Thursday, September 11, 2008

Movement in Armenian-Jewish Relations

The fallout from the August 2007 Watertown-ADL controversy (see #1, #2) is slowly changing Armenian-Jewish relations - perhaps for the better. As a result of the uproar by Watertown's Armenian community over the Anti-Defamation League's stance on recognition,  the heads of both the ADL and the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Abe Foxman and David Harris respectively, issued statements recognizing the 1915 killings of Armenians in the Ottoman empire as genocide.

Now, the AJC reports in an October 9, 2008 press release, "The Armenian Church has presented the American Jewish Committee (AJC) with a gold Kiddish cup, a Jewish ceremonial goblet, in appreciation of the long, positive history of close ties between the Armenian and Jewish peoples."

Although the press release quotes the Archbishop of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), Turkish-born Vicken Aykazian, speaking at an AJC Board of Governors Meeting in New York, the cup was actually first presented to an AJC delegation in the Republic of Armenia back in May 2008. That AJC delegation included Barry Jacobs, the organization's D.C.-based Director of Strategic Studies, and Ambassador Peter Rosenblatt, who received the cup from His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. Jacobs and Rosenblatt also met with the prime minister of Armenia, Tigran Sargsyan

The kiddush cup theatrics and the AJC press release suggest a warming of relations between American Jewish organizations and American Armenians as well as the current government of Armenia. But the visit was not without its detractors in the American Armenian community, some of whom regard the AJC and Barry Jacobs in particular as chief antagonists in the struggle for U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. In a somewhat allusive and occasionally confusing article denouncing the entire visit as a "machination," Jirair Haratunian claims that
Jacobs circulates articles from various sources supporting not only Israeli positions but pro Turkish and pro Azerbaijani policies as well. Jacobs’s bias against Armenia is palpable. A New York Times photograph taken at the session of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee showed Jacobs seated among a group of Turkish protesters wearing badges saying “NO” to the pending Genocide resolution.
Jacobs was a long-time Department of State employee before beginning work for the AJC. He is a classic realpolitiker with little patience for history when it gets in the way of the interests of the United States and the Jewish community as he (and many other foreign policy analysts) perceive them.  But two factors may be compelling him and others to sing a different tune as of late.

For one, American Jews like most other Americans, once informed of the issues, tend to support recognition of the Armenian Genocide. More importantly, however, there are real developments afoot in the South Caucasus and in Turkey that may call for a revision of entrenched positions. 

First, the current regime in Yerevan may be headed for rapprochement with Turkey. Second, the Georgian crisis along with a host of other factors that have been stewing since the American invasion of Iraq are contributing to geopolitical uncertainty in the Caucasus. 

All the players in the South Caucasus, including the Russians, are trying to balance their long-term interests with their current alliances. With Georgia and the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline facing an uncertain future, Armenia, currently Russia's most stable ally in the region, may reap benefits (though, to be sure, it will also endure significant economic costs). The U.S. may lose the most if it does not act fast. Certainly, Armenia has improved its strategic worth since the Georgian war. 

In a catastrophically-translated press release about the AJC visit, the Republic of Armenia expressed some hope that the Jewish organization may help to improve Armenian ties with the U.S. and Armenia's relations with its neighbors:
During the meeting, the Prime Minister of Armenia and the head of the Jewish Committee of America touched upon the possibilities for improvement of the Armenian-Turkish and Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, the furtherance and expansion of cooperation with the United States [...] as well as the outlook for [...] strengthening the Armenian-Israeli political ties based on the historical and many other affinities between the Armenian and Jewish peoples. The parties said to be convinced that this might be instrumental in the betterment of Armenia's relations with the countries of our region. Peter Rosenblatt emphasized the need for raising awareness about Armenia in Israel which is susceptible to be ensured through active implementation of [...] cultural, educational and other programs.

Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan reiterated our country's position with regard to the settlement of its relations with Turkey by stressing Armenia's readiness to establish relations without pre-conditions.

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