar to the Jewish state.
*The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative and a research fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.