Armenian Ambassador to Israel Arman Akopian gave an exclusive interview to The Jerusalem Post.
Jerusalem Post: Can you describe the current situation in Nagorno-Karabakh from your perspective?
Ambassador Arman Akopian: What is going on is classic ethnic cleaning. We see the indigenous population of the region of Armenia, people who were there for 3,000 years, leaving their homes and their spiritual and national heritage behind, leaving the graves of their loved ones behind.
Jerusalem Post: Why are they leaving?
Ambassador Arman Akopian: They have no choice but to leave Nagorno-Karabakh because their lives are unbearable. Just a week ago, 120,000 Armenians lived there. Today, about 100,000 have already left.
Jerusalem Post: Azerbaijan firmly maintains that they want the residents to stay and that the only people who left Karabakh are military personnel. Who is telling the truth?
Ambassador Arman Akopian:
Ambassador Arman Akopian: The official number of people who left is 95,000. Do you believe there were 95,000 military in that region? You can see the videos on TV: Women and children are being expelled because they see no future there. There is no guarantee for their lives. Even the Azeri people do not have guarantees because they live under an autocracy. How can the rights of the Armenians be guaranteed?
Jerusalem Post: Tell me about the land mines that Armenia has reportedly placed in the area and the military personnel that were on the ground. These landmines have killed or maimed dozens of Azeri civilians and soldiers. Wasn't that breaking the ceasefire agreement, and did the country not expect repercussions?
Ambassador Arman Akopian: These were self-defense forces to protect local Armenians against the Azeris. There were two wars [in 1990 and 2020], and the people's safety was not guaranteed. Any community has a right to protect itself. Who else would have protected them?
Azerbaijan claims these units were part of the regular army of the Republic of Armenia. It is a lie. There are no standard army units of the Republic of Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Jerusalem Post: Would you compare the situation of the Armenians to the current plight of the Palestinians?
Ambassador Arman Akopian: I would not, no. It does not make sense to compare conflicts. Each conflict is unique.
Jerusalem Post: Leaders have been meeting on both sides to achieve a final peace agreement. What is the status of those talks, and do you see this as something that could happen soon - and last?
Ambassador Arman Akopian: Any war ends with peace, and we remain optimistic that we will reach an agreement. But under the current conditions, when Armenians are expelled from their ancestral homeland, [it is hard to foresee]. I hope this meeting [between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on October 5] will take place because there is no other alternative but to sit at the table and talk.
Jerusalem Post: Is Israel too pro-Azerbaijan?
Ambassador Arman Akopian: I don't believe Israel has Armenia on its agenda. We have seen a lot of military cooperation: Azerbaijan buying Israeli weapons worth billions of dollars, and there is cooperation on military defense and intelligence. Iran, of course, is a factor in that. I would not say Israel is 'pro,' but cooperation is very strong, and the strategic partnership is very strong. Every time there is an escalation in our region, from the second war in 2020 until September 19, we know that Azerbaijan's Silk Way Airlines is making frequent flights to Israel to import weapons. Before this last escalation, a flight went directly from Israel to the city of Ganja, situated just north of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Any country can sell and buy weapons. The issue is that these weapons end up on our borders and are fired at peaceful civilians.
So, if you ask whether Israel is pro-Azerbaijan, I cannot answer. But the countries' strategic, military and intelligence cooperation is strong, and it is no secret. It is something both sides declare with pride.
Jerusalem Post: Is Israel anti-Armenia?
Ambassador Arman Akopian: No. The civil society is very pro-Armenia in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh and recognition of the Armenian genocide.
Jerusalem Post: Would you compare the plight of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karbach to that of the Jews during World War II? And given the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, would you not expect more support from Israel?
Ambassador Arman Akopian: We can find parallels. Armenians and Jews have so many things in common. We are two peoples who suffered terrible genocides: the Armenians during WWI and the Jews in WWII.
Raphael Lemkin, creator of the world' genocide,' referred to both the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust in parallel in an interview with CBS.
Jerusalem Post: Is there anything you want to add that I did not ask you?
Ambassador Arman Akopian: We are witnessing a terrible human tragedy unprecedented in the 21st Century. Armenians are being forced out of their historic homeland, leaving their heritage, churches, monasteries, and tombstones behind. I see no hope for them. As long as Azerbaijan remains an autocracy, we will continue to witness this tragedy.
I am also thankful to all the Israelis who call the embassy, write open letters, and place ads in local papers supporting the Armenians. I am grateful for all the goodwill and support.