A steady stream of people, among them gray-haired veterans wearing their wartime decorations, silently filed past an eternal flame in the city’s Victory Park after an official ceremony led by parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and other senior Armenian officials.
An honor guard of Armenian and Russian soldiers stood to attention as they laid wreathes and flowers around the fire. Sarkisian and Abrahamian then shared a ceremonial meal with some of the veterans in the park.
“May God grant you many more years of life,” Sarkisian told them. “The longer you stay with us, the better we will feel,” he said, raising a toast.
At least 320,000 residents of Armenia, then a republic of approximately 1 million people, were drafted to the Soviet army during the bloodiest war in the history of humankind. The total number of its Soviet Armenian participants is estimated at more than 500,000. Only just over half of them returned home alive.
There are presently about 3,600 veterans living in Armenia. May 9 is a rare moment of nationwide attention to them and their needs.
“This is wonderful because it’s about respect for the elders in general and especially the veterans,” one veteran told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “We are grateful for that.”
But others complained about a lack of government attention and modest benefits paid to them by the state. “They say they are unable to give us more aid,” said one of them. “But that’s not true.”
“We don’t get one-third of what veterans in Moscow get,” said another veteran.