December 10, 2019

Los Angeles Should Not Honor a Country that Glorifies its Nazi Generals

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan

This Sunday, September 22, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan will be speaking in a rally held in the Grand Park of downtown Los Angeles, right in front of the City Hall, accompanied by state, county and city officials. Grand Park is a public open space managed jointly by City and County of Los Angeles. It is the first time that any foreign leader is accorded this kind of privilege by Los Angeles. It would be no surprise if Armenia were a true ally and friend of the United States, and a country genuinely committed to democratic values shared by America. However it is not the case.

Since gaining its independence in 1991 from the Soviet Union, Armenia has pursued a foreign policy constantly contradicting the US in the South Caucasus region and international arena. Armenia regularly votes against the resolutions promoted by the US in international organizations, such as the one condemning the invasion of the Crimea, when Armenia was one of only 11 countries alongside North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Russia, Venezuela, and others rejecting this resolution. And one of the first actions Prime Minister Pashinyan took was to send an Armenian contingent to Syria to support Bashar Assad’s regime. Just a few weeks ago, Armenia sent another shipment to Damascus cementing its political, economic and military alliance with Russia, Iran and Syria. Obviously, Armenia’s support to a dictator who used chemical weapons against his own population triggered a harsh reaction from the US Embassy. 

Moreover, a state-sponsored glorification of Armenian Nazi collaborators continues to this day. A huge statue of Garegin Nzhdeh, a Nazi general of Armenian origin, adorns the center of Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan. Nzhdeh is considered a national hero and in addition to the statue, a square and metro station in Yerevan are named after him, and his “legacy” is taught to children in Armenian public schools. Nzhdeh cooperated with the Nazis as one of the commanders of the infamous “Armenian Legion” of the Wehrmacht. This unit fought in Crimea, the Caucasus, and southern France, as the Nazis rounded up Jews and resistance fighters to be marched to the death camps. For his war crimes and collaboration with the Nazis, a Soviet court sentenced him to 25 years’ imprisonment. Nzhdeh’s political theories were as repugnant as his collaboration with the Nazis. He was the founder of a racist movement called Tseghakronism, which translates as “carrier of race.” It refers to those who supposedly represent and carry what is the spiritual and biological essence of the “classical” Armenian. Echoing the theories of Aryan supremacy of his Nazi colleagues, Nzhdeh divided people into true nationalist by blood, mixed races (Hitler referred to “mongrel races”), and the anti-nationalists whom he called ‘bastards’. According to the theory, it is the responsibility of the ‘master race’ to rule Armenia.

Another glorified Armenian Nazi general is Drastamat Kanayan (better known as General Dro), commander of the “Armenian Legion”. The government of Armenia founded the Drastamat Kanayan Institute of National Strategic Studies, and the Ministry of Defense established a medal in his name to decorate military personnel and civilians who excel in military teaching.

Also anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise in Armenia. The famous Los Angeles-based investigative reporter Adelle Nazarian recently wrote the following in her open letter to US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism Elan Carr: “Did you know that, in an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) study of antisemitic attitudes in 100 countries, Armenia produced the third-highest antisemitism index score (58 percent) outside of the Middle East and North Africa?

A majority of Armenians believe that a series of ugly antisemitic conspiracy theories are “probably true,” including that Jews have too much power in the business world (72 percent) and financial markets (68 percent), are more loyal to Israel than to the country where they live (68 percent), have too much power over global affairs (51 percent), and have too much control over the American government (51 percent). The ADL survey revealed that Armenians subscribe to those antisemitic stereotypes at a higher rate than Iranians (56 percent). Let that sink in for a second.

Moreover, a study published by the Pew Research Center documented that 32 percent of Armenians would not accept Jews as fellow citizens.

It is not a coincidence that due to this rising anti-Semitism Armenia’s Jewish community that had over 5000 members before 1991 has dwindled to barely 100 now.

Furthermore, Armenia is also internationally known and condemned for its illegal military occupation of a large part of neighboring Azerbaijan. In the early 1990s, supported by powerful regional allies, Armenia managed to invade approximately 20% of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory. United Nations Security Council condemned with four resolutions this illegal military occupation that was accompanied by massacres and total ethnic cleansing of the occupied lands of their indigenous Azerbaijani population (over 800,000 of them). Together with 250,000 Azerbaijani civilians expelled from Armenia, Azerbaijan accounts today over 1 million refugees on its soil, which is one of the largest refugee populations per capita in the world.

Sadly, to this day, the occupation continues, and the refugees are not allowed by Armenia to return to their lands.

Prime Minister Pashinyan shows no willingness to peacefully resolve this painful conflict. On the contrary, one of the first steps he took was to send his son to serve in the occupied Karabakh region. And last month he even hinted at the possible annexation of this occupied territory of Azerbaijan to Armenia.

So under these conditions, how can Los Angeles host and honor this Prime Minister and his country that allies itself with US foes, glorifies its Nazi “heroes”, promotes anti-Semitism and is engaged in horrific ethnic cleansing and occupation? I hope the 600,000-strong Jewish community of Los Angeles will raise their voice against this outrageous and disgraceful act that dishonors the beautiful City of Los Angeles and everything it stands for.