Michael Jankelowitz

The imaginary Armenia-surrogate friend for Israel

Recently, several Israeli and Jewish outlets have published articles with the same adage: Azerbaijan (Israel’s major ally against Iran) is not good enough for the Jewish state. This alliance should be done with or limited because Israel must become friends with Armenia. These articles share another common feature: they present the readers with an imaginary Armenia while totally ignoring the herd of elephants in the room.

For example, let’s have a look at the piece “Israel should not go all-in on Azerbaijan”. One can only wonder how it is connected to the real situation in the Caucasus.

It seems as if the names of the countries were mixed up: suddenly Azerbaijan is claimed to be the Russian ally, while, according to a substantial amount of Western publications and statements by Western politicians, Armenia is an integral part of the Russian-Iranian Axis. It is Armenia that is the key element in evading sanctions.

The New York Times, quoting US Bureau of Industry and Security data, reported that between 2021 and 2022, Armenia’s imports of chips and microprocessors from the US increased by 515%, and from the EU by 212%. 97% of these products ended up in Russia, where they were used for military purposes. As a result, a number of Armenia-based companies was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Treasury, due to the fact that these companies were part of transnational network procuring technology that supports the Russian military-industrial complex. Among sanctioned are Armenia-based affiliate of Milandr, Milur Electronics LLC (Milur Electronics), and Taco LLC. Milur Electronics was created for the purpose of placing orders from foreign factories producing integrated microchips and conducting overseas sales. The reason for Taco LLC’s existence is to provide the Russian company Radioavtomatika with electronic and telecommunications equipment and parts.

The list can go on, but let us turn to numbers. According to the data dug up during an investigation by the Berlin-based think tank German Centre for the South Caucasus, the exports from Germany to Armenia rose from €178 million to €505 million in 2022 (The British Telegraph). And this is just from Germany to Armenia, a country with a population of about three million and a GDP per capita of $4679 in 2021. The interesting thing about this GDP data is the fact that it has been rising sharply and significantly since 2022, i.e. since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, which brought a ton of sanctions on Russia. To Armenia it somehow brought tons of wealth, raising its GDP per capita from $4679 in 2021 to $6583 in 2022 (and prognosis for 2023 is $8000), according to Statista.

In 2022, exports from Armenia to the EU doubled from €753 million to €1.3 billion. If you fail to imagine a horde of workaholic fairy-tale creatures suddenly settling in Armenia, you would have to take a more realistic approach and understand that Armenia is just fronting for Russian exports, helping a terrorist state to bypass sanctions. As noted by Polish news outlet Salon24, between January and March 2023 trade between the two countries increased by 2.4 times. That is after 2022, when Armenian exports to Russia saw an 185.7% increase compared to 2021 and were worth $2.4 billion. In March 2023, a Trilateral Memo from the Department of Justice, the Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Treasury Department listed Armenia among “trans-shipment points commonly used for the illegal shipment of (sanctioned) restricted goods to Russia and Belarus.”.

And let us not forget about the Iran connection. In 2018 the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on several Armenian individuals and entities for their involvement in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. To quote an official statement, those individuals and companies used “a network of shell companies and intermediaries to establish a secret supply chain” to Iran.

The whole wide world knows that Russia uses Iranian drones against Ukraine (targeting civilian infrastructure, which constitutes a war crime, by the way). Some of these Iranian drones make their way to Ukraine via Armenia. According to many sources, including a Polish-based NGO think tank, Armenia allowed Iran Air Cargo, a subsidiary of Iran Air, to fly to and from Yerevan’s Zvartnots International, a civilian airport, to Moscow. Iran Air Cargo, Safiran Airport Services, and their parent company Iran Air are under US sanctions for transferring, with the help of Armenia, Iranian drones to Russia.

On May 3, Romanian Newsweek noted that “recently, numerous publications in Western and Eastern Europe have extensively reported on Armenia’s role in the Russian-Iranian coalition and in the illegal import of equipment, including military, which was later exported to Russia.”.

