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An Armenian Embassy in Tel Aviv: Markar Melkonian Responds to Readers

What follows is Markar Melkonian’s response to those who commented on his June 18 article entitled An Armenian Embassy in Tel Aviv: Selling Out Armenia, Stabbing Our Allies in the Back, and Serving Our Enemies.

Some of the comments are shot through with confusion, misrepresentation, and inaccuracy.

Indeed, this seems so obvious that I had hoped that other commenters would step forward to rebut them. Checking back after several days, though, it seems that no one has stepped up to challenge. By default, then, the duty appears to have fallen to me. The embassy decision is inextricable from larger regional issues, and the following response is an opportunity at least to bring that point home. I will take a breath and try to be brief.

But how does one respond to comments that are packed full of Fox News rubbish about “backwardness,” bloody dictators,” “the Arab Street,” and all the rest of it? I reserve the right not to waste my time on willful ignorance, and I do so without conceding any of their points.

One of the commenters wonders out loud whether the opinion piece is satire. It might well seem like satire, to one who is accustomed to the high level of sophistication and nuance that is typical of public discourse among Armenians. That same commenter has come up with the informative idea that she is just “pro-Armenian,” and as such she is not concerned with Iran or Israel. And with that, she proceeds to ignore all the arguments and evidence that have just been presented against the embassy decision.

Let us review: the decision has compromised Armenia’s security; it has further destabilized the region; it will further isolate the country diplomatically and economically; it will deal a crippling blow to diplomacy relating to Artsakh, and it has fed into Turkey’s propaganda offensive in Lebanon. Rita then writes that, “We need to think about our survival. Armenia’s foreign policy should be based on pragmatism.” As if those very words are not an argument against the embassy decision! 

Too many people throw the word “pragmatism” around like a playground taunt. Very briefly: One cannot make sense of the words pragmatic or pragmatism without reference to a given purpose: policy x counts as pragmatic to the extent that it is conducive to purpose y. If the embassy decision is pragmatic, then what purpose does it advance? Let us review the possibilities.

1 - Will the embassy decision contribute to stability in the Middle East? Another commenter wrote that Armenia “should not be sucked into conflicts that don't concern us.” But the embassy decision does exactly that, further compromising Armenia’s security and further destabilizing the larger region. Recent years have demonstrated that appeasement of Israel promotes more aggression. Some of us understood this long ago, and events have born us out. Who today doubts that Israel has been trying for years to drag the USA into a war against Iran? If you care at all about Armenia, then you damn well better be concerned about Iran.

Several of the commentators write as though opening an Armenian embassy is an unremarkable, unobjectionable, neutral act.

But let me repeat: Armenia has established embassies in fewer than one-quarter of the member states of the United Nations. Moreover, the embassy decision came on the heels of: continuing annexations in the West Bank; the shooting deaths of hundreds of unarmed protesters in the Gaza Strip since March 2018 alone; the Trump administration’s official approval of Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights; Jarod Kushner’s “Deal of the Century” debacle; the Knesset’s adoption in 2018 of Israel’s theocratic and apartheid Nation-State Bill; America’s certification of the entire city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; and imminent further expulsions and annexations in the West Bank. In the face of these developments, the embassy decision has sent a clear message throughout the region. We have already seen that it has played right into Erdogan’s hands when it comes to extending Ankara’s influence in Lebanon--and Armenians of that country are already suffering the consequences.

2 - Will the embassy decision reduce Armenia’s economic isolation? Clearly this is not the case: if one does not wish to review decades of trade, energy, technology and transportation ties with Iran, then one might at least take a look at the map.

3 - Will the embassy decision reduce Armenia’s diplomatic isolation? I have already mentioned the fact that the real effect of this decision will be quite the opposite. 

4 - Does the embassy decision enhance Armenia’s military preparedness? Militarily, the Republic of Armenia is on the tactical defensive: to achieve its strategic goals it must continue to defend its borders. Russia possesses some of the most effective defensive weapons systems on earth, and these systems have been developed and tested over the decades to defeat U.S., Turkish, and Israeli offensive systems. By expanding relations with Israel, Armenia thereby further limits its access to the most advanced Russian defense technology.

