In a key symptom inherent in oppressed, closed and wholly monoethnic societies, Armenia is cited as the least tolerant towards Jews among 18 countries in Central and Eastern Europe in data published by the Pew Research Center on March 28. Fully, 32 percent of Armenian survey respondents said they would not even accept Jews as fellow citizens. That figure is jarring, but actually, not surprising.
The Pew data, which was based on a survey conducted from June 2015 to July 2016, affirms previous polling by the Anti-Defamation League in 2014, which showed a majority of Armenians believe that a host of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are “probably true,” including that Jews have too much power in the business world (72 percent) and in international financial markets (68 percent), Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the country they live in (68 percent), people hate Jews because of the way Jews behave (63 percent), Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind (60 percent), Jews think they are better than other people (53 percent), Jews have too much power over global affairs (51 percent), and Jews have too much control over the United States government (51 percent). This is textbook Jew-hatred is straight out of the arsenal of the most virulently anti-Semitic countries of the Middle East.
The typical official response to anti-Semitism in Armenia is to deny its existence. The Holocaust memorial in Armenia’s capital of Yerevan was vandalized multiple times in 2004 and 2005, but police reportedly concluded that the monument “had just fallen on its own,” and no officials publicly condemned the incidents.
In an article for the Armenian newspaper 168 Hours, journalist Emil Danielyan wrote that the roots of Armenian anti-Semitism can be traced to the 1960s and 1970s, when some Soviet historians claimed that the Young Turks were guided by “Zionists” when carrying out the Armenian genocide.
“Many Armenian nationalists adopted this ridiculous theory,” wrote Danielyan. “Those nationalist forces became more active during the past couple of years by spreading their Anti-Jew[ish] comments in the press. The most influential representative of the ‘Tribe Worshippers,’ Armen Avetisyan, was the most talked about figure in the [Armenian] media throughout 2003-2004. In one of the interviews, Avetisyan threatened to exile all Jews from Armenia. Even owner of the ALM television network Tigran Karapetyan enjoyed cursing the Jews.”
Danielyan also noted that in 2006, the local Jewish community invited various Armenian government officials and public figures to an International Holocaust Remembrance Day event at Yerevan’s Holocaust memorial, but “only one of them, National Assembly MP Mkrtich Minasyan, decided to be present at the ceremony.”
In Armenia, even the “Jewishness” of the head of the Jewish community seems to be somewhat in dispute. Various experts have cited evidence and others have pondered whether the purported President of the Jewish community of Armenia, Rima Varzhapetyan, is even Jewish. Many believe she is a shill for the pervasively anti-Semitic government. To the Pew data, Varzhapetyan responded, “I’ve read it and I was genuinely surprised. Certainly, there can be cases based on household issues, but in general this can’t be true. I believe this is a provocation. I’ve been in numerous countries and I’ve never felt anti-Semitism from Armenians. On the contrary, the Jewish community of Armenia has worked with Armenians, has always been part of joint projects. We are living here for many years and no problems have ever happened.”
In either case, it is doubtful that Varzhapetyan is “surprised” by the well-documented anti-Semitism problem in Armenia. More likely, she is intentionally denying it, in line with Armenia’s modus operandi and the government talking points charged to her on the anti-Semitism issue.
There is denial, and then there is ignorance. In its website post revealing the data on Central and Eastern European countries’ rates of rejection of Jews as fellow citizens, Pew focused almost entirely on Poland and did not even mention Armenia, the survey’s least tolerant nation towards Jews. Readers can only find the figure on Armenian anti-Semitism within an interactive map. Why does Pew not consider Armenia, which produced the highest rate of intolerance among the 18 countries studied, worthy of any further analysis? It is puzzling that this well-respected research institute would seemingly ignore its own data.
The numbers don’t lie: Armenian anti-Semitism is a serious problem, and the issue must not be denied, whitewashed, or ignored. Perhaps, this is why Israel shows so little interest in closer bilateral relations with Armenia yet embraces its neighbor, Muslim-majority and eminently tolerant Azerbaijan?
Fern Sidman, the news editor of The Jewish Voice newspaper in New York, is a veteran investigative journalist and editor with more than 25 years of experience. Her reporting and expert commentary on the geopolitics of the Middle East and issues affecting world Jewry have been published in a wide cross-section of Jewish and secular publications.