An Armenian Embassy in Tel Aviv: Selling Out Armenia, Stabbing Our Allies in the Back, and Serving Our Enemies
Posted on June. 27. 2020
By Markar Melkonian
Yerevan’s “Balanced Foreign Policy”
On 3 January of this year, American drone operators assassinated Iranian General Qasim Soleimani near Baghdad International Airport, as he waited for a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Nine others were also killed in the attack, including five Iraqis, assassinated in their own country by a foreign occupier. Several days later, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia stated: “Our message is for our partners of Iran and the United States to refrain from steps that could aggravate the already tense situation in our region and international relations.” (The Armenian Weekly, 8 January 2020)
Pashinyan and his Ministry of Foreign Affairs have frequently used the word partners to describe both Iran and the United States. This, presumably, is an example of their “balanced foreign policy.” Let us recall that in the past thirty years alone, one of these two “partners” has imposed sanctions on three of Armenia’s neighbors, resulting in more than one quarter of a million deaths just in Iraq from 1990 to 1998 (Richard Garfield, “Morbidity and Mortality Among Iraqi Children”; Mohamed Ali and Iqbal Shah, “Sanctions and Childhood Mortality in Iraq,” The Lancet, May 2000). Let us also recall that in the same period of time the same “partner” has launched three wars in the region, resulting in the death of more than two million civilians and creating tens of millions of refugees. And let us remind ourselves that tens of thousands of those refugees and hundreds of those casualties have been Armenians.
How then can the current administration in Yerevan justify the claim that both of these countries are coequal “partners”? The simple answer is that it cannot do this: neither the Americans themselves nor the Iranians are fooled by the “partner” talk. The Iranians, for their part, cannot afford to play word games: they have been suffering for years from crippling U.S. sanctions and from the threat of nuclear attack by America’s surrogate, Israel. And as for Pashinyan’s other “partner,” it should be enough to recall George W. Bush’s proclamation: Whoever is not with us is against us. For both sides, the only takeaway is that Armenian leaders cannot be trusted.
The U.S Embassy in Armenia occupies an area of 90,469 square meters. When it was completed in 2005, it was the largest US Embassy anywhere. Why such a large embassy in such a small country? The answer is obvious: the Big Embassy is a center of espionage against Iran, a country that the United States has targeted for the same sort of “regime change” that they imposed on Iraq, Libya, and Syria. “Partnership” with the USA, then, requires the Republic of Armenia to permit that country to use its territory as part of its plan to plunge Iran into yet another regional bloodbath.
Tehran, by contrast, has for decades quietly engaged in mutually beneficial economic, cultural, and technical exchanges with its landlocked and beleaguered neighbor, Armenia. Moreover, Tehran has pursued even-handed diplomacy when it comes to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, and they have done so in the face of great pressure not to. The Islamic Republic of Iran has been a force of restraint and moderation in the region, and it has been a good neighbor to Armenia.
The embassy decision, then, is not the result of a balanced foreign policy by any definition of the term. We all know Armenians who desperately crave recognition from glamorous white people. But if the events of the last century have not convinced us to stop fantasizing about the West as our savior, then what, if anything, have we learned?
Post-Soviet Armenia established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 and recognized the apartheid Republic of South Africa in 1993. This, presumably, was another instance of a “balanced foreign policy” in the New World Order. But for some observers back then, Yerevan’s rush to recognize racist settler states only further discredited the democratic credentials of the post-Soviet Administration at the time. Recently, Yerevan has taken the next step, announcing on 19 September of last year that they will open an embassy in Tel Aviv.
At last count, Armenia had opened embassies in only forty-five countries—fewer than one in four of the member states of the United Nations. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz emphasized the importance of Yerevan’s embassy decision, noting that the Republic of Armenia will be the 90th country to open an embassy there. This, Katz said, “attests to the constant increase in the strength of Israel’s position in the world.” If Katz is right, then the Republic of Armenia has helped to legitimize a regime that for seventy years has violently expropriated the Palestinian people and stolen their land, and that is continuing to brutalize 6.6 million of them. Yerevan–which expects other countries to officially acknowledge the Armenian Genocide–has seen fit to hand a diplomatic victory to a regime that violently denies 13 million Palestinians their right to self-determination. (Search engine keywords: “The Jewish Nation-State Law.” The 2018 Law officially denies the right to national self-determination to Palestinians throughout their occupied country.)
Armenia’s announcement came right after the Gaza Border Protests of 2018 to 19, in which hundreds of unarmed Palestinian protesters, including children and medical personnel, were gunned down, many with live ammunition and by snipers, even as they remained within the borders of the open-air concentration camp that is the Gaza Strip. The embassy announcement coincided with the U.S. President unilaterally handing Syria’s Golan Heights to Israel, as well as even more of the West Bank and all of Jerusalem, including the Armenia Quarter. Needless to say, the U.S. President did not bother to consult the owners of the property that they were expropriating, nor the millions of people he condemned to lifelong subjugation.
In the wake of these annexations and atrocities, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan smiled for the cameras after he announced that his country would open an embassy in Tel Aviv. It is no secret that, for thirty years, neoliberal Friends of Israel in Washington have been working to isolate Armenia from Iran. With the embassy decision, Armenia’s clever diplomats have pranced right into the steel trap that Washington’s neoliberals laid for them.
But perhaps even Mnatsakanyan has reason to be mildly disappointed: after all, his Zionists counterparts have revealed no plans to reciprocate by setting up an embassy in Armenia. And then of course the Israelis continue to steal Armenian church property in Jerusalem, trounce Palestinian Armenians, arm Azerbaijan, spit on Armenian priests (literally), and deny the Armenia genocide.
On 15 March, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the Speaker of the Majles of Iran (the highest legislative body of the Islamic Republic) and Special Aide for International Affairs, went on record to condemn Yerevan’s embassy decision. Speaker Amir-Abdollahian warned that the decision “is in conflict with the interests of the Palestinian people and will negatively impact the stability and security of the region.” (Tasnim News Agency, 16 March 2020)
A few weeks later, on 9 June, a small group of Iranian university students held a demonstration in front of Armenia’s Embassy in Tehran to protest the embassy decision. According to Vardan Voskanyan, the head of the Yerevan State University Chair of Iranian Studies, “the protesters, in fact, expressed the views of Iranian government officials, although it’s not spoken out [loud].” (Panorama.am, 10 June 2020) Voskanyan concluded that, “Iran, including its official circles, are seriously concerned over the deepening of Armenian-Israeli relations, considering it as a signal of anti-Iranian actions in Armenia.”
Tehran has every reason to be concerned: the current administration in Yerevan has decided to expand relations with a nuclear-armed state that is dedicated to destroying Iran. Moreover, Yerevan’s decision took place in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s unilateral abrogation of the 2015 Iran-U.S. nuclear deal, and while Iran is trying to cope with dire economic sanctions that, among other things, have impeded the delivery of medical supplies to the people of that country, even as they have been struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Some alt-right personalities make a show of indignation at what they portray as Tehran’s interference in Armenia’s affairs. But how are we to explain the embassy decision, if not as a direct result of foreign interference from none other than the USA? If any foreign capitals are interfering with the internal affairs of Armenia, then Washington D.C. is among the two top candidates—and Tehran is not.
It is easy to get the impression that leaders in Yerevan could not care less about Armenian communities in the Middle East. Sixteen years ago, a different administration in Yerevan defied the overwhelming opinion of the population of the country by joining George W. Bush’s Coalition of the Willing in Iraq. (Some readers will recall the role that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad played in producing fake evidence to help convince a reluctant American public of the need to wage yet another war in the Middle East. Search engine keywords: “Niger uranium yellowcake.”) Church and community representatives of Iraq’s Armenians pleaded against Armenian involvement in the occupation of Iraq, but officials in Yerevan brushed them aside with little more than an imperious wave of the hand.
Back in 2004, some of us warned that appeasing the American warmongers in Iraq would lead ineluctably to war against Syria and the destruction of the Armenian community in that country, too. (Refer to: www.melkonianbooks.com/PAGES/iraqdeploy.htm.) Once again, all of our pleading against the Armenian deployment fell on deaf ears. Officials in Yerevan leaned back in their chairs, smiled with supreme confidence, and assured us that our concerns were unfounded. They indicated that they were privy to secret information unavailable to the rest of us: they were insiders, with privileged access to negotiations at the highest levels, and they had received assurances from their “counterparts” in Washington.
Events since then have given the lie to their assurances and exposed them as gullible bunglers. Just as we had predicted in 2004, Uncle Sam turned Iraq into a living hell for millions of children–and just as we had predicted back then, the USA extended its aggression to Syria. Nowadays, even the American President describes Operation Iraqi Freedom as a disaster, and Yerevan’s participation in the Coalition of the Willing has earned it no discernible brownie points in Washington.
Rewarding the Enemy
In a recent interview, Vardan Voskanyan, a scholar in Iranian Studies at Yerevan State University, understated the obvious: “Let me remind you that Armenia has also established relations with Arab countries, which, I do not think, are excited about the deepening of Armenian-Israeli relations. (Panorama.am, 10 June 2020)
Syria has been home to Armenian communities for many centuries. Survivors of the genocide found refuge in Syria, too, and the people of that country, both Christian and Muslim, welcomed them. Syrian Armenians established large and prosperous communities in Aleppo, Damascus, Kessab, and other towns and cities. They developed a flourishing and distinctive culture among the diverse cultures of this unique country. The people of Syria, including Syrian-Armenians, have valiantly defended their country against frequent and vicious Zionist attacks, and over the course of many years, the Syrian Arab Republic has distinguished itself as a staunch ally of Armenia.