While we are talking about how Armenians “seek to reorient themselves firmly towards the West and view Russia with deep cynicism, if not hostility”, let’s talk about former “state minister of Artsakh” (Armenian enclave on Azerbaijani soil) Reuben Vardanyan, “Putin’s wallet”, well known for his pro-Kremlin activities. For seven years (2005-2022) he was engaged in money laundering for the people from Putin’s in-crowd. At the same time, he sat on plenty of “expert councils” under the President and the Government of the Russian Federation, positions accessible only to people who are close to Putin. Once again, this is not by any means a full list of his activities, but it is enough to showcase how close he is to Putin himself and his entourage. In May this year, during a pro-Putin rally, he stated that “Peacekeepers (the Russian military in the separatist enclave on occupied Azerbaijani territory of Karabakh) are the force that supports Artsakh… We have a lot of work to do so that they stay here longer and in greater numbers.”.

It is clear that the words “reorient themselves firmly towards the West and view Russia with deep cynicism if not hostility” quoted above do have some truth in them; however, the order is wrong. That’s how they should be read: Armenia, with deep cynicism, seeks to reorient itself towards Russia without alerting the West.

They failed on the part of “not alerting the West”, but it is really hard to have such bedfellows in Russia and Iran without being caught “in flagrante delicto”. Especially when Iran doesn’t make much of an effort to hide the relationship. On June 2, 2022 Raisi said that “Iran considers Armenia a close and friendly country“. “Armenia intends to develop relations with Iran as much as possible and in all areas,” Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan echoed him on October 1, 2022. “Armenia’s security is Iran’s security,” Iran’s Foreign Affairs Minister declared on October 20, 2022. On October 30, the Armenian Defense Ministry acknowledged that Iran had delivered attack drones, and in the same month the Iranians donated 600 missiles to the Armenians. On November 1 Pashinyan was welcomed in Tehran: a memorandum of understanding and cooperation in the energy sphere was signed. The trade between the two countries increased sharply in 2022: Armenia’s exports to Iran totaled $111.2 million, a 70% increase over 2021; Iranian imports to Armenia totaled $599.7 million, an increase of 37%. We can again remind you about the Iranian drones, which Armenia recently used against Azerbaijan – the same ones that Russia uses against Ukraine.

While we are going on about the special relationship between Iran and Armenia, we could point and laugh at another outlandish statement in the original article: the alleged philosemitism of Armenia, or “the majority of Armenians are friendly towards Jews”. Let’s destroy this lie with cold, hard facts: According to the ADL’s study, more than half (58%) of the adult population of Armenia actually held some kind of anti-Semitic stereotypes. 63% and 53% of respondents, respectively, shared the most odious anti-Semitic stereotypes — that “Jews are guilty of anti-Semitism themselves”; and that “Jews always believe they are better than others”; and 45% thought that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust”. When the Pew Research Center did their survey in Armenia in 2015-16, 32% of Armenian respondents would be hardly ready to accept Jews as fellow citizens – the highest percentage of any of the 18 European countries included in the survey.

Which also puts Armenia firmly next to one of the most antisemitic countries on Earth – Iran. Unsurprisingly, both proudly show their token pet Jews every time the topic of their systemic antisemitism arises.

Speaking about yet more recent events, approximately from October 2022 on, Armenian electronic and social media (especially Telegram channels) were overflowing with declarations, forum discussions, and (pseudo-)analytics calling for a “joint struggle with Iran or Palestinians against Jews and Israel” and promoting Iran’s role as the only hope for Armenian statehood. They became even more prevalent than previously trendy discussions on the “theft of the Holocaust by Jews from Armenians” and other outbursts of everyday anti-Semitism. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s aware of the background of Armenia’s national hero, revered and praised “statesman and military strategist” Garegin Nzhdeh. A Nazi collaborant, among other activities, Nzhdeh coerced Armenian POWs to join Hitler’s army to avoid prison camps. His monument was unveiled by the Armenian President in Yerevan in 2016.

The National Hero of supposedly antisemitic Azerbaijan is Albert Agarunov. Azerbaijani tank commander was posthumously honored to become the only Jewish National Hero in an Islamic world. Since his death in 1992, he has been praised and remembered as a Jewish Azerbaijani hero. A monument dedicated to him was unveiled in 2019 in Baku.

About the Author
Michael Jankelowitz is a Commentator on World Jewry.He grew up in South Africa and has been living in Israel since 1971.He studied at Bar Ilan University where he served on Student Government.Following his studies he worked for 35 years in various positions at the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency for Israel.