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Charles Aznavour’s Last Chanson Chides Israel About Cluster Bombs

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Unexploded cluster bombs during the ongoing military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, October 12, 2020.
Unexploded cluster bombs during the ongoing military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, October 12, 2020. Credit: ARIS MESSINIS /AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Did you love Charles Aznavour? Did you melt when he sang “La Bohème” or hum “Au printemps tu reviendras?” Did your heartstrings tremble when he sang “She” in his rasping voice?

You filled auditoriums when he performed in Israel in 2013, 2014 and 2017, when he was already in his 90s, the last chansonnier. You may have also bought tickets for a concert he had scheduled for June 2019, which was canceled after his death. Now listen to what one of his sons has to say to you in his name.

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Nicolas Aznavour published an open letter in Haaretz on Friday, addressed to President Reuven Rivlin. This letter should rattle all Israelis, causing them deep shame.

Nicolas accompanied his father when Charles received the Raoul Wallenberg medal from President Rivlin, as acknowledgement that Aznavour’s family had saved Jews during the Holocaust. The son of survivors of the Armenian genocide, Shahnour Aznavourian, Charles Aznavour’s birth name, accepted the medal with great emotion, with his older sister Aida beside him.

Israel was also emotional at the sight of this diminutive man and giant of a singer standing alongside the country’s president. The photo from that ceremony adorns the top of the letter written by Nicolas, who now heads the Aznavour Foundation. At the bottom of the letter are photos documenting the ignominy. These show Israeli cluster bombs and other war materiel used by Azerbaijan in its attack on Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia to the west.

One doesn’t have to pick a side in the war there and determine who  the good or bad guys are – the bad guys are the lords of war, the arms traders, the great profiteers in any bloodshed. These include the suppliers of cluster bombs, the heinous and illegal weapon supplied by – who else? – Israel.

When will there be a war somewhere around the world where Israel isn’t involved as an arms supplier, legal or otherwise, to one of the sides, or often, as in Sri Lanka, to both? When will we hear that Israel is curbing its relentless greed and not selling illegal weapons, or not selling weapons to parties that endanger world peace?

When will Israel finally adopt a policy of transparency regarding its arms trading? Israelis have a right to know with whom the country’s armaments industry is doing business in their name; what it sells and to whom.

This isn’t only a matter of security and money, it involves ethical and legal considerations, as well as international law, concepts totally foreign to Israel’s arms industry. Those who conceal the truth – Israel never admits to anything – know full well why they’re hiding the facts.

When it comes to its giant arms industry, Israel has a lot to hide. Only under cover of darkness can one carry out shady deals with even shadier clients, including cruel tyrannies. This includes corruption and bribery, inseparable parts of arms trading.

“As a descendant of my grandfather and parents I ask you, honorable president, to take a stand that will ensure the cessation of sales of this lethal weapon to Azerbaijan,” Nicolas Aznavour implores. “Israel was established by Holocaust survivors; it cannot shut its eyes to the genocide the Azerbaijanis, helped by Turkey, are planning to commit in Armenia.”

And here comes the most important and delicate point: Since its establishment, Israel has been plucking at the world’s heartstrings, guilt feelings over the Holocaust, to buy weapons on the cheap and prevent others from obtaining the same items. This rule should also apply to Armenia.

Genocide survivors everywhere should benefit from extra consideration due to their past. This principle should apply everywhere, first and foremost to Israel. Look at the pictures sent by Nicolas Aznavour, listen to reports of the devastation and ruin caused by vicious Israeli bombs that scatter in all directions, and don’t forget the Holocaust, ours and the Armenians’.

If only for the sake of remembering the Armenian genocide, Rivlin should tell Nicolas Aznavour that he will do everything, even publicly, to immediately halt the shameful supply of banned weapons to someone threatening genocide survivors with another genocide.

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