Israel, Armenia and the Death of Middle East Christianity

by | Nov 18, 2020


An ancient pre-Islamic nation suddenly overwhelmed on its ancestral lands during Yom Kippur by an oil-rich Muslim regime deploying state-of-the-art technology sounds like the stuff of Israeli nightmares. Combine the kamikaze drones with swarms of jihadi fundamentalist warriors scrawling swastikas on the abandoned vehicles of their defeated enemies while graffitiing the names of past pogroms on the burnt out ruins of the defeated people’s buildings as they liberate the “occupied territories” and it looks like a Zionist Armageddon.

What sounds like a prequel for a future apocalypse of the Jewish state is in fact what has just happened to the three million Armenians of the Caucasus at the hands of much bigger, richer and better armed Azerbaijan.

But Israelis ought to have qualms about what has just happened over the last six weeks in the Caucasus mountains between Mount Ararat and Iran. This is not so much because of the obvious analogies between Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and the Syrian Golan Heights and the Christian Armenians’ position in the mountainous Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, nor because of the possibility that despite President Trump’s much-trumpeted peace deals between Israel and certain oil-rich Arab states could yet dissolve if the military balance between Jews and Muslims was shifted as suddenly and decisively as between Christians and Muslims in the Caucasus when oil wealth bought the Azeris’ attack-drones and skilled advisers to render obsolete overnight the much-vaunted Armenian military advantage.

It was Israel’s willingness to sell Halop drones, both kamikaze and loitering versions, to Azerbaijan which put the Armenians on the ground at such a disadvantage. Azerbaijan spent 60% by value of its defence procurement budget on Israeli weaponry. In return the regime in Baku is the major oil supplier to Israel which is still boycotted by most other Muslim producers.

That Israeli self-interest in cooperating with Azerbaijan did not stop the Jewish state engaging in a cynical alliance with Azerbaijan’s other backer, Turkey, which gave the Azeri’s such a huge military advantage. Despite the Turkish President’s public support for Palestinians and his occasional anti-Semitic barbs about Jewish financiers, in practice his weapons supplies and military advisers complemented Israel’s military assistance to Azerbaijan. Of course, Turkey is a member of NATO, which means its forces are trained and operate according to US military doctrines, which have long been evolved with input from the Israeli Defense Forces.

Some of the Syrian mercenary jihadis sent by Turkey to do Azerbaijan’s dirty work of mopping up Armenians in the ground war came from groups which have combined ranting anti-Zionist propaganda with practical cooperation with Israel against the Assad regime in Syria which is backed by Iran, Israel’s prime Muslim foe at present.

Given Azerbaijan’s border with Iran, Israeli cooperation with Baku gives it the possibility of basing similar weapons to those used against the Armenians just over the Iranian border. Reports suggest that Israel and Azerbaijan have signed an intelligence sharing deal aimed at Iran. So it seems that Azerbaijan’s recovery of the “occupied territories” in its west is not seen as a dangerous precedent to Israel by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government but as a possible trial run for a northern front against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Stepping up pressure on the mullahs in Teheran will certainly enjoy bi-partisan support in Washington – and the Sunni jihadis sent to Azerbaijan to fight Christian Armenians will happily redirect their fire at “heretic” Shiite Iranians.

But many Christian Zionists, certainly here in Britain, have been distressed to see how their fellow Christian Armenians have been sacrificed on the altar of Realpolitik by Israel. In recent decades, we have witnessed the steady shrinking of ancient Christian communities across the Middle East. Born-again Christians like George W. Bush and Tony Blair dealt a death-blow to Iraq’s almost two thousand year old Christian communities. Barack Obama and “Holy Joe” Biden had no qualms about backing the Sunni fundamentalists in Syria who desecrated churches and destroyed ancient Christian shrines like that of Simon Stylites in Syria. So maybe seeing the first nation to convert to Christianity pounded into submission by Israeli and Turkish high-tech munitions should come as no surprise, but Armenians have a diaspora especially in America and France to raise their plight but Azerbaijan and its allies had already bought the lobbyists.

