What Armenia should learn from Israel
A people that has existed for thousands of years, a genocide, a large diaspora, a small state surrounded by hostile states. This description fits far too well two very similar societies that have developed very differently: Armenia and Israel. While after the Armenian defeat over Nagorno-Karabakh, accusations of one another and pseudo-patriotic appeals are on the agenda in the country, what is really needed is a future plan and a rational analysis. In my view, an important question is what Armenia can learn from Israel. For today Armenia is standing more or less where Israel stood in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 – namely before an existential crisis, before military superiority.
Both countries share the almost identical history of ancient peoples who had to live through genocide, are spread all over the world and now have to survive in their unfriendly neighbourhood. Unlike Israel, however, Armenia has not managed to learn important lessons from history in thirty years. The reasons for this are complex and concern on the one hand the political culture, but above all the mentality of society.
The ability to defend: the foundation of the state
In 1948, Israel, with a population of around 400,000, faced the founding of Israel and a neighbourhood that denied any right to exist for the Jewish state. Nonetheless, the young, unproven state managed to do what many thought impossible. Immediately after Israel’s declaration of independence, the country was attacked by Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The result of the war? The Arab states, far superior in numbers, area and finances, attacked Israel from all sides and suffered a humiliating defeat
By the way, the success of the War of Independence was repeated in 1956 and reached its peak in 1967 in the so-called Six-Day War. Only within six days, Israel put most of the air forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria out of action in a pre-emptive war. With an area and population smaller than Armenia, Israel managed to defend itself against five states on all fronts and emerged as an unbeatable hegemon in the region. A hegemon that expanded its security belt after every war. A country that forced states like Egypt and Jordan to take the diplomatic route. And even today there is no military power in the region that could withstand a serious war against Israel.
Efficient, modern structures, a high degree of organisation are essential cornerstones of the Israeli success story. This is because Israel is in a state of perpetual struggle for existence and a readiness for war. All defence-related rules apply to all segments of the population and are followed consequently. And above all: the leadership of the Israeli army, compared to other armies, consists of experienced and not too old officers, while Armenia wants to win a 21st century war with officers from the 20th century. The highest task of the Israeli state is reflected in the military doctrine from 1948: the realisation of the fact that the country will always face an existential threat from a superior power and will always find itself in a disadvantaged position militarily, financially and demographically.
Israel was able to develop to where it is today not despite but because of the hopelessness.
Heads of state such as David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir laid the foundation for Israel’s success story: namely, an army capable of fighting, a strong military industry the eradication of corruption, the return of Jews to Israel and a growing economy. Israel was able to develop to where it is today not despite but because of the hopelessness. Israeli medicine, notorious worldwide, agriculture in the middle of a desert are phenomena that have developed out of the idea of necessity. Armenia, meanwhile, has been bathing in its own 1994 victory for a good 30 years, abandoning the reality in the locker room and giving itself over to pseudo-patriotic dreams. What has been the result of this? At least twenty years without modernising the military and over twenty years without proper diplomacy. Many years of no effective measures to fight corruption in the army and old officer cadres preparing for modern war with 20th century resources. And above all, a military doctrine that does not want to recognise the realities of its own weakness and the strength of the military counterpart – whether intentionally or not.
Diaspora as a network of know-how
What fundamentally connects the two countries are the large diasporas – many Armenians and Jews live dispersed around the world and in many cases are well integrated in their countries of choice. However, while Israel derives maximum benefit from this large lobby network, there is much potential for the Armenian diaspora.
The Diaspora is not only a good financial source, but also serves to gain know-how from the respective countries and to use the political network. While it is often unthinkable for many diaspora Armenians to start a life in Armenia, Israel has been motivating the Jewish diaspora to emigrate back to their homeland for over 70 years. And with great success. Whereas the population was 400,000 in 1948, today it is about nine million. The rapid increase in population, the re-emigration led not least to a strong economic increase and to the population’s ability to resist. Return programmes tailored to the individual, integration of Jews from all over the world and perspectives are an important aspect of the recipe for success.
This is because the ultra-conservatives in the country want to preserve the very factors that have led to the situation we find ourselves today.
Unlike the Israeli example, the Armenian diaspora is considered a financial pillar for Armenia – after all, about 15% of the state’s finances flow into the country from the diaspora. Armenian society has never been able to use the actual potential of the Armenian diaspora – for example, know-how, contacts or re-emigration. Only in recent years there has been a slow effort to involve people from the diaspora in the Armenian government. This is because the ultra-conservatives in the country want to preserve the very factors that have led to the situation we find ourselves today. They do not want any social change; for them, Europeanisation is the equivalent of the decline of values. The disastrous education system, the mentality in the business culture are two partial aspects that ultra-conservatives hold on to and do not realise that those factors are the root of many problems in Armenia.
Realpolitik instead of pseudo-patriotic illusions
States like Israel or Armenia undoubtedly need a healthy dose of patriotism, but above all a realistic patriotism that moves the country forward. Despite their troubled history, Israelis embraced one quality: Not to roll around in the past in a reactionary manner, but to proactively shape the present and the future. The past cannot be changed, but the future can be lost. While the Israeli state, with all its nationalisms, carried out a rational realpolitik aimed at the struggle for existence, Armenia lapsed into an unfounded pseudo-patriotic revisionism guided by emotions. While in Israel the priority is to guarantee the security of the state by military and diplomatic means, in Armenia the political forces have been beating each other in patriotic fantasies for 100 years. The success of Armenian politicians is measured by their fantasies. The more unrealistic, reactionary the perspective, the more patriotic the politician. Armenians are guided far too much by emotions and false prophets who have been giving people false hopes for over thirty years. For every Armenian politician who ever drew attention to the fact that compromises, including territorial returns, had to be agreed with Azerbaijan, was chased away by the majority population.
Instead, for thirty years, the completely absurd idea gained acceptance in society that one was undefeatable and that one would prosper despite a blockade on the part of Azerbaijan and Turkey. The result of this policy lies in the hands of all politicians since 1998. A country that believes it can resist 90 million people without losing territory, without diplomatic relations with a population of 3 million, has left the path of reality. Even Israel, a de facto hegemon of the region, despite its military superiority, has realised that it is important to establish diplomatic relations with the Arab states. Indeed, Israel has been very successful in doing so. States with which the country was once at war have more or less stable relations with Israel. A realistic assessment of its own strengths, the right setting of priorities and realpolitik have made Israel a safer place than it was in 1948.
In the end, despite different political positions, Israel managed to build a national vision. To build a country where teachers, officers and doctors are among the best in the world. A country in which each individual knows his or her own role and a country that created one of the most efficient and secure states out of necessity. What is needed in Armenia? Reality-based diplomacy, increased exchange between Armenia and the diaspora, the eradication of corruption and a capable 21st century army. What it needs above all, however, is the elimination of pseudo-patriotic tendencies of arch-conservatives who compete with each other in their revisionism. Those who are the co-reasons for political rigidity.