Neo-Nazis march in Yerevan: We can’t ignore that

Opinion: Armenian nationalism is rising, with government and groups in Armenia glorifying Nazi collaborator and promoting antisemitism; neo-Nazi march in Yerevan signals a serious warning for Israel

Dr. Elina Bardach-Yalov|
Neo-Nazis marching through the streets of Yerevan, Armenia

On January 1, a group of Armenian neo-Nazis marched through the streets of the Armenia capital of Yerevan with stylized Nazi flags. What was it all about, and why the State of Israel cannot ignore this neo-Nazi and antisemitic movement.
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"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," wrote decades ago Gerald Seymour in his famous book Harry’s Game. This thought-provoking statement highlights the subjective nature of labeling individuals or groups involved in conflicts. It suggests that the perception of a person's actions depends on one's perspective and the context in which they are viewed.
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Neo-Nazi gathering in Yerevan
Neo-Nazi gathering in Yerevan
Neo-Nazi gathering in Yerevan
(Photo: Courtesy)
The problem is that all of those so-called “freedom fighters” frequently use violent non-democratic methods to reach their goals. The collateral damage of their activities reaches sometimes thousands of terrified, injured or killed innocent people. This is why, from the historical perspective, it is hard to state whether the person was a true liberator or just a mass murderer.
However, this is definitely not the case for Armenian Nazi collaborator Garegin Nzhdeh. Several years ago, former Armenian Parliament deputy speaker Eduard Sharmazanov proclaimed that Nzhdeh was not a Nazi, he was a patriot of the Armenian nation, who struggled for Armenia's independence all his life.
While calling Nzhdeh “Armenian patriot”, Armenia officially supports and glorifies the one who established contacts with the German intelligence agencies during World War II for armed struggle against units of the Soviet Army and made sure the Armenian legion followed the orders of the Nazis in the Caucasus, Crimea and France.
In recent years, Armenia has been desperately looking for its own heroes. It is obvious that every nation needs those who can be glorified and whose actions can be praised. Therefore, these people should be chosen wisely. If the Armenian government decides to erect monuments to an Armenian nationalist who led a military unit that served under Nazi command in World War II in its capital and many other cities - democratic countries should understand the message.
Armenia is not only normalizing Nazism but also agrees that Nzhdeh’s political and national aspirations and decisions are in line with Armenian national goals today. Manifestations of neo-Nazism and the glorification of criminals as national politics are quite disturbing and should be followed closely, especially when we are speaking about a country bordering Iran.
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Entrance to the ancient Jewish cemetery in Yeghegis, Armenia, which contains nearly 40 medieval tombstones from the 13th and 14th centuries C.E. inscribed in Hebrew and Aramaic
Entrance to the ancient Jewish cemetery in Yeghegis, Armenia, which contains nearly 40 medieval tombstones from the 13th and 14th centuries C.E. inscribed in Hebrew and Aramaic
Entrance to the ancient Jewish cemetery in Yeghegis, Armenia, which contains nearly 40 medieval tombstones from the 13th and 14th centuries C.E. inscribed in Hebrew and Aramaic
(Photo: Larry Luxner)
Just to make it clear, on the one hand, Armenia is desperately trying to rewrite its history in an attempt to minimize the level of local collaboration with the Nazis, but on the other hand, it erects statues of Nzhdeh everywhere possible, names an avenue, a large square and a nearby metro station in Yerevan after him and many more. The proliferation of monuments and street namings in his honor, including a village named after him, testifies to his enduring influence and the glorification of his ideology by influential groups within Armenia.
It is no surprise that this atmosphere of glorifying Nazi collaborators is spreading throughout Armenia and on January 1, Armenian neo-Nazis held a march in Yerevan in honor of Nzhdeh’s birthday. A neo-Nazi group called Hosank paraded through the center of the Armenian capital, chanting "Sieg Heil" while wearing red armbands with stylized swastikas and holding flags with the same symbols.
They received much support online and as one Armenian Telegram channel put it, “I am amazed that many people were outraged by this truly peaceful march… These people weren’t engaged in vandalism, didn’t insult anyone and did absolutely nothing illegal”. This post was liked by hundreds of Telegram users and shows that the neo-Nazi movement in Armenia has the potential to balloon fast.
Furthermore, Hosank leader Hayk Nazaryan is an Armenian American who returned to his home country several years ago. He doesn’t cover his face and calls himself an “Armenian nationalist who has lived with national ideas all his conscious life."
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שימוש באפליקציית טלגרם
שימוש באפליקציית טלגרם
(Photo: EPA)
While explaining his position and the march, he wrote that he didn’t blame those who didn’t support him, since all those in power - coalition and opposition - “are engaged in the same Jewish slander and continue to divide the Armenian nation, because they are as far from true national ideas as I am from ballet."
Nazaryan admits that over the last two years, he was able to unite Armenian nationalists around the idea and the flag and even organize a march, which was the first, but not the last one planned and executed.
“One Nation, One State, One Will!” The group's official slogan group is more than anything else identifies it as neo-Nazi. The group's website is full of glorifications of Hitler and antisemitic caricatures. However, Armenian authorities officially ignore Hosank's actions, and while antisemitic and anti-Israeli propaganda in Armenia is spreading and there were three attempts to burn the local synagogue, their complete inaction is a disturbing sign.
Moreover, it is important to take into consideration that Nazaryan could have made various contacts while living in the United States, probably even within a strong Armenian lobby and might have supporters outside of Armenia too. Neo-Nazi ideology among Armenian youth could spread faster than expected.
This is why the State of Israel should not only condemn the march in Yerevan and call for authorities to take a stand against neo-Nazism and antisemitism, as Ambassador Joel Lion did, but also take every possible action to protect the Jews of Armenia. And if the local authorities are ignoring red flags, both literally and metaphorically, it is Israel’s right and its moral obligation to take care of the Armenian Jewish community, before it becomes too late.
  • Dr. Elina Bardach-Yalov is a former Knesset member for the Yisrael Beiteinu party
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