History of the Jews in Armenia

Armenian Jews
Total population
(300-500 (est.)[1])
Armenian, Hebrew
Related ethnic groups
Jews, Armenian people

The history of the Jewish community in Armenia (Armenian: Հայաստանի հրեական համայնքը, Hayastani hreakan hamaynqa) dates back more than 2,000 years.

Historical Armenia

There are historical records that attest the presence of Jews in pagan Armenia, before the spread of Christianity in the region by St. Gregory the Illuminator. Early medieval Armenian historians, such as Moses Khorenatsi, held that during the conquest of Armenian King Tigranes the Great (95–55 BCE), brought with him 10,000 Jewish captives to the ancient Kingdom of Armenia (which encompassed what is commonly known as Greater Armenia) when he retreated from Judea, because of the Roman attack on Armenia (69 B.C.E.). Tigranes II invaded Syria, and probably northern Israel as well.[2][3] A large Jewish population was settled in Armenia from the 1st century BCE. One city in particular, Vartkesavan became an important commercial center.[4] Thus, Armenia's Jewish community was established. Like the rest of Armenia's population, they suffered the consequences of regional powers trying to divide and conquer the country.[5] By 360-370 C.E., there was a massive increase in Jewish Hellenistic immigration into Armenia; many Armenian towns became predominately Jewish. During this period (4th century AD), after the conquest of Armenia by the Sassanid King Shapur II he deported thousands of Jewish families from Persian Armenia and resettled them at Isfahan (modern Iran).[3][6]

Jewish families were deported to Armenia and settled in Artashat, Vaghasabat, Yervandashat, Sarehavan, Sarisat, Van, and Nakhichevan. Tournebize holds that the Assyrians deported Jews to Armenia, and not to the Khabur Valley. Aslan mentions that the Jews of Samaria were deported to Armenia.

Jewish cemetery in Yeghegis, 13th century

In 1996, the remains of a medieval Jewish cemetery from a previously unknown medieval Jewish community were discovered in the village of Yeghegis, in the southern province of Vayotz Dzor. In 2000, a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem excavated the southern side of the Yeghegis river, opposite the village a Jewish cemetery with 40 gravestones with Hebrew inscriptions dating from 1266 and 1497. Michael Nosonovsky has stated that "The word khawajah is of Persian origin and it probably indicates that the Jews who settled in Yeghegis came from Persia and kept Persian as their spoken language. Biblical quotations and Talmudic formulas are evidence of a high learning standard in the community."[7] A group of Armenian and Israeli archaeologists and historians excavated the site in 2001 and 2002 and found 64 more tombstones. Some are decorated with motifs of the Orbelian kingdom. The archaeological team also found three mills, which the bishop says show that the community had a business because one mill could feed several families.[8] Twenty of these tombstones had inscriptions, all in Hebrew except for two, which were in Aramaic. The oldest dated stone was from 1266 and the latest date was 1336/7.[9]

Soviet and Modern times

Historical Armenian Jewish population

In 1828, the Russo-Persian War came to an end and Eastern Armenia (currently the Republic of Armenia) was annexed to the Russian Empire with the Treaty of Turkmenchai. Polish and Iranian Jews began arriving, as well as Sabbatarians (Subbotniki, Russian peasants who were banished to the outskirts of Imperial Russia during the reign of Catherine II. They were Judaizing Christians and mostly converted to mainstream Judaism or assimilated). Since 1840 they started creating Ashkenazi and Mizrahi communities respectively in Yerevan.[6] Up to 1924, the Sephardic synagogue, Shiek Mordechai, was a leading institution among the Jewish community.[3]

The Russian Jewish communities moved to Armenia in a bigger scale during the Soviet period, looking for an atmosphere of tolerance in the area that was absent in the Russian SSR or Ukrainian SSR.

Following the World War II, the Jewish population rose to approximately 5,000. In 1959, the Jewish population peaked in Soviet Armenia at approximately 10,000 people. Another wave of Jewish immigrants arrived in the country between 1965 and 1972, mainly intelligentsia, military, and engineers. These Jews arrived from Russia and Ukraine, attracted to the more liberal society.[3] However, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union many of them left due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Between 1992 and 1994, more than 6,000 Jews immigrated to Israel because of Armenia’s political isolation and economic depression.[3] Today the country's Jewish population has shrunk to around 750.[5] In 1995, the Chabad House was established in Yerevan.

