Photo Credit: WikiCommons

According to a recent report in the Azerbaijani media, Gilber Minasyan, an ASALA member, has joined the recent fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This report comes after Ambassador Khazar Ibrahim, Azerbaijan’s envoy in Turkey, told the Turkish media that ASALA has once again joined the fighting against Azerbaijan in recent weeks. Indeed, Turkish journalist Burak Bekdil has noted that “some Armenians have spoken of revitalizing ASALA out of fear of losing the war.” The question remains, has ASALA truly been resurrected from the dead and are they being deployed against Azerbaijan as we speak? And if so, what are the implications for the State of Israel?

If ASALA were to be resurrected, it would not be a positive development for the State of Israel. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, ASALA murdered 46 people and injured 299 others in 84 separate terror attacks. Although 36 of the victims were Turkish diplomats, ASALA also cooperated with the PLO and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. As Turkish journalist Rafael Sadi noted, “ASALA was established with the support of Arafat’s PLO and they trained in the PLO’s camps in Lebanon.”

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A report in the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (BESA) noted that Hagop Hagopian, who later became the chairman of ASALA, worked closely with Abu Iyad of the PLO and was considered a “muhajeed” by that group: “The PLO and its smaller but more radical faction the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine led by George Habash provided generous training and logistical support for ASALA.” In fact, ASALA terror leader Hagopian claimed, “Many Armenians since 1966 participated in the Palestinian struggle from which they learned many things.” In fact, it has been reported that Palestinian terror groups assisted ASALA in their attack upon Ankara’s Airport in 1982, which killed nine and injured 80. According to Sadi, “Even today, you see that the Palestinian Authority leaders are remarkably close to Armenia.”

Bekdil concurred: “There are major parallels between ASALA and the Palestinian terror organizations urban warfare tactics, most notably as these terrorists had similar training in this or that corner of Lebanon and Syria.” Considering this, he called Turkey’s slant against Israel a “sheer mistake.” He argued that while Armenia is slanted towards the Palestinians, both Israel and Turkey have a common interest in supporting Azerbaijan. Bekdil called it an “Israeli balancing act against any present or potential Iranian support for Armenia. Ironically, Turkey and Israel are on the same page.”

Yet, has ASALA truly been resurrected from the dead or are the Armenians just talking about it? Sadi claims that the Turkish official media equates the modern-day Armenian state with ASALA, while Turkish counter-terror expert Bartu Eken explained in a recent interview, “There are presently 1,500 PKK members fighting for Armenia, but there is no ASALA. They were already finished off by Turkey, Israel, and France. After their leaders were killed or died naturally, they had little activity left. They disappeared in recent years. However, maybe a ghost of ASALA has undertaken attacks against Azerbaijan recently. In a war situation, this is normal.”

Similarly, Bekdil was not able to confirm whether “ASALA copycats have fought alongside the Armenian Army against Azerbaijan, although some units may resemble the irregular militia inspired by ASALA.” However, he claimed that 21st century warfare between two nations is “too different” from “ASALA’s urban terror warfare of the 1970’s and 1980’s” to be a direct copycat.

Yet if ASALA were to be resurrected, it would not be a positive development for the State of Israel and the Jewish people at large, if the new version of ASALA were to be anything like the old one. An Armenia that resurrects ASALA is a country whose orientation will be more towards the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies, alongside the Palestinian Authority rather than the West. It will not be a country interested in building diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. To the contrary, it will be a country that will encourage more domestic anti-Semitism. Already, there is a Nazi memorial proudly standing in Yerevan. Indeed, an Armenia that idealizes ASALA will encourage other acts of intolerance and hatred. And regardless whether the group has come back from the dead or not, today’s Armenia does idealize them.

In July 2020, Armenian protesters in Europe wore ASALA T-shirts while protesting Azerbaijan. Moreover, in July, Armenians waving Nazi symbols attacked Azerbaijanis in different cities in Europe as well as in Los Angeles. As a result, some Azerbaijanis were seriously injured. Furthermore, Armenians on social media announced that whoever reports the addresses of Azerbaijanis living in the USA will be compensated. The same people announced that they will kill and injure Azerbaijanis because of the Armenian lives lost along the frontline.

Recently, Armenian Diaspora leaders in France threatened a journalist because of the reporting she did on the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict. They called her a “genocidal whore” and verbally threatened her life, an act that was criticized by Reporters Without Borders. So, all of this proves that the legacy of ASALA is still alive among Armenians, regardless whether the terror group was resurrected or not. Such threats are remarkably familiar to Jewish people, who unfortunately face antisemitism almost every day in different parts of the world.

Considering this, Eken proclaimed that regardless whether an ASALA copycat was resurrected or not, “Turkey’s regional friendliness must be geared towards Israel. Both countries are grappling with terrorism. The Assad regime has helped the PKK for years. We know the PKK structure in Iran. The names change but the organization is the same. Israel and Turkey need to solve the terrorist threat. Turkey must stop supporting Hamas for Iran supports Hamas. Furthermore, Iran has men within the PKK. And the PKK attacks Turkey.”

In fact, an Armenian soldier taken prisoner by Azerbaijan has confirmed that the PKK is now also fighting against Azerbaijan, without a shred of doubt. There are also reports claiming that Armenia’s Ambassador to Baghdad Hrachva Poladian contacted the PKK/YPG command in Northern Iraq to convince them to join the war as military trainers. Considering this, currently, both Turkey and Israel have a shared interest in supporting Azerbaijan against the Iranian axis, while the Armenians are on the opposite side of the aisle. In the future, this shared interest maybe could lead to improved Turkish-Israeli relations, just as Israel presently enjoys excellent relations with Baku.

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Rachel Avraham is a senior media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent for the Israel Resource News Agency. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”