ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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In unusual move, rabbis in Europe condemn Armenian Holocaust comparisons

A letter cosigned by more than 100 rabbis accuses Armenia of distorting the genocide’s memory to hurt the reputation of its rival, Azerbaijan

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Armenian Prime minister Nikol Pashinyan delivers his speech at the National Assembly of Armenia in Yerevan, Armenia, September 13, 2022. (Tigran Mehrabyan/PAN Photo via AP)
Armenian Prime minister Nikol Pashinyan delivers his speech at the National Assembly of Armenia in Yerevan, Armenia, September 13, 2022. (Tigran Mehrabyan/PAN Photo via AP)

A group of European rabbis condemned in a letter what they consider a trivialization of the Holocaust by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

The letter, penned earlier this month by more than 100 rabbis from the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, an association with many rabbis affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitch movement, said that terms like “ghetto,” “genocide,” and “holocaust” belittles the “terrible suffering experienced by the victims of the horrific Holocaust and the Jewish people at large.”

In an interview from July, Pashinyan said that Azerbaijan, with which Armenia has had a long and bloody dispute over land with religious undertones, “created a ghetto, in the most literal meaning of the word” in Nagorno-Karabakh, the disputed area at the heart of the conflict.

Pashinyan also spoke about Adolf Hitler and his gradual ascent to power. Hitler did not “pull out the sword and started chasing the Jews in the streets” immediately after his rise to power, Pashinyan said.

The letter’s signatories included some of the most prominent Chabad rabbis in Europe, including Binyomin Jacobs, a chief rabbi in the Netherlands, and Baruch Oberloander of Budapest, Hungary.

European Chabad rabbis rarely speak out on geopolitical matters, a task that normally falls to the European Jewish Association, a Brussels-based advocacy group headed by Menachem Margolin.

The letter follows an Azerbaijani rabbi’s push for attention in Jewish and other media to Holocaust-related rhetoric by Armenian leaders. The Baku-based News.za agency describes Rabbi Zamir Isaev of Baku as “the initiator of the campaign of the rabbis of Europe and America” against the use of the Holocaust themes in “Armenian propaganda.”

In this handout photo, President Isaac Herzog shakes hands with Azerbaijan’s new Ambassador Mukhtar Mammadov while accepting his credentials, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, March 26, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Azerbaijan, an oil-rich nation whose annual gross domestic product of $56 billion is four times larger than Armenia’s, is thought to have a relatively robust lobbying apparatus in the European Union, the United States and beyond.

Azerbaijan is an ally of Israel and a major supplier of petrol to the Jewish state. Its officials have often claimed that their country has no antisemitism and it was the first Muslim-majority country to include the Holocaust in its curriculum for high school students. It is also a major consumer of Israeli weapons.

Azerbaijani officials have often compared the Holocaust, in which about six million Jews died, to the Khojaly massacre of 1992 against Azerbaijani civilians. The Azeri government says that 613 people were killed in that atrocity, perpetrated by Armenian troops.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev speaks during a news conference at the Palace of Brigades in Tirana, Albania, Nov. 15, 2022 (AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)

The website of the Azerbaijani defense ministry states that “Khojaly does not differ from other horrifying tragedies of Katyn, Lidice, Oradour-sur-Glane, Holocaust, Songmy, Rwanda and Srebrenica, which remain in history as deep and shameful scars.”

Armenian officials have often said their nation has a special bond with Israel born of their shared experience of genocide. Israel and Armenia “share a common history through painful and sad times with the extinction of millions in the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide,” former president Sarkissian said in a 2020 speech in Holon near Tel Aviv, referring to the killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Turkish soldiers during World War I.

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