For decades there has been tension between Israeli and Armenian lobbyists in Washington over whether the USA would formally recognise that Ottoman Turkey had inflicted a genocide on Armenians under its control in 1915. Israelis had long got many countries along with the USA to recognise the cruel fate of millions of Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany, while Israel and its American supporters had persistently lobbied Congress and White House against recognising the mass killings in 1915 as the equivalent of the Holocaust. Turkey of course has been happy to have had Israeli lobbyists alongside its efforts to deny that anything genocidal, in fact anything other the normal collateral damage of warfare, had occurred 105 years ago.

This unseemly competition over whose genocide and suffering should be officially-endorsed by Washington is part of the backdrop to the peculiar animosity between the two non-Muslim states in an Islamic majority region. Of course, in Jerusalem itself Armenian clergy like other native Christian minorities find themselves often in dispute with the Israeli authorities. But American and European Christians have been blithely unaware of the tensions between two tiny nations each claiming three thousand years history. Which intertwines with the story of Christianity but also geopolitics and now energy interests.

Any mention of lobbying should remind us how many petro-dollars Azerbaijan has poured into the Beltway. Google Biden family members and his key foreign policy advisers and media boosters to get a glimpse of why the strange silence of the “President-elect” and his failure to rev up his customary denunciation of despots and ethnic cleansing during the election campaign was not so odd after all.

Yet if a new big war is in the offing in the Middle East, and Donald Trump fails to seize his chance in the next two months to start one like his predecessors, then Mr Biden might well have an opportunity. Iran’s large Armenian Christian minority knows what their “liberation” from the Ayatollahs will mean for their communities.

Israel’s active assistance to the anti-Christian side in the neighbouring conflict between Azeris and Armenians has suddenly also brought home to many evangelical Christians who had seen endorsing and promoting the Jewish state as consonant with their own faith’s goals that their new Jerusalem is not Benjamin Netanyahu’s. The sight of Armenian Christians hastily un-burying their ancestors for fear their graves and the churches next to them will be desecrated by the victorious Azeris who are moving into these regions in the next ten days is more than just the latest episode in the de-Christianisation of the Middle East region. It may be the start of the unravelling of the evangelical Christian-Zionist alliance.

If the nasty little war between Sunni Muslim Azerbaijan and Christian Armenia turns out to have been a trial run for a war between Israel helped by Azerbaijan against the looming threat of Iran, then almost certainly the USA and probably European allies like Britain will be drawn in. Yet there are now glimmerings that a key component in the pro-Israeli mindset in the West – evangelical Christians – might be beginning to question whether sacrificing ordinary Middle Eastern Christians on the altar of Realpolitik, Mammon, and unquestioning support for whatever Israel decides to do will continue to have their support.

Maybe Benjamin Netanyahu will paraphrase Stalin on the Pope and dismissively ask “How many kamikaze drones have the evangelical Christians got?” But if Israel ever finds itself back to wall again alienating Christians may not seem to have been such a smart move. After all some of Israel’s temporary allies like Turkey have learned how quickly the assumed military superiority of a micro-state like Armenia or Israel can disappear when a technological leap forward nullifies its advantages. Assuming that it will always be one step ahead was Armenia’s fatal mistake. There is no guarantee that it will be Israel rather than its untrustworthy regional partners who make the next high tech military breakthrough. But in the meantime, global Christian sympathy for Israel has taken a beating as bad as the battlefield casualties of the Armenians.

Mark Almond is Director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford, and is a Member of the Academic Board of the Ron Paul Institute.


  • Mark Almond

    Prof. Almond is a Lecturer in Modern History at Oriel College, Oxford and at Bilkent University in Turkey. He is the author of Revolution: 500 Years of Struggle for Change (1996).

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