TEL AVIV – In 2019, Yerevan’s interest in developing relations with the country of Israel began to take concrete form. Grigor Hovhannisian, Armenia’s former deputy foreign minister and previously ambassador to the US, was on a trip to that country in March of 2019. In September, after Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan visited Tel Aviv, it was reported that Yerevan would open an embassy in Israel in the following year. Fast-forwarding to February of 2020, Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian signed a presidential decree on relocating the residence of the Armenian ambassador to Tel Aviv. Before that, the embassy was in Yerevan itself. Thus, the longstanding issue of whether to open an Armenian embassy in Israel moved forward from deadlock.
Two key issues largely define the relationship between the two countries: arms sales from Israel to Azerbaijan and the Armenian Genocide issue. Both issues in their essence are interconnected as today Israel does not formally recognize the Armenian Genocide not so much because of Turkey, but because of Azerbaijan, which is buying Israeli weapons. The uniqueness of the situation is that the non-recognition is happening not because of the perpetrator of the Genocide (Turkey) but a third party. “For Israel, it’s just trade, but for us, it’s death,” Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan told an Israeli journalist who visited Yerevan last year referring to the arms sales. Reporter Yossi Melman’s article that later appeared in the Jerusalem Post covered both key aspects of the relationship.
“A genocide is a genocide. It is the moral obligation of Israel to history, humanity, and to the memory of the six million Jews, to recognize the Armenian genocide, exactly as it recognizes the Rwanda genocide 25 years ago,” wrote Melman in his lengthy piece.
Currently in the private sector, but previously a career diplomat, Grigor Hovhannisian has recently visited Yad Vashem, the memorial of the Holocaust in Israel. He highlights an interesting feature related to the non-recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Tel Aviv.
“Yes, the state of Israel is having a hard time in terms of formally recognizing the Armenian Genocide. At the same time, it’s one of the unique countries in the world where public opinion in its absolute majority acknowledges the historical injustice committed against the Armenians,” Hovhannisian said in the interview we did over Skype.
“You will hardly find any Israeli that does not recognize the Armenian Genocide. There are some countries where despite the recognition, the public, however, remains largely ignorant about this historical fact,” Hovhannisian added.