The Armenian community in Israel is seemingly taking a page from the Armenian-American book of political tricks and bearing its proverbial teeth, but not in a way acceptable in an evolved democratic society such as Israel or in the U.S., for that matter.
In a bizarre turn of events, Shimon Lankri, Mayor of Akko (Acre), experienced first-hand not just Armenian fundamentalist lobbying tactics, but, as reported by various media outlets, actual threats related to his understandable and forthright expression of horror in connection with the commemoration of a massacre of Azerbaijani people in 1992.
The Khojaly Massacre is known as the most tragic chapter of the 1992 Nagorno Karabakh (NK) war. The bloody conflagration and the Khojaly Massacre, in particular, saw the murder of hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians murdered by Armenian forces with the support of the 366th Regiment of the Russian army.
Despite official Armenian denials to this day, the facts related to the Khojaly Massacre are corroborated by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and various others. In fact, in a response to Armenian governmental repudiations, HRW put an equivocal blame for this humanitarian catastrophe on the Armenian side. “…we place direct responsibility for the civilian deaths with Karabakh Armenian forces.
Further, in a response to Armenian exertions to blame the crimes on the victims, HRW added, “indeed, neither our report nor that of (Russian) Memorial includes any evidence to support the argument that Azerbaijani forces obstructed the flight of, or fired on Azeri civilians.”
It is a bit of an open secret that Israel and Azerbaijan maintain interestingly close bilateral ties that extend to numerous governmental and business sectors. Perhaps best put in a Wikileaks- leaked diplomatic communique, the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, was quoted as describing the bilateral relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel as like an iceberg—90% beneath the water.
Beginning several years ago, Mayor Lankri, as is the case with countless Israeli officials on the national, regional and local levels, began a relationship with Azerbaijan, hosting “Justice for Khojaly,” a mobile documentary photo exhibition dedicated to the remembrance of this bloody act of genocide.
During a recent interview with AzerTac, one of Azerbaijan’s leading electronic media outlets, Mayor Lankri commented that he “was shocked by the atrocities and vandalism of Armenians committed against the Azerbaijani people.”
He added that while on an official delegation to Azerbaijan two years ago, he “…personally felt the warmth and hospitality, tolerance and multiculturalism of the Azerbaijani people…they (Jews in Azerbaijan and Jews of Azerbaijan-extraction in Israel) always say with pride in Israel that there has never been anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan, and Jews have never felt foreigners there.
Azerbaijan is Israel’s key partner in the South Caucasus and Central Asia region. Bilateral relations between two countries continue to grow steadily with successes in such important areas as energy, agriculture, technology and military-strategic cooperation.
Israel purchases roughly 40 percent of its oil from Azerbaijan while Azerbaijan purchases modern weapons types, reputedly, even the famed Israeli designed and built anti-missile system, Iron Dome, to strengthen its military-defense capabilities and to guard against Armenian strikes on population centers.
It is not just “oil for guns,” as some detractors of the relationship would have the public believe. Such depth of cooperation warrants that these trends will be reliable and long-term.
Armenia is in a perpetual state of war with the South Caucasus state of Azerbaijan over Armenian occupation of Azerbaijan’s NK region. Thus, Armenians throughout the world are preoccupied by the depth and closeness of friendship between Israel and this secular Muslim-majority republic.
Armenia is concerned about this development and the ever-closer rapprochement between Israel and Azerbaijan that has already changed the current strategic balance between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the latter’s favor, as the military clashes in NK in April 2016 showed—although initiated by the Armenia, Azerbaijani forces responded utilizing advanced weapons, modern command and control systems and an increasingly professional and effective infantry, artillery and armor corps to capture a large segment of previously occupied land.
Twenty thousand Armenians live in Israel, many occupying prestigious professions, yet they tend to live as distinct communities—odd in such an integrated and multi-ethnic nation- in such places as the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Ramle. Politically active despite their small number, they exist politically on the ultra-Left, led by such obstructionists as member of the Knesset Zahava Galion, who seems to tend to let her deep affinity for Armenia cloud her loyalty and responsibilities to Israel.
Open threats to Israeli public officials by political activists from the Armenian community cannot be tolerated. Threats towards pro-Azerbaijani figures like Mayor Lankri, unfortunately, are under-reported or ignored in the Israeli press. Such underhanded practices must be exposed and raise an appropriate public reaction.
At the end of the day, continued warm and close bilateral relations with Azerbaijan is important to Israel.
Alexander Murinson is a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center and Bar Ilan University. He holds a Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and is the author of “Turkey’s Entente with Israel and Azerbaijan: State Identity and Security in the Middle East and Caucasus.”