Armenia

According to the estimates of the local Jewish community, Armenia is home to about around 500 Jews, mostly of Ashkenazi origin with some Mizrahi and Georgian Jews. An ethnically diverse country, Armenia has had a deep historical connection to Judaism. Today, the small Armenian Jewish community is able practice Judaism freely, though there have been several manifestations of anti-Semitism. The Jewish community in Armenia is represented by the Jewish Community of Armenia – the Armenian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate

The Jewish Community of Armenia

Telephone: +374 10 534 854
Fax: +374 10 534 924
E-mail: armjewish@gmail.com
Website: www.jewish.am

Chairwoman: Rimma Varzhepetyan



History

Historical records attest to a Jewish presence in Armenia dating back before the spread of Christianity in the region. Some historians claim that King Tigranes the Great brought 10,000 Jewish captives with him to the ancient Kingdom of Armenia, following a retreat from Judea due to a Roman attack on Armenia.  

A large Jewish population was settled in Armenia from the first century BCE, thus establishing a permanent Jewish community there. During this period, numerous regional powers attempted to divide and conquer the country, and as a result, the Jewish population (and the general Armenian population as well) suffered the consequences of invasions, occupations, and reconquests. By the 3rd century CE, there was a huge increase in Jewish immigration from the Hellenistic region. As a result, some Armenian towns became largely Jewish. 

The conquest of Armenia by the Sassanids under King Shapur II in the following century, saw deportations of Jews. Thousands of Jewish families were deported to areas throughout the region, including Isfahan (modern Iran), Artashat, Vaghasabat, Yervandashat, Sarehavan, Sarisat, Van, and Nakhichevan.

The return of substantial Jewish communities in Armenia coincided with the Russian annexation of eastern Armenia following the Russo-Persian War in 1828, when Russian Jews began arriving in Armenia. They established communities throughout the latter half of the 19th century.

In the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, Armenian Jewry saw its population increase. This continued throughout most of the Soviet era, with many Russian and Ukrainian Jews settling in Armenia as a result of its more accepting society (by comparison to Soviet Russia and Ukraine).

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s saw widespread violence engulf the region, and as a result, many Armenian Jews left the region. Today’s Armenian Jewish population is almost entirely comprised of Ashkenazi Jews who came to Armenia during the Soviet period. The Armenian Jewish community is able to practice their religion freely, and despite some manifestations of antisemitism, live in relative stability. Levon Aronian, the chess grandmaster, openly espouses his Jewish background and received the Order of St. Mesrop Mashtots in 2012.

The years of the Holocaust

Under Soviet rule, Armenia participated on the side of the Allies during World War II. The country was spared the devastation and destruction that wrought most of the western Soviet Union during the war, and many displaced Jews found refuge in Soviet Armenia during the Holocaust.

Demography

The Jewish Community of Armenia estimated that are roughly 500 Jews in Armenia. Nearly all Jews in Armenia live in Yerevan, the capital. There is also a small group of Armenian Jews who live in Vanadzor.

Community Life

Despite the small size of Armenian Jewry, the Armenian Jewish community remains organized and active. The Jewish Community of Armenia (JCA) acts as the main representative communal organization in the country, working to ensure that the religious needs of the community are met, and that Armenian Jewry is represented on a national and international level.

The JCA provides a myriad of services for the Jewish community in Armenia that go beyond religious needs and representational matters. It is also engaged in several charitable and cultural activities. 

In 2013, a team of Jewish Armenian athletes took part in the Maccabiah Games for the first time.

Religious and Cultural life

Jewish religious life in Armenia is almost entirely concentrated in Yerevan, where the country’s only synagogue operates. Rabbi Gersh Meir Burshtein acts as the Chief Rabbi of Armenia.

Jewish Education

Despite the small size of the Jewish community, there are opportunities for Jewish education in the Armenia. This is largely done through the auspices of the JCA, which offers a Sunday School and a children’s vocal ensemble called “Keshet.”

There is an Israeli Cultural Center. The community also has an Ulpan, which offers free Hebrew lessons for all members of the community.

Youth

There are various Armenian Jewish youth organizations conducted by the Jewish Community of Armenia. Opportunities through various agencies in Israel, including programs with the Jewish Agency for Israel or Maccabi, are also available to young Jews in Armenia.

Jewish Media

The Jewish community in Armenia has published a newspaper, “Magen David,” since 2002.

Information for visitors

Despite the small size, and historically scattered nature, of the Jewish community in Armenia, there are a number Jewish sites of interest. This includes a recently restored (with financing from the Government of the Republic of Armenia) Jewish medieval cemetery in the village of Yeghegis.  

A memorial dedicated to the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide sits in the center of Yerevan, with a ceremony held there every year to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide.

Israel

Israel and Armenia have maintained diplomatic ties since the latter’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but relations have been complicated by the Israeli government not recognizing the Armenian massacres of 1915 as genocide.

Israeli Consulate in Armenia
47 Komitas Ave. 0051
Yerevan
Armenia

Telephone: (+374 10) 249916
Email: info@israeliconsulate.am

Updated

August 2018

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