Present day

There are about 300-500[1] Jews presently living in the Republic of Armenia, mainly in the capital Yerevan. They are mostly of Ashkenazi origin, while some are Mizrahi and Georgian Jews.

There is a tiny community of Subbotniks (believed to be a Judaizing community that evolved from the Molokan Spiritual Christians) whose ancestors converted to Judaism, and who are quickly dwindling.[14]

The Jewish Community in Yerevan is currently headed by Chief Rabbi Gershon Burshtein from the Chabad Lubavitch, and the sociopolitical matters are run by the Jewish Council of Armenia.

Human rights

Jewish Holocaust Memorial in Yerevan

The President of the Jewish Community in Armenia, Rimma Varzhapetyan-Feller, has stated on January 23, 2015, that "The Jewish community feels itself protected in Armenia, and the authorities respect their rights, culture, and traditions. There is no anti-Semitism in Armenia, and we enjoy good relations with the Armenians. Of course, the community has certain problems that originate from the general situation of the country."[15] As of 2010, a United Nations Human Rights Commission report on "Human Rights Practices in Armenia" has stated that there have been no reports of antisemitic violence in Armenia.[16]

Although contemporary relations between Israel and Armenia are good, the small group of individuals inside the country who have shown hints of antisemitism may have been radicalized due to several factors such as: Israel's strategic alliance and sale of weapons to Azerbaijan, the continuing refusal of Israel's leaders to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and the prior active support given by some Israel lobby groups in the U.S to Turkey's current position of denying the Armenian Genocide and to Azerbaijan's political maneuvers.

There have been two recorded incidents of vandalism by unknown individuals on the Jewish side of the Joint Tragedies Memorial in Aragast Park, Yerevan, that commemorates both the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. This monument had replaced a smaller monument that had been defaced and toppled several times. About the damage to the first, Rima Varzhapetyan-Feller stated that "there is a certain group of people that is trying to make everyone believe that there is antisemitism in Armenia. But that doesn't exist here".[17] On 23 December 2007, the new monument was vandalized. After notifying the local police, Rabbi Gershon Burshtein, a Chabad emissary who serves as Chief Rabbi of the country's Jewish community, said, "I just visited the memorial the other day and everything was fine. This is terrible, as there are excellent relations between Jews and Armenians." A senior adviser to the former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan denounced the defacement as "a provocation", and promised Rabbi Burshtein that it would be taken care of forthwith.[1] On October 19, 2010, the Jewish side of the Joint Tragedies Memorial was again vandalized. The city administration removed the signs of vandalism by the next morning, and police launched an investigation. The local Jewish community praised this immediate reaction.[18] National Assembly MP Mkrtich Minasyan, who is the leader of the National Assembly’s Armenian-Israeli delegation, also condemned the monument vandalism: “There will always be one or two hoodlums in a city of a million citizens who commit crimes like that. That is one of the characteristics of our people.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Vandals deface Holocaust memorial in Armenia. Michael Freund, The Jerusalem Post, December 23, 2007
  2. Jan Retsö, The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads, 2003. p. 347.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Jewish Virtual Library - Armenia
  4. Movses Khorenatsi II, 65
  5. 1 2 Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Eurasia: Armenia and Jews
  6. 1 2 http://www.friends-of-armenia.org/institutional/history-of-armenian-jews/44-jewish-community-of-armenia
  7. Yeghegis, International Jewish Cemetery Project - International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies
  8. http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/Jewish-Armenia
  9. Arthur Hagopian, "Armenians Renovate Unknown Jewish Cemetery," Armenian News Network, May 3, 2009.
  10. "Приложение Демоскопа Weekly". Demoscope.ru. 2013-01-15. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  11. http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/2002_13_WJP.pdf American Jewish Congress, 2002 archives
  12. "Jewish Data Bank - World Jewish Population 2010" (PDF). Docs.google.com. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  13. YIVO | Population and Migration: Population since World War I. Yivoencyclopedia.org. Retrieved on 2013-04-14.
  14. Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Eurasia: Small community in Armenia strives to preserve its heritage
  15. World Jewry Cannot Become a Tool in the Hands of Anti-Armenian Propagators. Rimma Varzhapetyan-Feller, Armenian Weekly, January 23, 2015
  16. 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Armenia, US DS Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, April 8, 2011, 2009 2011 2008
  17. Who continues to destruct the Holocaust monument in Yerevan? February 2, 2006
  18. 2010 Anti-Semitism Compendium. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Department of State 2011

External links

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