Grigor Hovhannissian

Armenia Opens Embassy in Israel: Yerevan’s Former Ambassador to Washington Shares Insights: Video Report


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.

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Yad Vashem honors those Armenians who sheltered Jews when the Holocaust was happening. Among them are world-known Charles Aznavour’s parents and many others. “Despite the fact that there were not many Armenians in Europe back in the days of the Holocaust, we have a very high number of Armenians who saved the Jewish people. This was their natural revolt against exclusion and segregation. They were very courageous,” Hovhannisian stated, adding that the memory of 1915 was among the reasons why our compatriots in European countries had not remained indifferent to their Jewish neighbors’ fate.

The websites of Yad Vashem as well as Washington, D.C.’s Holocaust museum confirms this perspective. “Having witnessed the Armenian Genocide, we decided to save them,” Yad  Vashem’s exhibition quotes Armenian Genocide survivors Pran Tashchiyan, who ended up in Simferopol, Crimea during World War I as a result of Turkish persecution. In 1941, after the Nazis conquered Simferopol, the Tashchiyans sheltered Anatoliy and Rita Goldbergs for about three years until the Red Army liberated the city.

Whether academic cooperation for studying the genocide issue or joint efforts in other realms, particularly in the IT-sphere – the Ambassador thinks that now, after we have a diplomatic mission in Israel, cooperation in science could advance.

Throughout almost 30 years of independence, Yerevan was able to sustain positive and constructive relations with many partners that potentially have disagreements, sometimes reaching the degree of antagonism, between each other. As a professional diplomat, Hovhannisian is sure that Yerevan will be able to develop relations with both Israel and Iran, even though specific segments of Iranian society expressed discontent with Yerevan’s recent move to set up an embassy in Tel Aviv.

“We have been a responsible member of the international community; nevertheless, throughout this difficult period of sanctions, we kept our relations with Iran very transparent. Whatever objections we hear are printed by pro-Azerbaijani circles of Iran rather than the central government itself,” Hovhannisian added at the end of the Skype interview.

Armenia’s Foreign Minister Mnatsakanyan stated that Yerevan never has and will not pursue relations with one partner at the expense of another.  “We have more than a handful of examples of how Armenia combines its policies with various partners, its key partners, while also pursuing its interests and not harming the various developments that affect our national security,” Mnatsakanyan said.

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