“Partisan” writer Yair Auron attacks a key ally of Israel

He did it again. After his strident op-ed published in Haaretz last autumn and the various responses this text received (including my reply in the same daily, written with Alexander Murinson), Yair Auron attacked once again Azerbaijan, a key ally of Israel, and defended Armenia, the best friend of the Iranian mullahs. In this piece, wording is not as extreme as it was the last time, but, as Mr. Auron candidly confesses: “I have no doubt that I am being subjective, and also probably partisan.” Nowhere, there very idea of Israeli national interest appears in this article. Nowhere, the vital importance of Azerbaijan for Israel is discussed. The state-sponsored anti-Semitism in Armenia and its consequences in the population are, as usual in Yair Auron’s writings, neglected. Mr. Auron, who now works in Yerevan, will tell us nothing on the memorial erected in this city for Nzhdeh (Nejdeh), an Armenian Nazi war criminal, the main source of inspiration for the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), in power since 1998 (one person is named in the statement of principles of the RPA: Nzhdeh).

Once again, Mr. Auron spreads the unsubstantiated claims on an “Armenian genocide,” without providing any evidence to his readers. I have explained on this blog why the “genocide” label (a legal notion strictly defined) cannot be used for the Armenian case and why there were actually inexcusable crimes from both sides. Mr. Auron did not try to refute my reasoning. Similarly, after I published, in a British academic journal, a review essay explaining, in 17 pages, why one of the main book defending the “Armenian genocide” claims is based on manipulations of sources, the author I criticized refused to answer my criticism—hardly the attitude you can expect from a scholar.

Concerning both history and the Israeli policy toward this tragedy, Mr. Auron’s article is inaccurate. Indeed, he says:

“Rafael Harpaz, Israel’s ambassador in Baku, Azerbaijan, told a press conference there in January that Israel would not recognize as “genocide” the killings of Armenians perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire 100 years ago. (He did not, however, use the word “never,” as some Armenians charge.) No Israeli diplomatic representative has ever said such a thing. Asked who gave him the authority to make this statement, the envoy replied, “I am not saying anything new. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said the same thing.”

I have found no evidence of that claim […]”

Actually, this is not quite difficult to find this statement (made in 2012): “Yigal Palmor, a spokesman at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said Israel’s formal position on the Armenian killings remained that the issue ‘must be decided by historians and not be subject to political deliberation.’” Or this other one, by Danny Ayalon, in 2011: “Knesset will not recognize ‘Armenian genocide’. Those, who intend to reach it, have no any chance.”

However, the core of Yair Auron’s article is the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This narrative is actually a “partisan” one. He writes:

“For their part, during the war, the Armenians seized a substantial amount of territory from Azerbaijan, mainly in that country’s southwest, and they have expelled nearly all of the ethnic Azerbaijanis from both there and Karabakh. They also lost some territory ni the north. The Karabakhis justifiably claim that the latter are territories belonging to historic Karabakh that were wrested from them by the Soviet Union in the 1920s, during the rule of Lenin and Stalin. They cite the presence of ancient Armenian churches in the area, some dating back to the 10th century and even earlier.”

First of all, Mr. Auron conveniently omits to say that the Armenian armed forces occupy seven districts that were mostly inhabited by Azeris before the invasion and never “westred from” the Armenians “by the Soviet Union.” The Karabakh itself had an Azeri majority as late as 1897 (Adil Baguirov, “Nagorno-Karabakh: Competing Legal, Historic and Economic Claims in Political, Academic and Media Discourses”, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, XXXII-2, 2012, pp. 145 and 157-158), namely before the inter-ethnic clashes of 1905—very likely provoked by tsarist agents—and the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the independent Republic of Armenia, in Karabakh and in Armenia, from 1918 to 1920. The possession of Karabakh was merely confirmed by the Soviet Union, with the intention to use, if necessary, Armenians against Azerbaijanis—and actually, Sovietization of Azerbaijan during the 1920s was largely the fact of Bolshevik Armenians.

When he tries to be balanced, Mr. Auron remains unconvincing:

“At the start of the war, in the late 1980s, war crimes and crimes against humanity were almost certainly perpetrated by both sides. I saw several destroyed Azerbaijani villages close to the border. The remnants of the houses and fences now stand as monuments, in a stunningly beautiful region. The sites remind me of destroyed cities from other wars in other places.”

The problem is that Yair Auron is unable to give any evidence for any “crime against humanity” allegedly perpetrated by the Azerbaijani side. And he avoids any discussion on the well-proved massacres of Azerbaijani civilians from 1992 to 1994, for example the one perpetrated in Khodaly.

And there is more. Indeed, Mr. Auron alleges:

“The Armenians in Karabakh receive significant aid in the conflict from Armenia, but not from anywhere else. ‘We have no one to rely upon other than ourselves,’ is another refrain I hear more than once during my visit. ‘We are alone, totally alone.’”

One of the most fundamental aspects of this conflict is precisely the considerable help from Russia (and the Armenian diaspora) to the invading Armenian forces at the beginning of 1990s and the remaining military presence of Russia in Armenia. This aspect is occulted in Yair Auron’s text. Brazenly, even the word “Russia” is not used, even a single time, in this article.

In these conditions, the comparison of Mr. Auron between Israel and Armenia does not make any sense. Israel fought a war of independence against Arab armies, when some Arab leaders made explicit genocidal threats. Israel fought once again in 1956 and 1967 Arab government who tried to wipe out the Jewish state. Never Azerbaijan wished to destroy Armenia. Azerbaijan was the victim of an unprovoked aggression. Mr. Auron, beside his artificial attempts to appear balanced, is blaming the victim, once again. There are about 30,000 Armenians in Azerbaijan (UNHCR, International Protection Considerations Regarding Azerbaijani Asylum-Seekers and Refugees, Geneva, 2003, p. 4); no ethnic Azeri remains in Armenia since 1989, because all were expelled (Ariel Kyrou and Maxime Mardoukhaïev, “Le Haut-Karabagh, vu du côté Azerbaïdjan”, Hérodote, n° 54-55, 4e trimestre 1989, p. 265-267). Armenia is the only country of the region that is virtually mono-ethnic, because of the extreme intolerance sponsored by the government.

Yair Auron is also trying to hide particularly problematic facts, such as the role of former Armenian terrorist leaders in the aggression of Azerbaijan in 1992-94. One of them was Monte Melkonian, number 2 (from 1980 to 1983) of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenian (ASALA), an anti-Turkish, but also extremely anti-Semitic terrorist organization. The ASALA provided help to the Palestinian terrorists who bombed a Parisian synagogue, rue Copernic, in 1980, and, by a remarkable coincidence, when Melkonian was arrested by the French police in 1985, he had a fake passport coming from the same stock of false idea than the main perpetrator of the bombing committed rue Copernic.

About the Author
Maxime Gauin has a master in History from Paris-I-Sorbonne University. He is currently a PhD candidate at the Middle East Technical University department and a researcher at the Center for Eurasian Studies (both are located in Ankara). He has published articles in peer-review journals (including the European Journal of International Law) as well as in Turkish newspapers (for instance Hürriyet Daily News, Cumhuriyet and Daily Sabah).
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