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Yerevan Reluctant To Condemn Iranian Leader For Holocaust Denial

By Anna Saghabalian and Emil Danielyan

Armenia on Thursday pointedly declined to add its voice to a chorus of international condemnation of Iran’s hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his repeated denial of the Holocaust and other anti-Israeli remarks.

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said his government sees no need to react to Ahmadinejad’s statements because they are irrelevant to its close ties with Tehran.

“We have always refrained from evaluating this issue,” Oskanian said. “We view our relations with Iran only within a bilateral framework. Such issues have never been discussed in our bilateral relations.”

“We just don’t want to go beyond that framework and make comments on various statements,” he added.

Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday that the Holocaust — the systematic killing of six million Jews by the Nazis in World War Two — is a myth, reiterating comments that drew international condemnation last week. He also publicly called for the destruction of Israel last October.

The United States condemned Ahmadinejad’s latest comments as outrageous while Israel said they show Iran’s “rogue regime” is acting outside acceptable international norms. They were also denounced as unacceptable by the European Union and even Russia, one of Iran’s leading international partners.

Official Yerevan is apparently anxious not to damage its political and economic relations with the Islamic Republic. They are currently being cemented by joint multimillion-dollar energy projects implemented by the two neighboring nations. Ahmadinejad reportedly called for an intensification of the Armenian-Iranian ties “in all areas” when he received President Robert Kocharian’s chief of staff last month.

The obvious reluctance to publicly deplore a high-level denial of the Holocaust contrasts with Armenia’s regular condemnation of another neighboring state, Turkey, for its refusal to recognize the 1915-1918 massacres of Armenians as genocide. Armenian leaders have drawn parallels between the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust.

Oskanian, for example, delivered an emotional speech last January at a special session of the UN General Assembly dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the biggest death camp set up by Nazi Germany to exterminate Jews and other “inferior” peoples. “After Auschwitz one would expect that no one any longer has a right to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear,” he said. “As an Armenian, I know that a blind eye, a deaf ear and a muted tongue perpetuate the wounds.”

It is not clear if successive Israeli governments’ refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide is also a factor behind Armenia’s failure to criticize its big southern neighbor. The Israeli position is widely attributed to similarly geopolitical considerations. Namely, close relations with Turkey, which are seen as strategically important for the Jewish state.

Some of the influential Jewish lobbying groups in the United States have reportedly helped Turkey thwart congressional resolutions describing the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as a genocide. A leading Israeli daily, “Ha’aretz,” revealed in an extensive August 2004 article that they were “entwined in the pressure campaign preventing approval” of one such bill in 2003. “Turkey’s relations with the United States and Israel are too important for us to deal with this subject,” an unnamed Jewish community activist was quoted as saying.

Another activist spoke of “a sense of discomfort” felt by Jewish lobbyists when they explain their position on the Armenian genocide. “We have always had a level of uncertainty regarding the balance that should be kept between the moral factors and the strategic interests,” he told “Ha’aretz.”

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