Underscoring Armenia’s uneasy relationship with Israel, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian has not met with his Israeli counterpart or any other member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government during a rare visit to Jerusalem.
Nalbandian held talks instead with Israel’s largely ceremonial President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday during what the Armenian Foreign Ministry described as a one-day “working visit.” He also attended a concert by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
Ministry statements on the trip did not explain why Nalbandian failed to meet with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and other Israeli cabinet members. The ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Nalbandian flew to Jerusalem one week after Yerevan condemned Lieberman’s presence at what it considers an anti-Armenian ceremony in the Israeli city of Acre that was organized by an Azerbaijani government-linked group. The event was dedicated to the 23rd anniversary of the deaths of several hundred Azerbaijani residents of Khojaly, a small town in Nagorno-Karabakh. It was part of the group’s efforts to have the international community recognize the 1992 killings as a genocide committed by the Armenians.
Lieberman was a keynote speaker at the ceremony. “We are here today to combine the experience of Israel with that of Azerbaijan so that we can prevent such tragedies from happening in the future,” he said, according to Azerbaijani news agencies.
“It is inappropriate that any politician could allow himself to be dragged into the Azerbaijani cheap manipulations,” Balayan said in written comments on February 26.
Lieberman already raised eyebrows in Armenia during a 2010 visit to Baku. He reportedly voiced support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and accused international mediators of pro-Armenian bias in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Lieberman’s deputy, Danny Ayalon, contradicted those claims in a 2011 phone call with his Armenian opposite number, Arman Kirakosian. Ayalon said Israel supports the peace efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group co-headed by the United States, Russia and France.
Armenian-Israeli relations have also been soured by Israel’s large-scale arms sales to Azerbaijan. In 2012, Israeli defense officials confirmed a reported deal to provide the Azerbaijani military with more unmanned aircraft as well as anti-aircraft and missile defense systems worth a combined $1.6 billion.
An Israeli-made Azerbaijani drone was apparently shot down by Armenian forces while flying a reconnaissance mission over Karabakh in 2011.
According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Nalbandian and President Rivlin stressed the need to “invigorate political dialogue” between their countries. They also agreed that the Armenian and Jewish peoples share “common responsibility to prevent crimes against humanity,” a ministry statement said.
“Few nations have as many similarities as Armenians and Jews do,” Nalbandian said in a speech that preceded the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra concert later in the day. “Having endured genocides and been scattered around the world, we are proud of restoring our statehoods in the 20th century.”
Nalbandian, who had served as Armenia’s Paris-based ambassador to Israel from 2000-2008, went on to pay tribute to prominent Israeli and Jewish-American scholars advocating international recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide.
Successive Israeli governments have declined to recognize the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide for fear of antagonizing Turkey. Rivlin, who is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, called for Israeli recognition of the genocide when he served as parliament speaker in 2012.