5 - Will it put Armenia in a better position to defend its property and interests in Jerusalem? Over the course of the past two decades, we have witnessed the ROA stand by passively, while formerly thriving Armenian communities in the Middle East have been decimated. By joining the Coalition of the Willing, the ROA actively participated in the destruction of the 30,000 member Armenian community in Iraq, and helped to set the stage for the destruction of the prosperous, thriving 130,000 member communities in Syria. Armenian diplomats have not even publicly protested while their “partner” and its jihadi allies were blasting Armenian communities into rubble and burning them down to piles of ashes.

Since 1967, Zionist occupiers have crushed the once-thriving Armenian community in Palestine and stolen much of the real estate in the Armenian Quarter. Today, fewer than 800 Armenians are left in Jerusalem (2006 survey). This is what remains of a community that had perhaps 20,000 members before the Zionist occupation. Now, suddenly, we are supposed to believe that Yerevan is concerned about Armenian interests in Jerusalem. And it seems that the only way to secure those interests is to appease the oppressors of Palestinian Armenians, and the expropriators of Armenian property in the Holy Land.

There are, however, other ways to defend that property and those interests—if only Armenians would resolve to be more confrontational in the face of annexation, expropriation, and physical attack. Here’s one possible approach: the Armenian Assembly and the ANC—American organizations manned by American citizens--should make it clear that further expropriation and oppression of the Armenian community of Jerusalem, will be met with a full-on media campaign of announcements, communications with congressional offices, and conferences, to inform the American public of Israel’s anti-Christian actions.

The Friends of Israel understand very well something that the commenters do not: Israel depends for its fabled prosperity and military strength on the largesse of the American taxpayer (see, for example, John J . Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby, 2007). And they also know that, with every passing year, more and more Americans are fed up with Washington’s “special relationship” with Israel (see for example, the 22 April 2020 Gallup poll, “Marjority in the U.S. Again Support Palestinian Statehood, https://news.gallup.com/poll/293114/majority-again-support-palestinian-statehood.aspx).

The Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement enjoys widespread and increasing support from a rising generation of Americans, and just this week, Eliot Engel, a well-funded 16-year incumbent, was defeated in the democratic primary in New York’s 16th congressional district, in large part because of his pro-Israel stance. This is Israel’s Achille’s heel. Armenians need to summon the clarity and fortitude to take a more confrontational stance in the face of aggression against the Armenian Quarter. Our message to Israeli officialdom should be: Either you take your hands off of our property, our Church and our community, or this public relations campaign will join broader alliances and escalate.

Without much at all in the way of public discussion, the leaders of the Republic of Armenia have taken a step that will have serious long-term consequences for Armenia. The “Velvet Revolution” was supposed to have ushered in a new era of official transparency in Armenia. If it has done that, then the Prime Minister and the Foreign Ministry owe the people of Armenia an honest public explanation of the embassy decision.

A commenter writes that he is “curious to see what actual solutions Markar is suggesting.” The final section of the article, entitled “What to Do?” spells out exactly what actual solutions I am suggesting. Quoting: “revoke the embassy decision”; “rescind the embassy decision.”

Perhaps this bears repeating yet again, in full caps: RESCIND THE DECISION TO OPEN AN ARMENIAN EMBASSY IN TEL AVIV.

(Markar Melkonian is a teacher and writer.  His latest books are The Philosophy of Death Reader:  Cross-Cultural Readings on Immortality and the Afterlife (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019) and The Philosophy and Common Sense Reader:  Writings on Critical Thinking (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020).  His book The Wrong Train:  Notes on Armenia since the Counterrevolution (Sardarabad Press, 2020) is a selection of opinion pieces that have appeared in Hetq.am.  The Wrong Train should appear in Armenian translation later this year.)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Hetq.


