Giles Fraser

Why Israel must now recognise the Armenian genocide

Denial of the genocide is state policy in Turkey and Azerbaijan – but Israel does not officially acknowledge what went on either


Remembrance: Armenians grieve those killed by Azerbaijani fire (Photo: Getty)

April 04, 2024 15:26

In the first week of September last year, several aircraft took off from the Ovda military airbase in the Negev desert, destination Azerbaijan. Their cargo was the latest in Israeli weapons technology, including state-of-the-art military attack drones. A few days later, the Azerbaijan army conducted a devastating attack upon the ethnically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, driving out the entire population and subsequently destroying its historic architecture in ways that have reminded some of Isis’ destruction of Palmyra. More than 100,000 refugees fled to Armenia.

Experts tracking arms sales have estimated that 70 per cent of the weapons employed by the Azerbaijani army had been sold to them by Israel. In the past, Armenia has even accused Israel of not just providing these weapons, but of operating them too.

Embarrassingly, among those who celebrated this Israeli-supported victory in Nagorno-Karabakh was Hamas: “We congratulate Azerbaijan for its victory in the battles and regaining the occupied territory” boasted a Hamas spokesman in 2020. Another to applaud was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said last September: “We support the steps taken by Azerbaijan – with whom we act together with the motto of one nation, two states.”

Sandwiched between Turkey and Azerbaijan, the Armenian state is caught in a vice of pan-Turkism, the post-Soviet revived desire for the unification of all Turkic peoples. And if this wasn’t problem enough, the Russians are also angry with Armenia, which – looking for new and more reliable allies – is seeking a foreign policy pivot from Moscow to the European Union. Moscow could turn Armenia into the next Ukraine, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman recently hinted, darkly. Armenia is in desperate need of friends.

On the surface, Israel and Armenia have much in common. They are both little countries with ancient cultures surrounded by hostile neighbours. Both are shaped by the trauma of 20th-century genocide. And both have large and important global diasporas. One is Christian – in fact, the oldest Christian country in the world – one is Jewish, but both are under threat by radical Islam. It is not insignificant that Hamas thinks of Nagorno-Karabakh and Gaza as both “occupied territories” requiring liberation. So why has Israel been arming Azerbaijan and delighting Hamas and Erdogan?

Recently, Israeli doublethink on Armenia has got even crazier. On 9 March, Benjamin Netanyahu published a remarkable tweet: “Israel, that adheres to international law, rejects the absurd preachings about morality from Erdogan, who supports the mass murderers and rapists of Hamas, denies the Armenian genocide, massacres Kurds in his own country and vies for the world record in eliminating and jailing regime opponents and journalists.” Bibi was right, of course. The denial of the Armenian genocide – the first of the 20th century – is state policy in Turkey and in the ethnically Turkic state of Azerbaijan. The problem is that Israel does not officially acknowledge what went on either.

Christian Armenians had lived in what we now know as eastern Turkey for thousands of years. Yet, during the First World War, more than a million of them were systematically murdered by the Ottoman authorities Recent events in Nagorno-Karabakh have resurfaced much of this historic trauma.

Turkey’s line on all of this is that the death marches of the Armenian genocide were strategic resettlement, that they were putting down a potential rebellion at a time when the Ottoman Empire was especially vulnerable. But there was no rebellion to speak of. It was ethnic cleansing, pure and simple. On 22 August, 1939, just before the invasion of Poland, Hitler reportedly said that no one would care about his plan to create lebensraum (“living space”) in eastern Europe because: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Who, indeed.

The hypocrisy of Netanyahu’s statement is that he has been responsible for blocking Israeli recognition of the Armenian genocide. “It is time to stop grovelling before Erdogan,” wrote Yair Lapid in 2018. “It is time to do the moral and right thing and recognise the genocide of the Armenian people”. Every year there is a call in the Knesset to debate this subject; every year it has been squashed by the government of the day. There are serious issues here: for some, recognition of the Armenian genocide could weaken the understanding of the Holocaust as a unique horror. The fact that the official remembrance day for the Armenian genocide, 24 April, falls right around Yom HaShoah only accentuates this concern. Israel has a lot of other things on its plate right now. But Lapid was right about the need to do the right thing by Armenia. The problem is that Israel gets about 40 per cent of its oil from Azerbaijan, and both are strategic allies against Iran. But, albeit indirectly, receiving the applause of Hamas must give Jerusalem serious cause to rethink Israeli foreign policy in the Caucasus.

Hopefully, Netanyahu’s tweet marks the beginning of a shift in attitude.

April 04, 2024 15:26

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive