By Harut Sassounian
Armenians boosted their historical ties with the Arab and Muslim world last month with the simultaneous visits of Armenia’s President and Jerusalem’s Armenian Patriarch to the Kingdom of Jordan, and visits by the Armenian Prime Minister and Aram Catholicos of Lebanon to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
While such foreign visits are commonplace, the exceptionally warm reception accorded by Shia Iran and Sunni Jordan to four Armenian leaders reflects these Islamic countries’ close relationship with Christian Armenians and displeasure with the Turkish government’s radical Islamist policies.
Only a few years ago, many Arabs and Muslims hailed Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan -- now President -- as a modern-day Sultan who was championing their national and religious aspirations. In 2010, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey decided to form a joint free trade zone to strengthen their economic cooperation. Soon after, by siding with the Muslim Brotherhood and Jihadists’ murderous rampage against Kurds, Yazidis, Shias, Alawites, and Christian minorities, Erdogan’s hegemonic and erratic behavior alienated almost every state in the Middle East. Turkey’s love-fest with Syria quickly turned into outright hostility, and Ankara’s relations with Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and especially Israel, became antagonistic.
These regional tensions with Turkey may have played a role in the enthusiastic welcome the four Armenian dignitaries received from the highest ranking officials of Iran and Jordan where they had warm and fruitful discussions regarding their mutual interests and concerns. Here are the highlights of their visits:
-- Pres. Serzh Sargsyan met with King Abdullah II, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, Senate President Abdel Raouf al-Rawabdeh, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Atef Tarawneh. During the visit, the mayors of Yerevan and Amman signed a sister city agreement. The leaders of the two countries decided to establish inter-parliamentary friendship groups and expand their cooperation in the fields of tourism, energy, agriculture, and health. Pres. Sargsyan thanked the Jordanian leadership for welcoming Armenian refugees during the 1915 Genocide and paying special attention to the needs of the Armenian community of Jordan today. The Armenian President voiced his gratitude for the decree issued in 1917 by Sharif al-Husayn Ibn Ali, who urged the Muslim faithful to protect the Armenian survivors of the Genocide “as you would defend yourselves, your properties, and children.” Pres. Sargsyan also paid tribute to the late King Hussein who had sent urgently-needed humanitarian aid to Armenia shortly after the 1988 earthquake. The President then attended the historic consecration of the St. Garabed Church by Jerusalem Patriarch Nourhan Manougian near the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. The land for the sacred site of the church was graciously donated by the Jordanian government. It is ironic that while Turkey aided and abetted ISIS terrorists’ destruction of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Der Zor, the Jordanian government was instrumental in the construction of an Armenian Church on the banks of the Jordan River!
-- During his brief visit to Iran, Armenia’s Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan met Pres. Hassan Rouhani and signed a series of agreements on energy, agriculture, and culture. Mr. Abrahamyan transmitted Pres. Sargsyan’s invitation to Pres. Rouhani to visit Yerevan next April 24, on the Armenian Genocide Centennial. The Prime Minister, accompanied by seven cabinet ministers, also met Iran’s First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Minister of Petroleum Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, and Isfahan Governor Rasul Zargarpur who praised the contributions of the Armenian community to the development of Isfahan.
-- Aram Catholicos met with Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani who hailed the positive role played by the Iranian-Armenian community: “Iran has always held the Armenian community in high regard and many friendly relations have been in progress between Iranian Muslims and Armenians.” They also discussed the Turkish government’s negative role in the region. Aram Catholicos also met with the Governor of Isfahan and leaders of the Islamic Organization for Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue. On behalf of Pres. Rouhani, Ali Younesi, Special Assistant to the President on ethnic and religious minorities, hosted a dinner in honor of the Catholicos. Speaking at a conference in New Julfa on Armenian Genocide demands from Turkey, Aram Catholicos declared: “irrespective of the circumstances and the elapsed time, we shall continue to demand justice for our martyrs.”
The coincidental visits of the four Armenian leaders to Iran and Jordan reinforced the strong positive ties between the two Muslim countries and Armenia and Armenians, and highlighted Turkey’s further isolation in the Middle East.