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Armenians in Israel Seethe over Arms Sold to Azeri Enemy
Smoke rises on Wednesday after shelling in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region's main city of Stepanakert. (Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images)

Armenians in Israel Seethe over Arms Sold to Azeri Enemy

Diaspora warns of grave consequences over renewed fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh

The heavy fighting between forces from Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh continued on Wednesday as the flare-up over the disputed Azeri region entered its 11th day.

The Media Line spoke with members of the Armenian diaspora in Israel and with officials who have close ties to the Caucasus state. They offered a glimpse into the community’s mindset, including their feelings about reports of Israeli arms being used on the battlefield by Azerbaijan.

“My father’s family are all there [in the Armenian capital of Yerevan]. We speak daily. The situation is extremely difficult for them,” David Galfayan, head of the Noyan Tapan Armenian Center for Culture and Education in Israel, told The Media Line.

“They hope it will be over soon,” he said.

“There hasn’t been a general draft yet, but many are volunteering to fight. It’s our people there [in Nagorno-Karabakh]. We must protect them,” he stated.

There hasn’t been a general draft yet, but many are volunteering to fight. It’s our people there. We must protect them

This war-torn region of Azerbaijan, with its large Armenian majority, declared independence in 1992 following the collapse of the Soviet Union and after years of bloody struggles between Armenian secessionists and Azeri authorities.

The unilateral move, recognized by no foreign government – not even that of Armenia – sparked an all-out war that claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced thousands.

Since 1994, a tense cease-fire has been maintained in the area, population approximately 150,000, which is supported heavily by Armenia. Deadly skirmishes and clashes have erupted every few years. The past 10 days have seen hundreds killed, many of them civilians.

Tsvi Kan-Tor, chair of the Israel-Armenia Chamber of Commerce, says that trade relations between the two countries have ground to a halt.

“Relations were pretty restricted and relatively undeveloped anyway. Regular flights were established only a year ago,” he told The Media Line.

Kan-Tor notes, however, that there had been a positive trend until the coronavirus pandemic began.

“Right now, there isn’t any actual trade activity at all,” he stated.

“There is usually a lot of support [for] Israel [in Armenia]; they are very pro-Israel. But that’s disappearing now,” he said.

“There is a lot of anger toward Israel,” he continued. “I speak with my friends in Armenia and they all say one thing: ‘Why are you killing us?’”

There is a lot of anger toward Israel. I speak with my friends in Armenia and they all say one thing: ‘Why are you killing us?’

Israel is believed to be Azerbaijan’s largest weapons supplier, with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimating that arms deals between the two countries over the past five years have totaled more than $740 million.

Last week, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s adviser Hikmet Hajiyev confirmed that his country’s military was employing Israeli-made “suicide drones” in battle.

Israel is estimated to import about one-fifth of its oil from Azerbaijan. It rarely comments on its arms sales to anyone.

“One of my acquaintances [in Armenia] had a son who enlisted to fight,” Kan-Tor says. “A few days ago, his [military] post was hit by a drone, which they say Israel sold to Azerbaijan. He was killed. This is as personal as it gets.”

Says Galfayan: “We’re extremely angry with the Israeli government for selling weapons to Azerbaijan. It’s not only detrimental to the Armenian people, but to the Israeli people as well.”

He notes that the sales could boomerang.

“There are many terrorists that Turkey has imported from Syria to fight in Azerbaijan. All those weapons we’re supplying them, tomorrow will reach our borders and be turned against us,” he complained, referring to pro-Turkey Syrian rebels who have been idled due to a cease-fire in that country’s civil war.

There are many terrorists that Turkey has imported from Syria to fight in Azerbaijan. All those weapons we’re supplying them, tomorrow will reach our borders and be turned against us

“We’re mad not only as Armenians but as Israelis as well,” he noted.

In the past week, repeated international efforts to stem the violence and declare a cease-fire were dismissed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “superficial” and “not useful.” Ankara has been accused by Armenia, as well as France and Russia, of arming Azerbaijan with drones of its own and other advanced weaponry.

“We fear we’ve gone back 100 years; for us it’s the continuation of the [Armenian] holocaust,” Galfayan says, referring to the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

“People are dying on both sides, just because of Erdogan. This is all his fault,” he said.

Last week, Yerevan announced it was recalling its ambassador to Israel over reports of increased arms sales between Israel and Azerbaijan.

On Monday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke with his Armenian counterpart, Armen Sarkissian, expressing sorrow for the escalation of hostilities. He explained that Jerusalem held a long-standing relationship with Baku but stressed that this cooperation was not aimed at harming other countries.

Kan-Tor says it remains unclear how the fighting will affect long-term Israeli-Armenian relations.

“Armenians are just now understanding that the world operates based solely on interests,” he said.

Armenians are just now understanding that the world operates based solely on interests

“They want to advance on the path to technological leadership, to expand their economy into hi-tech and other industries, emulating Israel in that sense,” he noted. “That way, they hope to affect global power plays and have a say in what goes on around them.”

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