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March 22, 2015 1:09 am

How an Armenian Prime Minister Caught the Iranian Flu

avatar by Alexander Murinson / JNS.org

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A view of the Armenian capital city of Yerevan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org Historically, Jerusalem has played the role of a coveted possession in the geopolitical calculations of many regional and global powers. International religious rivalries over access and ownership of the Israeli capital’s holy sites continue unabated. The status of the Old City of Jerusalem and those holy places also presents one of the thorniest issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The latest installment in this long-drawn drama involves the Republic of Armenia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Armenian leadership’s cancellation of a planned visit to Jerusalem in February 2010 by then-prime minister Tigran Sargsyan provided a cause for concern and puzzlement for the Israeli government that persists to this day.

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Until recently, the Armenian government had not sent a single delegation to Israel since the cancellation of Sargsyan’s visit. In contrast, an Armenian neighbor, the Muslim-majority Republic of Azerbaijan, has sent a series of top-level delegations, including cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.

In what was reportedly a bit of damage control, on March 5, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandyan arrived in Israel for what the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs described as a “private visit.” It was reported that Nalbandyan promoted a decidedly anti-Turkish and anti-Azeri agenda. Nalbandyan received a less-than-warm welcome due to the well-documented and increasing wave of anti-Semitism in the Armenian media as well as the prolific state-sponsored anti-Israel propaganda that makes Armenia such a darling of Iran.

What really caused the cancellation of the visit of Armenian prime minister Sargsyan to Israel? Interestingly, in mid-February 2010, Yerevan notified Israel that Sargsyan had become ill with the flu and was unable to travel. Other diplomatic sources in Jerusalem noted that the flu struck the Armenian prime minister in “a strange manner after a meeting with the advisor of Iranian President Mehdi Mostafavi.” Nearly at the same time as the Armenian official trip, the Iranian ambassador in Yerevan, Seyed Ali Sagayan, announced that the Islamic Republic would act as an intermediary, promoting the normalization process between Armenia and Turkey. This was preceded by a visit to Tehran of then-Armenian minister of transport and communication Manuk Vardanyan, who oversaw a number of bilateral strategic projects, an invitation to the defense minister of Armenia to Iran, and the arrival in Yerevan of a head of the Iranian diplomatic delegation.

According to information received in Jerusalem, Tehran feared that the Israelis would try to negotiate with the head of the Armenian government about the tacit cooperation on the Iranian issue. Although Iran remains a major regional partner of Yerevan, no less important for the Armenians is their position in Jerusalem at the city’s holy sites.

The Jerusalem Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Church controls many Christian shrines in the city (including a part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). The Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem (where about 2,500 people live) is the spiritual center for the influential Armenian diaspora in the Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria, and Iran. This quarter is even called the key to the “Armenian factor” of Middle East politics. For Armenians, these places are particularly sensitive because of the long-term confrontation with the Greeks regarding control over the Jerusalem sites. In resolving a number of conflicts between the Armenians and Greeks, the Israeli authorities, in particular the Ministry of Religious Affairs, plays a critical role. On such matters, Israeli state agencies prefer to remain neutral.

But recently, representatives of the Armenian Church began to express fears that amid the crisis with Turkey, Israel had decided to strengthen the partnership with Greece, and by consequence the Israeli government may prefer the Greeks in the conflict over Jerusalem’s holy sites. It is significant that less than a month before the announcement of the visit of the Armenian prime minister to Israel, one of Jerusalem’s priests, Step Karapetyan, stated publicly, “Holy Mount Zion to the Jews actually is in the possession of the Armenian community and the Israeli government is implementing a systematic policy to force Armenians out. Armenia as the state did not oppose this policy.” He further noted that “in such circumstances, conflicts and collisions will occur and further, because the problem is not only religious but also political and geopolitical conditions.”

The Iranians reportedly feared that in exchange for some assistance in the matter of holy places, Sarkisian would agree to tacit cooperation on subjects of strategic importance for Tehran, according to Israeli diplomats. The Armenians quickly backed down under pressure from Iran.

The Iranian regime has never ceased to support Armenia in its megalomaniac policy of occupation of the sovereign Azeri territory. Recently, on behalf of Armenia, a blatant attack on an Azeri senior diplomat—Baku’s ambassador to Washington, Elin Suleymanov—was aired in the Azeri language by the official Islamic Republic of Iran broadcaster Radio Tabriz. The Iranian broadcast used egregious lies in accusing Suleymanov of “lobbying activities against Armenia in Washington, DC.” The Iranians used a classical anti-Semitic ruse by calling any diplomat who has healthy relationship with Jewish people, especially American Jewry, a “secret agent” of Zionists. The broadcast contained a ridiculous accusation against the Azeri ambassador of being “Azerbaijan’s Jewish politician and promoter of the Zionist regime in [Azeri President] Ilham Aliyev’s government.” The broadcast added, “This Jewish politician does his best to work for the benefit of American and Zionist regime, not for Azerbaijani state and its people.”

The mullah-controlled regime in Tehran manifests a growing concern over the invigoration of relations between Israel, Azerbaijan, and the states of Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan. The Iranians fear that the Israeli strategy of containing the Islamic Republic—which thankfully continues to stall the P5+1 negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program—is gaining momentum, while Armenia is still suffering from the Iranian flu.