As we know, the Zionists have occupied and annexed Syrian territory, and their accomplices, notably the USA and Turkey, succeeded in imposing a war on Syria that has resulted in the death of 700,000 men, women, and children. The Zionists and their accomplices have left a population traumatized and a country in ruin. They have destroyed the work of generations, including Armenian institutions and Armenian property worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The case of Syria alone should be reason enough for Yerevan to irreversibly cut all relations with the Zionist state.
For decades, the Armenians of Lebanon have participated in a very constructive relationship with the Amal Movement and the Hezbollah organization in that country. The relationship has included mutual security arrangements in the Beqaa Valley, and political alliance in parliamentary elections. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has time and again defended the Armenian community. Now, Yerevan’s embassy decision has imperiled these arrangements and alliances.
Throughout the Cold War, Israel and the Republic of Turkey were the closest of allies. Despite Turkish President Erdogan’s several words of sympathy for the Palestinian cause, Turkey, alongside Israel, remains a launching platform for imperialist domination in the Middle East. (See: Abdullah Bozkurt, “Turkey Has a Plan for the Invasion of Greece, Secret Documents Reveal,” Nordic Monitor, 15 June 2020. The documents also allegedly include a plan to invade “Ermenistan.”) But the President of Turkey is concerned with expanding Turkey’s influence in the Arab countries, where displacement and free-market economic disasters have fueled rising frustration. Erdogan has been fishing in these troubled waters, and Yerevan’s “balanced foreign policy” has fed right into his caricature of Armenians as dishonest, ungrateful, and duplicitous.
And then there is the matter of the diplomatic fallout for Artsakh. On 21 April Foreign Minister Mnatsakanyan repeated a long-standing claim, to the effect that, “the principle of self-determination is a priority in Karabakh talks.” It would seem, then, that the Foreign Minister expects “the international community” to respect the principle of self-determination when it comes to 151,000 inhabitants of Artsakh, even as he himself has sided with those who deny the right to self-determination to 13 million Palestinians. The Foreign Minister has made a mockery of the principle of self-determination, which is the core of the moral argument for Artsakh’s independence from Azerbaijan.
The last point will not be lost on “the international community.” Yerevan’s embassy decision will play out in the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and other international forums. It will further isolate Nagorno Karabagh diplomatically, and it will further consolidate the consensus of “the international community” in opposition to self-determination for Artsakh. These are foreseeable consequences of the Foreign Ministry’s position, and they are a direct result of the decision to open an embassy in Tel Aviv.
What to Do
Officials in Yerevan did not have to do this. On top of all of the other problems that Armenia faces, they have chosen to further isolate the country diplomatically, to compromise the security of our most helpful allies, to alienate our friends and strengthen the hand of our enemies, and to dramatically compromise diplomatic prospects for Artsakh. Let us charitably assume that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Yerevan is not malevolent, but just astonishingly incompetent. Still, it seems unlikely that they will correct their errors on their own.
It now falls to the rest of us to mount an emergency effort to defend Armenia. In diaspora and in Yerevan, we need to organize demonstrations, flood social media, circulate petitions, and insist that elected representatives voice opposition in the National Assembly. We must demand that Armenia immediately revoke the embassy decision and sever diplomatic relations with Israel. Contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, Government House #2, Vegan Sargsyan 3, Yerevan 0100: email@example.com, or tel. 374 60 620000. Make it clear that if they do not rescind the embassy decision, they will be held responsible for the consequences of their decision.
Top photo: Armenian Quarter, Jerusalem. (Photo: Matthew Karanian). “A year back I was chatting with an Armenian priest when suddenly, out of nowhere, he was spat on by a passing Jewish teen. […] No matter how many times our community and Patriarchate have complained about these harassments, the authorities have been determinedly indifferent. Rather, their response has always been to arrest an Armenian seminary student.” –Apo Sahagian, Asbarez, April 7, 2015.
(Markar Melkonian is a teacher and writer. His latest books are The Philosophy of Death Reader: Cross-Cultural Readings on Immortality and the Afterlife (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019) and The Philosophy and Common Sense Reader: Writings on Critical Thinking (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020). His book The Wrong Train: Notes on Armenia since the Counterrevolution (Sardarabad Press, 2020) is a selection of opinion pieces that have appeared in Hetq.am. The Wrong Train should appear in Armenian translation later this year.)