European rabbis face criticism over statement seeking to downplay the ongoing crisis in Nagorno Karabakh

European rabbis have faced strong criticism over their latest statement seeking to downplay the scale of the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Nagorno Karabakh.

A group of 50 senior leading European Rabbis have expressed their concerns regarding the usage of terms such as “genocide” in reference to the situation the native Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh is facing.

“Expressions such as ‘ghetto’, ‘genocide’, ‘holocaust’ and others are inappropriate to be part of the jargon used in any kind of political disagreement. Usage of these terms belittles the terrible suffering experienced by the victims of the horrific holocaust and the Jewish people at large, which still bears the indescribable pain of the largest tragedy ever experienced by a single group,” say the rabbis in the letter addressed to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President Vahagn Khachaturyan. The Rabbis are also expressing their concern over Armenia’s close ties with Iran, a country, they say, “incessantly openly and publicly calls for its destruction of the only Jewish country in the world.”

In their letter, the rabbis call upon the Armenian leadership to “explicitly and unequivocally clarify that the Armenian people recognizes and honors the terrible human suffering undergone by the Jewish people” and to stop “belittling the extent of the Jewish people’s suffering to further any political interest through incessantly using phrases associated with the Holocaust suffered by the Jewish people.”

Not only the Armenian authorities, but also representatives of the international community, several reports and statements from independent international organizations and human rights groups have been alerting about Azerbaijan’s ongoing policy in Nagorno Karabakh, which is genocidal in its essence. In a recent report the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno Ocampo argued that there is “a reasonable basis to believe Azerbaijan is currently committing a genocide against the indigenous Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh.

Mr. Ocampo reiterated this during emergency congressional hearings on September 6. He warned that the United States is at risk of becoming complicit in an ongoing genocide in Nagorno-Karabakh, where 120,000 ethnic Armenians have been sealed off from food and medicine and are being starved to death by the government of Azerbaijan.

Genocide Watch has also issued numerous alerts in this regard. The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has published a new report on the risk of genocide in Nagorno Karabakh.

“As a grandson of Holocaust survivors, a remnant of a family that was almost completely exterminated, I condemn the cynical self-appropriation of the memory of the Holocaust victims by that group of rabbis. The tragedy of our people should have been instructing this group of rabbis about the duty of supporting other nations who are in danger. The government of Azerbaijan violates the agreements it signed and decrees starvation on a population of 120,000 Armenians (Including 30000 children), with the intention of wipe out the Armenian population of Artsakh,” Israeli activist and analyst on South Caucasus affairs Yaron Weiss said in response to the statement.

“It is no less unfortunate that a group of rabbis chose to hold a conference next November in Azerbaijan, a country that is known to be a serial human rights violator, ranks 168 out of 180 on the press freedom index, persecutes LGBT, harms freedom of worship, is involved in war crimes and is now carrying out a policy of closure and starvation against the Armenian population of Artsakh,” Weiss told Public Radio of Armenia.

He mentioned that the conference of rabbis is taking place as long as the government of Azerbaijan refuses to condemn and apologize for the acts of mass murder committed during the Holocaust by the soldiers of the Azeri Legion.

“It is distressing that the same group of rabbis chose not to condemn the crimes of the Azeri Legion during the darkest period in history. As well as their avoidance of condemning the ongoing discriminatory attitude of the Azeri authorities against ethnic minorities and members of other religions,” the analyst said.

The European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (EAFJD) has also expresses its profound regret and strong condemnation of the statement.

“As a European-Armenian organization the EAFJD acknowledges the sensitivity of the term, particularly in light of the immense suffering endured by the Jewish people during the Holocaust, and fully supports the importance of paying homage as well as preserving the memory of those tragic events. The term is not used as a historical comparison; rather, it is being utilized in accordance with the definition outlined in the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” EAFJD said in a statement.

For nine months now Azerbaijan has been keeping the 120.000 native Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh/Artsakh, including 30.000 children in a blockade, in blatant violation of 9 November 2020 trilateral ceasefire statement that it signed. Since 15 June 2023, the Azerbaijani authorities have imposed a total siege by blocking access to food and other essential goods. This has been happening, despite the fact that the United States, the European Union, International Court of Justice, the European Court of Justice have all been calling on Azerbaijani to immediately lift the blockade. Azerbaijan has been using starvation and deprivation of access to basic necessities with the aim of forcing the Armenians out of their own homeland.

The EAFJD calls on the rabbis of the RCE to recognize the severity of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and stay true to the principles of justice and human rights as representatives of a nation that once urgently needed the support and empathy of the international community in its quest for justice.

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