With Bako Sahakian, former president of Artsakh - Shoushi, Artsakh, near the statue of Vazgen Sargsyan

YEREVAN — Yaron Weiss is an Israeli pro-Armenian activist. He was born in 1976, in Israel, to a family from Hungary. Currently he lives in the small town of Kefar Weradim in the north of Israel with his wife and four children. Yaron works in a large Telecom company; during the tourist season he works as tourist guide in Armenia and Georgia. He considers Armenia one of the most attractive countries in the world with great potential for tourism. Yaron always raises awareness on Armenia and Artsakh in Israel, making an effort to promote issues such as recognition of the Armenian Genocide in Israel, always claiming that there is no justification for the government of Israel that it has not recognized the Armenian Genocide, also addressing the Israeli government to stop supplying weapons to Azerbaijan.

I met Yaron during his last visit to Armenia. This tall, dynamic gentleman with intellectual face came to the meeting wearing a T-shirt with Monte Melkonian’s portrait.

Yaron Weiss in Hakobavank, Artsakh, April, 2022

Yaron, you just came from Artsakh, a land you call Heaven. How was your trip this time?

I have been traveling to Armenia and Artsakh since 2012. This is my third visit after the war. For me Artsakh is a symbol of a nation, people, living in their region for thousands of years and still struggling for not their independence, but for their survival. They started their struggle in late 1980s, and they say that the collapse of Soviet Union started from Artsakh. So when I visited this region for the first time, I was curious to visit Artsakh. I fell in love with Artsakh and stayed there for three weeks. I walked through the “Janaparh Trail” through mountains, valleys and villages of Artsakh, staying at homes, enjoying beautiful panoramas and the hospitability of a very kind people. Everyone treated me as a family member, as I am one of them. So I felt it to be my duty to talk about Armenia and Artsakh in my country and to do whatever I can to support this people. I started to work as tour guide in Armenia for Israelis in my free time. In Israel there is a lobby for any nation, many Georgian and Azerbaijani immigrants support their interests, especially Azerbaijan, which send lots of money to bribe the politicians and media, but almost no one speaks for Armenia, not even about tourism. I started one of the first Facebook page on Armenia and wrote articles in Hebrew to show the country. I published an article about Artsakh in the most important website in Israel and then I became a kind of expert on Armenian issues, and people started to contact me. I made a connection with the Armenian community; they support Armenian interests, but my advantage is not being Armenian and I am not getting paid for my pro-Armenian activities. The big difference between me and Israelis who support Azerbaijan is that I pay money to support Armenia, while they get money or benefits for their support, so anything they say is worth nothing.

I am sure you are on Azerbaijan’s blacklist.

Nothing will ever stop me from supporting Artsakh, especially during and after the 44-day war. I organized protests, gave interviews to the media about our agenda, as some Israeli media supports Azerbaijan. They invited me to talk about it from our perspective — although I am not Armenian, but I say “our” as I consider myself a patriot of Armenia and Artsakh. Along with the Armenian community, we founded an organization for assisting Armenia and Artsakh. Last year in May I visited there for the first time after war. At that time people said they understand their new situation: they are survivors and they were ready to build their new future. They were shocked, but still optimistic. In last September when I came for the second time, it looked like they are kind of tired of this new situation with refugees living in temporary shelters, being less motivated. And now, people seem a bit depressed, as all the young people are on the border, not with us as in previous times, and you feel in the atmosphere that something is going to happen. People are really anxious that maybe there is no future, so why open businesses, build houses, if in a few months the situation might change. The state of affairs is similar what is now happening in Ukraine. So my message is to the world, to the Armenian and Russian passport holders, as they can enter Artsakh — now it is the time, the only choice: come to Artsakh, come to help this brave land with your skills. If you just visit, of course you support the economy, but let people in Artsakh to feel they are not alone. Now they feel they are abandoned. I don’t want to talk about politics here, but my feeling was that people in Artsakh think that the Armenian government and the Diaspora abandoned them, not to mention the Western world. We cannot control the Armenian government, but at least we can bring our message to the Diaspora. What really hurts me is that many people from the Diaspora, also in Israel, just fight on Facebook, writing that “we will not give any inch of Artsakh,” but they never visit there.

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We call them Facebook fedayis.

