When a longstanding conflict in the Caucasus erupted into war last year, some argued that Israel should support Azerbaijan—with which it has strong economic and security ties, and which has proved an important ally in containing Iran—against Armenia—which has in recent decades been more closely aligned with Russia and Iran. (Jerusalem, in fact, opted for a more neutral stance.) Others took this argument even further, contrasting a philo-Semitic Azerbaijan to an anti-Semitic Armenia. But such a perspective picks and chooses facts without context, and obscures long-standing Armenian ties with Judaism and the Land of Israel, argues the historian Reuven Amitai, along with several other experts:
The Armenians are an ancient civilization, and were the first to accept Christianity as their national faith. The Armenian Quarter in the Old City of our national capital, Jerusalem, has existed for 1,500 years. . . . The far-flung Armenian community excelled in business, in medicine, and in the arts and letters—their name for their diaspora comes from the Hebrew word galut. Although Armenia has no indigenous Jewish community, the presence of Hebrew religious terminology in Armenian suggests some very early connections.
A century ago, Ottoman Turkish nationalists used the First World War as a pretext to exterminate the Armenians, who were accused, as Jews often are, of being a disloyal fifth column. . . . A Czech Jewish novelist, Franz Werfel, wrote The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a bestseller about the successful armed resistance of Armenian villagers against Turkish deportation orders. The book inspired both our Warsaw Ghetto fighters in 1943 and our Haganah as it prepared to fight a last stand on Mount Carmel if the Nazis broke through to the Land of Israel.
Anti-Semitism is deep-rooted and endemic in Armenia, though no more so than it is in most Christian societies. [It is also true that] Armenia erects statues and otherwise reveres the memory of Garegin Nzhdeh, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, [or “Dashnaks”], who formed and commanded an Armenian unit in the Nazi army. . . . But he is commemorated in Armenia not for his record in World War II but for his previous military role in the defense of the nascent first Armenian Republic after the genocide of 1915.