Aro Hovsepyan

Armenian-Americans Must Build a Christian Coalition

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By Aro Hovsepyan

As an Armenian-American, I can take much pride in our community’s achievements: We have built vibrant communities with wonderful churches, schools and cultural centers that successfully pass on our values and identity to younger generations.

In our efforts to preserve our particularism, we might have nevertheless missed out on the PR and political opportunities offered by our broader Christian faith and identity. We all know that our nation was history‘s first to accept Christ and Christianity. Yet how many of our non-Armenian Christian neighbors, priests and pastors are aware of this spiritual milestone?

Cultivated non-Armenians are often aware of the Armenian Genocide. But how many know that this genocide was the culmination of centuries of Islamic persecution and oppression? In fact, I am certain that hundreds of millions of Christians would share our pain and pride if they learned about the trials and triumphs of their Armenian brethren.

Diaspora Armenians and particularly Armenian-Americans need to build more bridges to other Christian communities. We especially need to engage with religious leaders able and willing to influence policymakers so that they actively safeguard the lives and rights of persecuted Christians in the Caucasus region.

On May 8, a fascinating article appeared in the Armenian daily Aravot. Its author, the Berlin-based political analyst Alexander Stepanyan, urges Armenians and Armenian-Americans to approach Evangelical Christian leaders in America and convince them to leverage their relationships and influence in Israel to deter the Jewish state from giving Ilham Aliyev a blank check to attack Armenia with the weapons it supplies to Azerbaijan.

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The logic of this approach is that if Armenian community leaders raised awareness of Armenian Christian suffering by, for example, publicizing in pro-Israel Christian publications photographs of churches and khachkars Israeli weapons destroyed, American Christian leaders could be moved to pressure Israel to curb weapon sales to Azerbaijan.

Mr. Stepanyan mentions that Israeli governments rely more and more on the votes and support of Evangelical Christians to influence American foreign policy. This reliance provides a golden opportunity for the Armenian-American community to appeal to the solidarity of an influential demographic group whose Christian faith is as steadfast as ours.

I believe it is crucial for our awareness-raising efforts to be positive and constructive. Our outreach must appeal to sentiments of care and compassion for persecuted Christians. We must make it clear to our Evangelical Christian allies that Mr. Netanyahu’s support for the dictator and former KGB agent Aliyev is an affront to our shared Judeo-Christian values.

We need to communicate empathy for the existential threat that a nuclear Iran poses to the Jewish state, while pointing out that in the long-term, a strong and secure Christian and democratic Armenia is valuable not just to America, but also to Israel.

By no means should we succumb to the temptation of defaming Israel or echoing antisemitic tropes. Azerbaijan’s PR industry already does its best to portray Armenia as an antisemitic nation. It would be silly and unethical if our appeals to Christian solidarity were tainted by bigotry.

How should Armenian-Americans act concretely?

1) Our community leaders and political activists should coordinate with representatives of the Armenian Evangelical Christian community all outreach and PR efforts.

2) Armenian-American intellectuals and religious leaders should publish open letters urging Evangelical Christian leaders who actively support Israel like, for example, Pastor John Hagee to use his friendships and influence in Israel to intercede on behalf of Armenian Christians.

3) To make sure that these open letters are not ignored, we should make sure that all pro-Israel pastors and churches in America affiliated to CUFI (Christians United for Israel) hear and learn about Christian pain and suffering at the hands of Azerbaijan.

4) Our appeals need to be attuned to the sensibilities and values of each recipient. Evangelical Christian leaders should be urged to use their power and influence for the good of oppressed Armenians, whose gratitude and security will certainly bless Evangelical Christianity, America and Israel. Outreach to Evangelical pastors should also mention the heavenly rewards for shielding persecuted Christians. When approaching the most diehard Zionist Christians, we should highlight the fact that if American Christians and Israel do not protect the world‘s most ancient Christian nation, they could experience God’s wrath at Armageddon.

If Armenian-Americans work together to actively approach and build new bridges to our non-Armenian Christian brothers and sisters, something wonderful could happen: Instead of Armenian-Americans being a community of just 1 or so million members, our worries and concerns could be understood and shared by over 60 million Evangelical Christians.

Since the friendship and support of Evangelical Christians is crucial for Israel, our activism could finally make Armenian interests and concerns relevant for Israeli policymakers. And once this occurs, Aliyev and Azerbaijan will no longer have automatic access to the weapons needed to wantonly threaten and attack Armenia. Especially, as a political analyst recently explained in a publication popular among rightist Zionists, because the alliance between Israel and dictator Aliyev does not serve Iong-term Jewish interests.

(Aro Hovsepyan is a graduate of McGill University and the London School of Economics, and now lives in Colorado.)

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