Why is Antisemitism rising in Armenia?

Vandalized Holocaust Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia. The words “Death to Jews” and a swastika were inscribed on the monument.

According to the Israeli Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s recently released annual antisemitism report, the antisemitism is expected to rise sharply around the world as a result of conspiracy theories against Jews and Israel regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The Israeli Ministry decries the rise in antisemitism in the U.S. and the ‘first institutional threat to Jewish religious freedom in Europe since the Holocaust’.

Speaking of antisemitism in Armenia, the Israeli government report mentions that last fall’s 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan “has led to a worrying rise in the level of antisemitism on the part of the Armenians, which has come amid criticism of political cooperation and security trade between Israel and Azerbaijan. Political criticism was soon replaced by attacks on ethnic-religious backgrounds and accusations against Jews of alleged historical and contemporary crimes against the Armenian people.”

The report adds that “in some of the demonstrations held in Armenia antisemitic slogans were chanted.” It also states that “the Prime Minister of Armenia accused Israel of supporting the Armenian Genocide.”

The antisemitism in Armenia is not new. According to the comprehensive global antisemitism survey by Anti-Defamation League, Armenia is the second most antisemitic nation in Europe, with 1,3 million people in this country harboring antisemitic attitudes. The same survey notes that Armenia is one of top three countries in the world, outside the Middle East and North Africa, with the highest scores of antisemitism.

ADL Survey of antisemtism in Armenia

Additionally, a Pew Research Center survey found that 32 percent of Armenians would not accept Jews as fellow citizens, which is the highest number on this survey in Central and Eastern Europe.

Therefore it is not surprising that a Holocaust Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, has been vandalized dozens of times since it was installed in the early 2000s, with many of the vandalisms coinciding with the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Another vandalism against Holocaust Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia

Later in an effort to protect the Memorial against vandalism, the small Jewish community of Armenia decided to replace it with a Memorial dedicated both to the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. But even that did not shield the Memorial from vandalism. This Holocaust Memorial has become the most vandalized memorial in Armenia. Since last fall alone, the Memorial has been vandalized at least three times. The Anti-Defamation League and World Jewish Congress condemned this destruction.

Historically, religiously motivated antisemitism has always existed in Armenia, where the particularly conservative Gregorian Christianity has been dominant. However, the antisemitism was further aggravated by some conspiracy theories emerging in 1960s and 70s, disseminated by Armenian historians claiming that Zionist Jews played a significant role “in the planning and implementation of the Armenian Genocide of 1915”. Many Armenian nationalists adopted this ridiculous theory. Even the Armenian Writers Union — a government-supported institution — held a presentation of an antisemitic book that promotes this theory.

To this day, various nationalist forces in Armenia promote this conspiracy theory. Take for instance, the Nazi-style torch-lit march that was staged by rightwing Armenians on March 1 through Yerevan.

One of the activists of Armenia’s Neo-Nazi movement interviewed by American reporter Patrick Lancaster

Armenia’s Jewish population is quite small. It has been reduced down to 100–300 at most from once 10,000 (1959). Due to growing antisemitism, many Jews left Armenia and most of the remaining ones were quickly assimilated, adopting Armenian surnames.

Another manifestation of increasing antisemitism is the ongoing glorification of Nazi collaborators in Armenia. A recent study published by the American Jewish magazine — FORWARD — concluded that there are currently 22 Nazi monuments, including statutes, plazas, streets and more in Armenia, a country of less than 3 million people. All these monuments are dedicated to Garegin Nzhdeh, an Armenian Nazi collaborator, who is today Armenia’s most revered national hero. In 2016, Armenian government raised eyebrows by installing a large statue to Garegin Nzhdeh in the center of Yerevan. The unveiling ceremony was attended by Armenian president and other government officials.

Unveiling of a statue to Garegin Nzhdeh, Armenian Nazi general of Wehrmacht, in Yerevan, Armenia in 2016

Nzhdeh was the commander of the Armenian Legion of Nazi Wehrmacht, and over 20,000 Armenian soldiers of this unit fought in Crimea, the Caucasus, and southern France as the Nazis rounded up Jews and resistance fighters and marched them to death camps. Nzhdeh was convicted for war crimes and sentenced to 25 years in prison by a Soviet court. In addition to helping Adolf Hitler with the implementation of the Holocaust, Nzhdeh also founded in 1933 in Boston a racist movement, advocating for an “Armenian Master Race” that echoed the Nazis’ Aryan supremacy theories.

Descendants of his pro-Holocaust group are organized today in the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and Armenian Youth Federation — radical U.S.-based groups, which function under the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (also known as Dashnaks). The same ANCA protested recently against a Smithsonian screening of a film that did not depict Nzhdeh favorably.

Another Armenian Nazi collaborator — Drastamat Kanayan (aka General Dro) — also enjoys generous government-sponsored glorification. Armenia established a Drastamat Kanayan Institute of National Strategic Studies. The Armenian Ministry of Defense created a medal in Kanayan’s name to decorate its military personnel and civilians who excel in military teaching. His statues are also omnipresent in Armenia.

Statue of Armenian Nazi collaborator — Drastamat Kanayan (aka General Dro) in Gyumri, Armenia

Antisemitism is strongly observed even in the Armenian diaspora, in places with large concentrations of Armenians, such as Los Angeles where last fall Armenian Dashnaks compared Israel to Nazi Germany or in Beirut where Armenians regularly burn Israeli flag.

Armenian National Committee of America demonstration against Israel in front of Israeli Consulate General in Los Angeles, comparing Israel to Nazi Germany

Of course, there are courageous Armenians who protest against these rising trends of antisemitism and condemn the indirect encouragement by Armenian government in this regard. We need to support them in their struggle to eradicate all forms of antisemitism from Armenia.

Armenia’s Dashnak lobby like ANCA has influenced the Congress and the successive Administrations via their Congresspersons such as Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman, Frank Pallone, Judy Chu, Jackie Speier, Anna Eshoo and others as well as Senator Bob Menendez and the ones before them, to send over $2 billion in American taxpayer money to Armenia since the early 1990s, turning Armenia into one of the top recipients of American financial aid in the world.

The question is, how can the Congress still send millions of dollars of American taxpayers to a nation that has 22 Nazi monuments and that revers Nazi generals as national heroes?

Raoul Lowery Contreras is the author of 15 books and over 1300 articles. He formerly wrote for the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.