One year after the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia haunted by the memory of its dead and wounded

Night fell when the procession arrived at the Erablur military cemetery, on the heights of Yerevan. After an hour and a half of torchlight march through the streets of the Armenian capital, hundreds of people silently meditate on the graves, lit by candle light and the full moon. In the aisles, red-eyed families hug the portraits of young men in fatigues. These soldiers are among some 4,000 Armenians who died during the war against Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh in the fall of 2020.

This march, it is the families of the deceased who wanted it. For them, it was out of the question to mingle with the official festivities that were taking place at the same time in the center of Yerevan, Tuesday, September 21, to commemorate the 30e anniversary of the independence of Armenia. Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian had promised a “Large-scale colorful celebration”. The formulation shocked, so much, a year after the war that began on September 27, 2020, Armenia remains haunted by the memory of the soldiers who died at the front lines, the hundreds of missing, the thousands of wounded, and the dozens of others. still in prison in Azerbaijan.

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Apologies from the Prime Minister

The head of government then apologized. On the day of the celebrations – a sober concert of classical music, without a military parade – he too went to the Erablur cemetery in the morning to pay homage to the soldiers. Upon learning of this, the families of the victims tried to block his path. Gayané Shelelenkyan, 55, whose nephew died in action, also came running. “He does not have the right to approach the graves of our sons”, she is indignant, convinced that “It is he who led the country to disaster”. Behind her, Hovannès Ghazaryan, 40, nods. “I never imagined that we could celebrate the 30e anniversary of independence in such a sad way ”, confides this former supporter of Mr. Pachinian.

For some time, in Yerevan, new figures appear in cafes. Young people who are missing a foot, an arm or a leg. The sacrifice carried by a whole generation of Armenians to defend what they consider to be their “Homeland” can also be seen in the public space with the return of these wounded, released from hospitals after a long convalescence.

Celebration of the 2020 war dead at the Yerablur Military Memorial, Eravan, Armenia on September 21, 2021.

Hundreds of them meet regularly at the rehabilitation center for defenders of the fatherland, installed in the compound of the hospital in Yerevan. Nicknamed the Soldier’s House, this unique place in Armenia, well known to the military, opened its doors in January 2018, two years after the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, to take care of the wounded, treat them, offer them a space friendly and allow them to reintegrate into society. Everything was financed by private donations. “Until recently, the state never took an interest in these people”, explains Saten Mikayelyan, spokesperson for the center.

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