Comments (4)

Iran is an autocratic theocracy that destablizes the entire region. While I agree that Armenia's decision to open an embassy in Tel Aviv is foolhardy and ill-advised, Tehran is no true "friend" of Armenia, and sees that tiny country as a convenient catrd it can play in the larger Middle East power struggle.
Sadly, people in Armenia are fairly clueless when it comes to the foreign policy decisions made by successive Armenian regimes. You rarely hear any informed debate on foreign policy issues in the local press. There is hardly any debate on foreign affairs closer to home - take the Artsakh conflict as one glaring example. It's as if it's a taboo subject. God only knows what Armenia, via its foreign ministry, is doing to protect Armenian interests in Jerusalem. Why did Armenia joinb the Coalition of the Willing? Beats me! And then, as a face saving gesture, official Yerevan sent mine sappers and health professionals to "assist" the battered Armenian community in Syria. Talk about workig at cross purposes. Yerevan's decisio to open an embassy in Tel Aviv is ill-timed and hints at some nefarious dealings between the two governments.
The problem is that the author makes a whole bunch of false assumptions and then proceeds to establish his arguments based on those fallacies. The author claims that the embassy is going to undermine Armenia’s security and destabilize the region but he fails to explain how. He claims that appeasements make Israel more aggressive. In reality, opening an embassy is anything but appeasement. Opening embassies are the most basic and neutral act in international relations. Otherwise, Iranian embassies in both Baku and Ankara should have been seen as anti Armenian acts by Iran. The author then highlights Iran’s importance for Armenia. Truth is that no one has ever questioned this importance. The question is should Armenia allow a third country to dictate the level of its relationship with another country? If yes, then can we expect Iranians to downgrade their relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey for the sake of their friendship with Armenia? The reality is that, contrary to what many in Armenia think about Armenian and Iranian friendship, Iranians have never really considered Armenia as an important factor when it comes to developing their ties with Azerbaijan or Turkey. In 2016, right after the lifting of the sanctions, Rouhani and Putin met with Aliyev in Baku to discuss the launch of a railway through Azerbaijan connecting Iran and Russia. One would think that both Iranians and Russians, being our “allies”, should have never even considered such a project that will exclude Armenia. But that wasn’t the case. Both Iranians and Russians were pushing for the project since it was in their interests. Another fallacy is that Iranians might downgrade their relations with Armenia in the case of opening the embassy. Truth is that Iran is extremely important for Armenia but Armenia is not less important for Iran. Iranians are well aware of Armenia’s role as a barrier against the spread of pan-Turkism in the region. As soon as Azerbaijan solves it problem with Armenia, they are going to turn south and publicly make all kind of statements about “South Azerbaijan”. Armenia keeps them busy. This is the main reason why Iranians maintain some degree of neutrality in south caucuses. I have absolutely no doubt that if a Shiite Islamic system comes to power in Azerbaijan, Iranians will immediately cut their ties with Armenia. This is what pragmatism means. It means you pursue your interests understanding your weaknesses and strengthens. Iranians are not in the position to do much, especially considering the sanctions and their economy.
A. Aslanyan
Dr. Melkonian, This rebuttal was more necessary than you may you know. I too rejected your initial article's position, and I say this as a former student and fan of your work. I simply didn't understand how one could oppose diplomacy. It reminded me of American right-wingers who are against talking to North Korea or Iran. How could dialogue not be seen as neutral at worst and positive at best? It either helps your people or it does nothing for them. I never bought the "it legitimizes the other side" argument. The key points here that convinced me are the ones regarding opportunity cost and timing. You are absolutely right that Armenia has a limited set of resources to dedicate to diplomatic missions and Israel should not be a priority. There are so many other states we need an embassy in first and have yet to establish one -- states that have not actively harmed their Armenian communities and don't play a direct role in aiding the Azerbaijani war machine as does Israel on a regular basis, including in the Aeronautics Ltd. scandal. In fact, we have yet to establish an embassy in Palestine which can serve many of the purposes we might think one in Israel would serve, including serving our community in Jerusalem. The timing of opening an embassy during peak militancy of the Netanyahu regime as it annexes territories in the Golan Heights and West Bank can only encourage more of the same in the future. It's a "feel good" moment for Israel only as new states seek their attention even during such actions. No, this is not the time to open an embassy in Tel Aviv. We have yet to open embassies in Ramallah, Amman or even Canberra -- the capital of Australia where both Georgia and Azerbaijan already have an embassy -- before we should consider one in Tel Aviv. An embassy at this time and these circumstances will be of no use to Armenians in the region and can only bolster hostile geopolitical forces.

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