Exactly. There are some in Israel too. Israel is a micro-cosmos; you can imagine what is happening in the Diaspora. When Israel was established, people came to fight in the 1973 war, leaving their comfortable lives in the States and elsewhere. Even though we have lots of problems in Israel, also among people, but when it is an emergency, everyone is united and fight sand supports the nation. So the Armenian Diaspora can support just with their presence in Artsakh. Please come tomorrow, don’t wait to book a flight in the summer. And if all these people come, I am sure, there is no power that can break the spirit of the Artsakh people. But they need help. After three visits on the one hand I was happy to see my friends, the landscapes I like, to breathe the air of Artsakh, which is so important for my soul, but on the other hand, it was a sad situation. People lost their families, friends, their houses, even some parts of their body, and they are afraid of the future. Yet even if I have this twin feeling of happiness and sadness, I decided to make this way by Janaparh Trail that still under our control. I walked from Kolatak to Gandzasar – a very nice section going through forest, from Hakobavank monastery through open fields and villages until Vank village. It is fantastic. I published on Janaparh’s website that we still are walking on that road to show everybody, that even you take 75 percent of our territory, we still continue to be there. There is no reason to lose. It is not written in the Bible that Artsakh should belong to Azerbaijan. It is in our hands – of Artsakh’s population, Armenians of the Republic of Armenia and foreigners like me. We can control the situation even if it seems that Russia, Turkey, Iran and the West cannot control them, but we can unify normal people from all around the world to support Artsakh. If you see that Diaspora people almost do not do anything, in that case maybe the future is unclear, but if the people join and help, I am sure we will never lose Artsakh.

Yaron Weiss at a protest in Tel Aviv, November 2021

What can the Israeli people learn from Armenians and vice versa?

I think there are many things that we should learn from the Armenians. First thing: politeness. Everywhere using public transportation you see how people respect each other, giving seats to women and the elderly. Then, Armenian hospitality is exemplary. People in Artsakh do not hesitate to welcome me even knowing that I am not Christian and I am from a country that sells weapon to Azerbaijan. The family relationship you have at your parties, keeping your homes open for guests is just great. A few years ago my wife and I joined a project to host travelers in our home in Galilea for free. Many people did not understand how it was possible to host foreigners. It is unusual in Israel, but I learned from my Armenian friends that it is very normal and natural. And in Artsakh people even became offended when I want to pay for their hospitality. I also would like to mention the culture. Israel is a very new nation, although the Jewish religion is very old. There is no ancient culture, it is new and undeveloped, while here there are old traditions — the festivals, arts, food. Every Armenian bears in his bag a big package of history. You go by streets and see the portraits of Sayat-Nova, Komitas or Monte Melkonian – you are proud of your heritage, a heritage of a people who always wants peace, who never harmed to anyone, just wanted to protect themselves. You cannot see the same in Turkey – they are proud of killing the minorities. As to what the Armenians can learn from Jews – well, we are very separated people, there are Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews, many political parties, people constantly fight, almost being racist toward each other, but as I already mentioned, in crucial moments we always unify, cooperate. That is the reason Israel never lost. Another thing: Israel tries not to negotiate under fire. This is very bad for the side that has been attacked. The violence should be stopped and then be negotiated. Recently I observed the situation in the small villages in Askeran, when they were under fire, which did not stop the Armenian government from negotiating with Azerbaijan. If you negotiate under fire, you lose – this is a first rule your government should learn from Israel. The Israelis also were smart to develop a good weapon industry to protect their country and also, they export weapons from many countries, but you cannot develop weapon industry only for the local market. The only problem is that Israel, compared to other countries, sells weapon to dictatorships. Western countries put in place embargos to not sell weapons to Azerbaijan, but Israel does not care about dictatorships. This is something that I am against.

Do the small group of Israeli friends of Armenia have some mechanisms – even minor – to impact the Israeli government to change its attitude toward Armenia?

Just today I met a local politician and we discussed the issue, that it would be reasonable to find somewhere in world a rich Israeli person and give him the position of honorary consul of Armenia to develop contacts between two countries and spend money for Armenian interests. Actually there was an honorary consul in Israel, an Armenian, but we need more. The last months we have Armenian ambassador, which is important, as all these years there was nothing – excluding Armenian community, it was just me with few other people representing the issues of Armenia and Artsakh, but were not official. I should say that soon we are going to organize a forum of Israelis to support Armenia. We do hope that eminent Armenologist Michael Stone with other intellectuals will join us, so we will become the voice of Armenia in Israel. We will cooperate with the Armenian embassy and the local community, as well as try to involve Israeli businesspeople to find cooperation in Armenia. We cannot compete with the big money from Azerbaijan but we can at least start such initiative. For my part I will continue to write articles, bring tourists, make interviews, make contacts. Every tourist I bring here from Israel, becomes friend of Armenia. I am sure, this is my mission!

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