By Anush Dashtents
Armenia marked on Tuesday the 11th anniversary of the creation of its armed forces with low-key official ceremonies led by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
Sarkisian and the Armenian military’s top brass laid wreaths at a war memorial in Yerevan’s Yerablur military cemetery. Hundreds of Armenian fighters who died in the Nagorno-Karabakh war are buried there.
President Robert Kocharian and other top officials said the successful war with Azerbaijan laid the foundations of the existing Armenian army and should be remembered by younger generations. “Today Armenia’s Armed Forces are diligently fulfilling their mission to secure the Homeland’s borders and peace,” Kocharian said in a written address to the nation.
“Today our army is combat-ready and able to defend our sovereignty and independence,” Sarkisian said for his part.
Kocharian visited two military bases during a campaign trip to the Armavir province on Tuesday. Officials accompanying him said his meetings with local servicemen were part of the celebrations, not the election campaign.
Speaking to reporters at Yerablur, Sarkisian said the ceremonies would have been “more solemn” if the holiday, officially known as “The Army’s Day,” had not coincided with the intensifying election campaign. He said he asked Kocharian not to give traditional awards to army officers on the occasion because that could been seen as pre-election pressure on the military.
Sarkisian, who runs Kocharian’s reelection campaign, announced in November that he is taking a three-month leave of absence in a bid to avoid similar allegations. However, he did accompany the president during a recent official visit to Russia in his capacity as defense minister.
The holiday, which is a non-working day for the first time, is devoted the January 28, 1992 decree by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian establishing the Armenian Defense Ministry.