A militant Armenian group that was armed and trained by the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) during the 1980s has allegedly claimed responsibility for an arson attack on the sole synagogue in the country’s capital, Yerevan, according to Azeri media reports.
Unidentified vandals splashed red paint and threw a Molotov cocktail at the Mordechay Navi Jewish Religious Center in Yerevan, Armenia on Tuesday.
Shortly after the attack, a virulently antisemitic statement justifying it was widely circulated on Armenian social media. The statement slammed Israel and the world Jewish community for allegedly supporting Turkey, responsible for the slaughter of up to 1.5 million Armenian during the genocide of 1915-16, and Azerbaijan, which has fought a bitter struggle with its neighbor over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan seized complete control of the territory last month, causing more than 120,000 Armenians to flee their homes. In the interim, there has been growing disquiet among Armenians over Azerbaijan’s military relations with the State of Israel, with several articles in the local media highlighting Israel’s supply of drones used in the Azeri military offensives of 2020 and this year.
Several media outlets in Azerbaijan claimed that the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) — a Marxist-Leninist group designated as a terrorist organization by the US State Department in 1989 — had carried out the arson and was responsible for the statement.
“Jews are sworn enemies of Armenia and its people,” the alleged statement from ASALA read. “This is a warning: our successful operation on October 3 in Yerevan is only the beginning. Every rabbi will be on our radar,” it declared.
The text also carried the threat of “a war against Israeli Jews in Europe, America, Canada, Georgia. No Israeli Jew will feel safe coming to these countries.”
ASALA is arguably the best known of the Armenian armed groups formed during the last century. Founded in the 1970s by an Iraqi-born Armenian, Hagop Hagopian — whose real name was Harutiun Takoshian — the group was responsible for a number of terrorist outrages, including a 1983 attack on the Turkish Airlines counter at Orly Airport near Paris. The group was active until the 1990s but has been less visible since.
During the 1980s, ASALA terrorists trained with Palestinian factions in Lebanon, developing ties with the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group within the PLO. A RAND Corporation analysis published in 1984 observed that “ASALA has long enjoyed a close working relationship with the PLO,” adding that “over time, ASALA drifted away from the comparatively moderate Fatah to more radical groups like the PFLP.”
Hagopian himself fled Lebanon in the wake of the Israeli invasion of 1982, setting up bases in the Syrian capital, Damascus, as well Athens in Greece. In 1988, Hagopian was assassinated outside his home in Athens as he waited for a taxi to take him to the airport for a flight to Belgrade.
However, Israeli media outlets identified a different group — Young Fighters for the Freedom of Armenia (YFFA) — as responsible for the synagogue arson. The Israeli broadcaster Kan quoted from a statement allegedly released by the YFFA which took responsibility for the attack and asserted that it was in “retaliation for Israel and world Jewry’s support of Azerbaijan.”
“Jews are the enemies of the Armenian people and the Jewish state sells weapons to the Aliyev regime,” the YFFA statement continued, referring to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev.