According to the principle approved in social, scientific and political discourse of Armenia, the region situated to the south and south-west to us is to be called by a common geopolitical term “Near East.” Basing on this tradition we will make and attempt to reveal and study up-to-date relations and perspective development of the Republic of Armenia with one of the Near Eastern countries – Israel.
On every occasion the Armenian and Israeli political and public figures of different levels speak about similarity of the two nations, as well as about the necessity of improving and stepping into a new level of relations between the two countries.
Any intergovernmental relation supposes a certain package including the complex of issues relating to economy, culture, politics, social and other fields. International experiences have proved that relations begin with signing a corresponding bilateral document only after which are set up diplomatic relations to be followed the exchange of diplomatic representations. However, it was not the case with Armenia and Israel. After bilateral relations were established between Israel and Georgia (1992) the Israeli ambassador to Georgia, resided in Tbilisi, was also appointed the one of Armenia till 2007. On March 2007 was appointed a new ambassador of Israel to Armenia Ehud Gol (resided in Jerusalem). Let’s mention that Ehud Gol is also the ambassador of Israel to Kirghizia and Turkmenistan. The picture was the same with the Armenian party up till recently: the RA ambassador to France combined the duties of the RA ambassador to Israel.
Under the present circumstances one can hardly expect any improvements in relations, as the ambassadors who must be engaged in the problems in the immediate country, are physically outside the country subject to study. Accordingly, improvement of relations is quite doubtful. Moreover, in comparison with the frequency of visits of the former ambassadors, one can state as a fact that the relations are regressing: If the former ambassadors resided in Tbilisi visited Armenia and met both official and public circles at the minimum one, and sometimes even two or more times a month, than after his appointment (2007) Ehud Gol paid only three official visits to Armenia. One more circumstance: during his visit the ambassador was accompanied by a not high ranking official (the consulter of the deputy head of the Foreign Ministry department for Eurasia Israel Mey Amin), which may also give an estimate of the level of relations.
There is an impression that the present level of relations is based on the interests of both of the states. For Armenia improving relations with Israel at least means implementing maximum flexible policy with Iran and Middle Eastern Arabic countries, which is sure to be a difficult task.
In essence, such a situation is quite favorable for Israel, as it is created an illusion of relations with Armenia providing a chance for it either to neglect Armenia’s interests and express an opposite position in some key issues or not to react to them at all. Together with it, the relations with neighbor Georgia and Azerbaijan get improved and acquire strategic importance – which may not but cause concern.
Illusion of bilateral relations in reality doesn’t hinder keeping certain level of economic activity. According to official data, there are two intergovernmental agreements signed between the Republic of Armenia and Israel – “On cooperation in the sphere of public health and medicament” (29.10.1998) and “On mutual stimulation and protection of investment” (19.01.2000). The last circumstance stimulated the entrance of Jewish capital into the home market of Armenia resulting establishment of bilateral economic relations.
However, the information provided by the state statistic bureau of Israel also fixes law level of indices of bilateral economic relations. For example, the peak of commodity turnover between the two countries was fixed in 2005, when the import volume from Armenia into Israel made for about $103.2 million, $103.1 out of which made diamond import, $55.6 million – in 2006, and $14.8 million – in 2007. There is also a noticeable decrease of indices in the import volume into Armenia: instead of $99.5 million in 2005, in 2007 was fixed $43.6 million. It is reasoned by reduction in import value of unprocessed diamond making for about 90% of commodity turnover between the two countries (diamonds were processed in the diamond processing factory in Nor-Hachn, owned by a European company).
In addition, to cooperation in the sphere of diamond processing the Agriculture and Public Health ministry of Israel is realizing joint projects, a part of which is being carried out in the framework of a special international educational program “MASHAV” of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. In 2006 (the 2007 data is not summarized yet) 8 people took part in training courses on agriculture, gender problems, science and technology, as well as, on middle and little business. To compare, let’s mention that from Georgia participated 46, and from Azerbaijan – 19 people.
Armenian-Israeli relations are completely lacking the layer of cultural cooperation. The societies of both of the countries are not informed about one another. And if in Israel, thanks to the Armenian cultural strata on the Holly Land as well as the former Armenian citizens who migrated that country not long ago, are to some extent aware of the Armenian culture, than in Armenia people know almost nothing, if not nothing at all, about “Jewish-Israeli” culture (annually for about 500 tourists from Armenia visit Israel). Per se, it is the very starting point the developed of relations between the two countries should being from, for them to get to know each other, as this aspect is deprived of accentuated political pretext.
To have a clear cut idea about passive interrelation of the two societies one should only visit the blog devoted to Armenian-Israeli cooperation in Diaspora, Armenia and Israel. The blog is called “Kenac Lekhaim” (http://genats-lehayim.blogspot.com/) and is activated (if one or two comments may be considered to be activity) only when are discussed such topics as Genocide and Holocaust.
Each Armenian and not only has heard about the huge cultural and spiritual heritage which the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) was able to gather during the centuries and put in order in Jerusalem. Alongside with the collections of ancient manuscripts of world importance (Yerevan based Matenadaran after Mesrop Mashtots, National Library in Paris, Matenadaran of the Island St Lazar in Venice, a number of libraries in Madras, Aleppo, Beirut, Washington, Los Angeles, London, Dublin and others) the big collection of Armenian manuscripts of St Toros church of the St Hakob monastic complex (Jerusalem) are not of little importance. In the monastery depository are kept manuscripts of X-XVIII century made by the hands of Armenian craftsmen from Kilikia, Crimea, Nor Jugha, Constantinople… most of the manuscripts are donations of pilgrims who visited Jerusalem at different periods. And it is only the little part of the cultural heritage of knowledge common to all mankind, which we, Armenians, have in Jerusalem. A heritage which is the result of mental and spiritual activity of generations of different historical periods and is resembled in the form of the Armenian block in the very heart of Jerusalem on the Mount Zion and in the land of promise by great number of monastic lands.
We are to account to the generations to come for preservation and handing over of this heritage. For many centuries this function was carried out by the Armenian Apostolic Church in the face of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. One may state as a fact that in the past it was the only way, however, the geopolitical realities today have considerably changes and this issue requires a qualitatively new solution, which, as a result of its specificity can not be realized by AAC alone. One shouldn’t forget that the wealth belonging to the Armenian Church is on the territory of the two political elements fighting against each another – the state of Israel and Palestinian autonomy, and the entrance and flexible diplomacy of the forth player in the face of the Armenian Republic into this Israel-Palestine-AAC triple would only strengthen the position of the Armenian Apostolic Church from the one hand and provide a chance to have immediate influence on cultural and spiritual heritage preservation on the other.
To take this way, it is first of all necessary to transfer this dialogue on an equal field and bring it up to the international level, i.e. to open representative offices both in Yerevan and Jerusalem.
Different disputes among the Armenian Patriarchy in Jerusalem and the Israeli government, as well as among the representatives of other religious directions in the land of promise have come to appear in favor of the necessity to open embassies. One of the examples of such a dispute is the one among the Government of Israel and the Armenian Patriarchy on building a separating wall between Israel and Palestine, which was to pass through the territory of gardens belonging to the residence of the Patriarch. All the efforts were bended by the Patriarch to give an acceptable solution to this problem; however, the future is not safeguarded against other suchlike challenges.
The second threat hanging over the Armenian Patriarchy and the property of Armenians, is the Israeli state supported land selling to Jews, which are very often drawn up as long leasing (up till 99 years), which in its turn results reduction of not that numerous Armenian population in Jerusalem. Exposure of another fact of land selling causes a new wave of tension in relations of the representatives of the Armenian community and the Palestinian Arabs. It is only the least part of problems the representatives of the Armenian community and the Armenian Patriarchy in Jerusalem face in their every-day activity.
Summarizing, it should be mentioned that one of the negative traces of the Soviet heritage is also passivity and at best – reactivity of the RA foreign policy in different directions of strategic importance, whereas, it should just be active. Per se, the Armenian Near-Eastern policy is considered to be reactive, whereas Armenia should appear with its initiative, and today there are scientific and human resources necessary for it in the Republic. The discussions of Near-Eastern issues in special literature have come to prove about the opulence of the corresponding specialized field.
Armenia must carry out active Near-Eastern policy, the cornerstone of which is relations with Israel. The importance of Armenia’s Near-Eastern policy is conditioned first of all by existence of Armenian communities in many Near-Eastern countries, and, what is more important, the necessity of coordinated and periodic study of the huge cultural heritage accumulated in course of the history of the Armenian community.