History of the Jews in Armenia

History of the Jews in Armenia

The History of the Jews in Armenia dates back more than 2,000 years.

Armenian Kingdom

Tournebize holds that Assyrians deported Jews directly to Armenia, and not to the Khabur valley. Aslan mentions that Jews of Samaria were deported to Armenia.

A large Jewish population was settled in Armenia from the 1st century BC. One of the cities, Vartkesavan became an important commercial center. [Xorenazi II, 65]
Tigranes the Great retreated from Palestine 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. [http://www.ncsj.org/Armenia.shtml Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Eurasia: Armenia and Jews] ]

The Jews in Pagan Armenia were Jews in Armenia before St. Gregor Lusavoric's coming. Armenian historians, as Moses Khorenatsi, hold that Tigranes II deported Jews from Palestine to Armenia. Tigranes invaded Syria, and probably northern Palestine as well. [The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads - Page 347 by Jan Retsoe] The Persians also deported thousands of Jewish families from Armenia, and resettled them at Isfahan.

Armenian SSR

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 have 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.

Present day

There are many noteworthy Armenians with full or partial Jewish ancestry including Garry Kasparov, World Chess Champion from 1985 to 1991, short-story writer Sergei Dovlatov, and Yelena Bonner, a human rights activist in the former Soviet Union.

There is a tiny community of Subbotnik Jews, whose ancestors converted to Judaism, and are quickly dwindling. [ [http://www.ncsj.org/AuxPages/090806JTA_Armenia.shtml Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Eurasia: Small community in Armenia strives to preserve its heritage] ]

Antisemitism in Armenia

Although the contemporary relations between Israel and Armenia are normally good, some anti-Jewish sentiments are still present.

In April 1998, Igor Muradyan, a famous Armenian political analyst and economist, published an anti-semitic 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. [http://www.fsumonitor.com/stories/082599caucasus.shtml Union of Council for Soviet Jews: Antisemitism in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia] ]

In 2002, a book entitled "National System" (written by Romen Yepiskoposyan in Armenian and Russian) was printed and presented at the Union of Writers of Armenia. In that book, Jews (along with Turks) are identified as number-one enemies of Armenians and are described as "the nation-destroyer with a mission of destruction and decomposition." A section in the book entitled "The Greatest Falsification of the 20th Century" denies the Holocaust, claiming that it is a myth created by Zionists to discredit "Aryans": "The greatest falsification in human history is the myth of Holocaust." <...> "no one was killed in gas chambers. There were no gas chambers." [ [http://www.fsumonitor.com/stories/022002Armen.shtml Antisemitic Book Presented in Armenia; Jewish Leader Heckled] . "Union of Councils for Soviet Jews". 20 February, 2002. Retrieved 27 November, 2006.] A speaker at the event also suggested the book should be distributed in schools in order to "develop a national idea and understanding of history." The event was marked with public accusations that Jews were responsible for the Armenian Genocide.

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. [ [http://www.fsumonitor.com/stories/022102Armenia.shtml “Armenian Aryan Party” Criticizes Israeli Ambassador] . "Union of Councils for Soviet Jews". 21 February, 2002. Retrieved 27 November, 2006.]

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. [http://www.eajc.org/program_art_r.php?id=59 Antisemitism in Armenia] by Rimma Varzhapetian. "The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress" (retrieved 6 September, 2006)]

Shortly after, during a prime time talk show, the leader of the People's Party of Armenia and the owner of "ALM" television channel, Tigran Karapetyan, accused Jews of assisting Ottoman authorities in the 1915 Armenian Genocide. His interviewee, Armen Avetissian stated that "the Armenian Aryans intend to fight against the Jewish-Masonic aggression and will do what it takes to repress evil in its own nest." Speaking about Armenia's Jewish community Avetissian said that it consists of "700 of those who identify themselves as Jews and 50,000 of those whom the Aryans will soon reveal while cleansing the country of Jewish evil." The Jewish Council of Armenia addressed its concerns to the government and various human rights organizations demanding to stop promoting ethnic hatred and to ban "ALM". However these demands were mostly disregarded.

On 23 October, 2004, head of the Department for Ethnic and Religious Minority Issues, Hranoush Kharatyan, publicly commented on so-called "Judaist" xenophobia in Armenia. She said: "Why are we not responding to the fact that on their Friday gatherings, Judaists continue to advocate hatred towards all non-Judaists as far as comparing the latter to cattle and propagating spitting on them?" Kharatyan also accused local Jews of calling for "anti-Christian actions." [ [http://www.fsumonitor.com/stories/102104Armenia.shtml Armenian Official Says Jews "Anti-Christian"] . "Union of Councils for Soviet Jews". 21 October, 2004. Retrieved 27 November, 2006.]

The Jewish Council of Armenia sent an open letter to President Robert Kocharian expressing its deep concern with 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 took 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. [ [http://www.a1plus.am/ru/?page=issue&id=24961 Intelligentsia Demands from Prosecutor] (in Russian). "A+ News". 18 February, 2005. Retrieved 27 November, 2006] In their demands to release an anti-semite, they were joined by opposition deputies and even ombudsman Larisa Alaverdyan. [ [http://www.fsumonitor.com/stories/020105Armenia.shtml Armenian Parliament Deputies, Ombudsman Demand Release of Detained Anti-Semite] . "Union of Councils for Soviet Jews". 1 February, 2005. Retrieved 27 November, 2006.]

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 there [company headquarters] and find out who is behind this company and if we should let them come here!" [ [http://www.jewish.ru/news/cis/2006/09/news994240420.php Jews of Armenia Outraged by Nature Protection Minister's Statements] . "Jewish.ru". Published by "ArmInfo" on 28 September, 2006 (retrieved 29 September, 2006)] [ [http://www.fsumonitor.com/stories/092906Armenia.shtml Armenian Jewish Community Leader Criticizes Environment Minister for Antisemitic Comment] . "Union of Councils for Soviet Jews". 29 September, 2006. Retrieved 27 November, 2006.] 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.

Recent vandalism by unknown individuals on Jewish Holocaust Memorial in central Yerevan was witnessed in one of the central parks of Armenian capital on 23 December 2007. A Nazi swastika symbol was scratched and black paint was splattered on the the simple stone. 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"." The monument has been defaced and toppled several times in the past few years. It is located in the city's Aragast Park, a few blocks north of the centrally-located Republic Square, which is home to a number of government buildings. [ [http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1196847408736&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull The Jerusalem Post, December 23, 2007] ]


ee also

* Armenian Quarter
* Armenian-Israeli relations

External links

* [http://www.jewish.am Official Site of the Jewish Community in Armenia]
* [http://www.haruth.com/JewsArmenia.html Jews of Armenia]
* [http://www.hetq.am/eng/society/0704-jews.html Hetq Online: There Have Always Been Jews in Armenia] by Hasmik Hovhannisyan
* [http://www.hetq.am/eng/photostory/2007_apr_pesach_01.html Hetq Online: Photo Story: Armenian Jews Celebrate Passover] , Text by Hasmik Hovhannisyan, Photos by Nelli Shishmanyan

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