Anti-Semitism in Armenia

Analytics | | 17-10-2018, 10:50

In March 2018, Washington-based Pew Research Center published an interesting report on the level of anti-Semitism in Eastern and Central Europe. The survey that took place in 18 countries was based on the major question below: ‘Would you accept Jews as fellow citizens?’ As the report could mainly focus on bigger countries of the surveyed region, it either skipped or just ignored the results from Armenia. While the percentage of adults who say they would not be willing to accept Jews as fellow citizens was 14% in Russia and Hungary, 18% in Poland, 19% in Czechia, 22% in Romania, the highest level was found in Armenia – 32%. 

According to another survey, conducted by Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in 2014, 58% of Armenian people are harboring anti-Semitic attitudes. This is the highest percentage among the post-Soviet countries. To the question “What is the cause of this attitude towards the Jews?”, the Armenian respondents provided following responses: “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the countries they live” – 68%, “Jews have too much power in the business world” – 72%, “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust” – 45%.  But the Jews are not the only ethnic minority in Armenia that may face a negative attitude towards them.  

As the only mono-ethnic state in South Caucasus, Armenia seems not so tolerant to minorities. While Armenian diasporas all over the world are trying to get international recognition for Armenian casualties during the World War I, usually labeling them as genocide or ethnic cleansing, the titular ethnic group inside the Republic of Armenia cannot boast ethnic tolerance. In fact, Armenia herself is interested in a pure Armenian nation-state by cleansing other ethnic groups, a policy which was launched in the early 1900s and actively pursued throughout the 20th century. 

By the end of the 19th century, the Azerbaijani population constituted at least 50% of the city of Erivan (present-day Yerevan). The 20th century witnessed discriminations against the Azerbaijanis in Armenia. In 1918-1920, Armenian warlords put all their efforts to use "the most violent methods to 'encourage' Muslims (Azerbaijanis) in Armenia" to leave.

According to the All-Union Population Census of 1959 (USSR), the biggest ethnic minority group of Armenia was still Azerbaijanis. Nevertheless, the Azerbaijani population of Armenia would face an unwelcoming and discriminatory attitude both in society and ruling elite. This policy peaked in 1948-1953, when more than 750,000 Azerbaijanis were deported from the Armenian SSR to the Azerbaijani SSR and continued with smaller waves of expulsion of Azerbaijanis until 1988-1989. Towards the end of the Soviet rule, when Moscow`s control over constituent republics were relaxed, the rest of the Azerbaijani population in Armenia were expelled. Although many would migrate to different countries, it was still Azerbaijan that harboured the biggest portion of refugees, nearly 250,000. According to official numbers, there were less than 30 Azerbaijanis living in Armenia at the turn of the millennium. 

The Azerbaijanis were not the only ethnic group that faced Armenian discrimination. Between 1959 and 2011, the Russians, the second largest ethnic minority, also decreased in numbers from 51,000 people to 11,800; today, the local Russians make up roughly 0,5% of the total population of Armenia. Besides the Russians, the local Ukrainians and Greeks were also part of a mass exodus in the 1990s and today are estimated at the numbers of 900 and 1,100 people respectively.  

Currently, the largest ethnic minority of Armenia, Yazidi Kurds, make up 1.2% of total population (35,000). They have been successfully assimilated by the Armenian authorities and underrepresented in legislative and executive bodies. 

Referring back to the findings of Pew Research Center’s report, we face natural questions: What are the roots of Anti-Semitic elements in Armenia? Why is the Armenian society possessing anti-Semitic sentiments?

The Armenian Anti-Semitism was displayed more obviously in the 1940s, when more than 20,000 Armenian collaborators took part in Hitler’s “Final Solution”. Headed by General Dro (Drastamat Kanayan) and General Nzhdeh (Garegin Ter-Harutyunyan) – who today are welcomed as national heroes in Armenia today – these collaborators rounded up Jews and organized death marches to the concentration camps while German Wehrmacht marched across Russia. Even earlier, in the 1930’s, an Armenian media outlet “Hairenik” was giving full propaganda support to Hitler by justifying the Holocaust, naming it “a surgical operation” and calling Jews “poisonous elements”.  In addition to these facts, in 2016 Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan unveiled a monument of a Nazi collaborator, who led the death of civilian population, including the Jews - General Njdeh in the capital city Yerevan.  

In fact, Dron, Nzhdeh and other personalities hailed by the Armenians as national heroes, were attached to Tseghakronism, a racist concept, which had been formed under Nitzsche`s ideas. Tseghakronism was a nationalist and political movement that called for a union of Armenians in the territory defined as the historic Armenia, founding an all-Armenian state. This national movement was originally formed by Garegin Nzhdeh and his associate Hayk Asatryan in the 1930s. 

Unfortunately, this Anti-Semitic sentiments in Armenia were dragged into the 21st century. 

In 2002, Romen Episkopyan, an Armenian writer, published a book titled ‘The National System’, both in Russian and Armenian. While calling Jews ‘the destroyer nation’, he also  pointed out that the Holocaust is ‘a myth’ and ‘the Greatest Falsification of the XX Century.’  

“Tigran Karapetian, the owner of a pro-government ALM TV channel of Armenia, embarked on a campaign of Jew-bashing in 2004 and began to broadcast in ALM. These broadcasts emboldened the anti-Semitic leader of a small ultranationalist party called Armenian Aryan Union, Armen Avetisian. He declared in an interview to a local newspaper that there are as many as 50,000 “disguised” Jews in Armenia and that he will strive to ensure that they are identified and expelled from the country.” 

Even pro-government media and state-run public televisions in Armenia accused the political opposition of anti-Semitic claims. They presented former Armenian opposition leader Ter-Petrossian as a traitor to Armenia and claimed his ties to Israel. The Pro-government Russian-language Golos Armenii (Voice of Armenia) and Armenian-language Hayots Ashkhar (Armenian World) questioned his loyalty to Armenia and wrote about his meeting with the representatives of American-Jewish organizations who visited Armenia on good will. And these people were not just ordinary members – they were leaders of the Jewish-American Committee such as Peter Rosenblatt, Barry Jabes and John Waters. Over these huge accusations, President of Jewish Community of Armenia, Rima Varzhapetyan expressed her distress about the articles, calling them ‘a provocation and a kindling of Anti-Semitism.’ She also mentioned her strong suspicions that these sentiments enjoyed the backing of the people in power. Even though she is also Jew, she noted with concern and called the people to ‘not believe such hateful lies.’ In 2007 the Holocaust Memorial in the capital city Yerevan was vandalized, scrawled a swastika on it. 

The mono ethnic state of Caucasus – Armenia seems not to be so tolerant to other minorities. The extremist and nationalist ideas always played an important role in the history of Armenia. The so called ‘Great Armenia’- Armenia from one sea to another, is the yield of these ideas. Such thinking creating results in a harsh attitude towards the minorities of Armenia – especially towards the Jews, while the government has been quite reluctant to take action against the anti-Semitic acts and forces. 


About the author:

Abbas Zeynalli is a bachelor student of International Relations at Baku State University. He completed an internship program at Strategic Research Center, Azerbaijan. Abbas currently works as a junior researcher at Topchubashov Center. His areas of interest cover Middle East, Chinese foreign policy, South Caucasus and European integration.