Alexander Murinson, Ph.D., a researcher for the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, also serves on the International Advisory Board of Outre-Terre (European Geopolitical Review), a French-language scholarly journal. He is the author of various articles and books, including the “European Journal of Geopolitics,” “Turkey’s Entente with Israel,” and “Azerbaijan: State Identity and Security in the Middle East and Caucasus.”

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  • Lily

    You seriously can’t be serious about your career with your writing. Look, I am a product of a Jew and an Armenian and if anyone here thinks that we both hate each other is simply STUPID and needs help! Both sides of my family are very supportive of each other especially our history with one another over 2000 years and our pain-genocide and the holocaust. One day, Sir., you are going to get your titles stripped of you for being arrogant and unwise! Shame on you! People like you are a shame to our nation and that ph.d of yours isn’t going to change that fact!

  • Phil

    The missing piece in all this is that there is an Azeri majority in northwest Iran that has no great love for the mullahs. Iran’s assistance to Armenia is an insurance policy against restiveness in Iranian-occupied Azerbayjan.

    I would recommend that Israel acknowledge the Armenian holocaust because that would put truth over politics and the principle that reality must trump politics is essential to Israel’s future. If Turkey was ever an ally of Israel, it most certainly isn’t one now, and its sensitivities should be less salient.

    Meanwhile, Armenians have to recognize that their holocaust was perpetrated for the same reason that the Arabs states and Iran seek the destruction of Israel. If they have learned anything from the experience, they must actively reject the effort to destroy Israel. That they are allied to it indicates that they put politics ahead of principle.

  • From Odessa

    I am from the former Soviet Union and my parents raised me with the concept that everyone in the former USSR hates Jews except for Baptists and Armenians. This article saddens me. I don’t trust any rapprochement with Muslim countries. They won’t last very long. Jerusalem and Israel is and always will be for the Jews (and we lived there continually ever since the times of Joshua), although large segments were forcibly removed first by Babylonians and then the Romans, a large community was always there. Before Armenians. Before the Arabs. Similarly, Ararat and Nagorno-Karabagh is the Armenians. Unequivocally. Armenia is becoming close to Iran b/c Iran is a bully but Armenia should be strong and resist Iran.

  • Rafi Issagholian

    “The Iranian regime has never ceased to support Armenia in its megalomaniac policy of occupation of the sovereign Azeri territory.”

    Kindly go jump off of a cliff. The fact that ANY Israeli that isn’t blatantly and openly anti-occupation has the temerity to try to criticize ANYONE else is insane. “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

    Just to make sure I address the matter at hand, Nagorno-Karabagh lawfully voted to leave the Azeri SSR and join the Armenian SSR twice. Once, it was rejected by the Kremlin. The second time, as the Soviet Union was crumbling, it was not – and Azerbaijan’s response was to forbid Armenian education and language, remove the autonomous region’s protections, divide it into other, majority Azeri populations, and send in troops to enforce this decision. The region responded by self defense, and won.

  • VTigers

    Rima Varzhapetyan-Feller, the president of the Jewish community of Armenia, recently wrote a scathing article titled, “World Jewry Cannot Become a Tool in the Hands of Anti-Armenian Propagators.” She criticized all those who engage in such propaganda for writing “ordered and one-sided articles…in pursuit of profits.”
    And how much did Alexander Murinson get paid from the sultanate of Aliyevistan for writing this article?

  • steven L

    Did Israel play game with the issue of the Armenian genocide?
    Armenia, a new Argentina?

  • Vahan Hovan

    Can the skilled author provide even ONE instance of anti-Semitism in the Armenian media? This troubled article is nothing but Turkish prop. to distract from the Armenian Holocaust.

  • Hagope

    More Azeri-Turk propaganda by a likudist Zionist extremist with a price tag on his forehead, the funniest part being the tacit threats against an Armenian community in Jerusalem which was there before any European Jews arrived in Palestine. What are you gonna do Mr Murinson, commit a genocide against Armenians again using all the developed techniques from your friends in Turkey and Azerbaijan? What a joke, but then again, we shouldn’t dismiss lunatic ramblings by such extremists so easily.

    By the way, does the large Jewish community in Iran who is free to leave, but is not, and even has representation in the Iranian government, ruin your juvenile theories and warmongering?

    • Michael

      There must be all of about 15000 Jews left in Iran. The rest, of what had been a significant population, have already left.

  • Israel lobby in Washington is the only reason that Washington do not recognize Armenian Genocide, even though 43 state of united state do, Turkey Have used Israel as tool for last 50 years and you can see they now through Israel under the bus and accuse Israel with Genocide. stop this belligerent attack on Armenian. it is Israel Gov. provided weapons to Azerbaijan dictator that is killing the people of Karabakh. how about Israel Gov. denying Armenian Genocide? not because they do not know what happen but to please Turkey.

    Thank you
    Wally

  • Deja Vu

    Armenia is held hostage by Iran, just as Israel is held hostage by Azerbaijan. The Mavi Marmara and Gaza embargo issues display that Israel is also being held hostage by Turkey.

  • Joseph Ozer

    Interesting. One would think that Armenia would feel threatened by Iran for religious reasons. It is also surprising that Armenia would want improve relations with the current Turkish government.

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