General Information on Armenian Jewish Organizations
Currently there are about 700 Jews living in Armenia, their count not decreasing despite 90-100 people emigrating each year. The main Jewish organization of the state is the Jewish community based in Yerevan (its chairperson is Rimma Varjapetyan-Feller, member of the EAJC General Council).
The community hosts a Jewish children’s vocal ensemble called Keshet, a Sunday school, and an ulpan. The community publishes a newspaper called Magen David with the aid of the EAJC. In 2004, the website www.jewish.am was launched. A small group of Jews lives in the city of Vanadzor. Moreover, there is a small Sabbatarian community in Sevan (former Yelenovka settlement) – no larger than 11 Sabbatarian families most of them retirees.
The only functioning synagogue in the state is in Yerevan; its rabbi is Armenia’s chief rabbi Hersch-Meir Burstein. The synagogue is situated in a private house, purchased in 1995. The same building hosts the Mordekhay Navi community center and the Torah Or Sunday school. In October 2008, following a financial crisis, rabbi Burstein’s community lost Or Avner Foundation’s financial support, consequently forfeiting its offices and its newspaper, Kohelet. Matzos were delivered to Armenia from Ukraine annually (except 2009) with the aid of the EAJC. Armenia has been exporting kosher tinfoil to the USA since 2003. The produce of two Armenian factories making pomegranate wine, vodka, juice, and fruit jam was declared kosher in 2010.
The Jewish community cooperates closely with the Sochnut: seminars are held, the community receives support, and youth participate in Jewish Agency programs in Israel.
The community had a conflict with the Joint in 2008, when the latter demanded that the database of the DSOS – Children’s Initiative program be transferred to them. Since then the Joint has cut off its aid to the community and has been supporting its own “Orot Chesed” center instead.
In July 2007, a Tolerance Center (head – Svetlana Arutyunyan) was established and legally recognized in Armenia, co-founded by R. Varjapetyan-Feller.
Rimma Varjapetyan also sits on the state ombudsman’s expert group. Ms. Varjapetyan and rabbi Hersch-Meir Burstein are on the Armenian President’s coordinating board of national public organizations, established in 2004.
R. Varjapetyan initiated a tolerance camp for representatives of all ethnicities living in Armenia, which was held in the Yeghegiz village (Yeghegnadzor district).
Educators and youth organization employees from Armenia took part in the seminar “Tolerance and dialogue between different ethnicities and religions” in Bakuriani (Georgia) on July 1-5, 2010. The seminar was initiated by the EAJC and the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine.
In 2008, the Prime Minister of Armenia awarded Ms. Varjapetyan a medal “For strengthening and developing ties between Armenians and Jews.”Diplomatic relations were established between Armenia and Israel in 1992. The ambassador of Israel to Armenia has since 2010 been Shmuel Merom, also ambassador of Israel to Tajikistan.
An Armenian-Israeli Society exists in the state, as well as parliamentary group. In 2004, the Jackson-Vanik amendment was rescinded for Armenia. In November 2005, an Israeli delegation led by Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi Y. Metzer invited by the head of the Church of Armenia, Catholicos Garegin II, visited Armenia.
At the June 2010 convention of the Association of Mediterranean Ombudsmen, the Armenian representative supported the Israeli representative in his protest against the acceptance by the Association of an anti-Israeli statement regarding the so-called Freedom Flotilla and its attempted breach into the Gaza Strip, blocked by the Israelis. Micha Lindenstrauss, State Controller and Ombudsman for Israel, visited Armenia on July 13, 2010.
The community has an Israeli cultural center, led by Georgy Faivush.
The relations between Armenia and Israel are overshadowed by the issue of Israel not recognizing the Armenian massacre of 1915 as genocide (this was last discussed in the Knesset in May 2010, the decision postponed indefinitely). Community representatives take regular part in rallies on the anniversaries of the beginning of the Armenian genocide.
However, certain Armenian followers of marginal opposition parties rest the responsibility for the 1915 genocide on the Jews. Individual media figures are also riddled with anti-Semitic views. The relations between Israel and Armenia have also been marred by two scandals relating to members of the Armenian Church in Israel. In September 2009, two students of the Armenian seminary in Jerusalem were ambushed by students of Jerusalem yeshivas. In January 2010, Shage Karapetyan, a priest at the Yerevan church of St. Sarkis, claimed that the regular conflicts between Armenian and Greek priests in Jerusalem were brought about by provocative actions on behalf of the Israeli government, which allegedly was aiming to get rid of the Armenian diaspora which controls Jerusalem’s Mount Zion.
March 11, 2010, saw a meeting in Moscow between EAJC Secretary General Mikhail Chlenov and the Ombudsman of the Armenian Republic Armen Arutyunyan.
There is a Hebrew Studies department at the Yerevan State University. A Modern Hebrew textbook was published in Armenian in 2003. The lecture center of the National Jewish Culture University is functioning constantly. For the past 10 years, excavations have been taking place in Yeghegiz village (Yeghegnadzor district) of the 13-14 century Jewish cemetery, discovered recently by Yeghegnadzor Archbishop Abram. During a February 2006 meeting between R. Varjapetyan and the then Prime Minister of Armenia A. Margaryan, it was agreed that the state would partly fund the beautification of the cemetery area. S. Sargsyan, having replaced A. Margaryan on the post in 2006, approved this funding in July 2007; $60,000 were granted, and the reconstruction work in the excavation area is now finished, the ancient Jewish cemetery is open as a historical site. An international scholarly symposium entitled “The Jewish cemetery of Yeghegiz” was held in Armenia on May 11-12, 2009, summarizing the research studies and restorative work. Ms. Rimma Varjapetyan-Feller and EAJC General Council member, chief editor of jewseurasia.org, Vyacheslav Likhachev took part in the symposium. On February 23, 2010, the book Jews in Armenia. The Medieval Ages was presented in Yerevan. The book is a collection of papers presented at the conference in Yeghegnadzor.
In June 2010, a discussion seminar called “Armenians and Jews: a transformation of historical perceptions” took place at the Arabic Studies department of Yerevan State University as part of the “Paideia Project Incubator.”