By Anna Saghabalian
Thousands of people joined by senior government officials and foreign diplomats converged on a World War II memorial in Yerevan on Tuesday as Armenia officially marked the 61st anniversary of the Soviet-led defeat of Nazi Germany.
President Robert Kocharian and other senior Armenian officials observed a minute of silence and laid wreaths by its eternal fire symbolizing the memory of millions of Soviet soldiers who lost their lives in the world’s bloodiest and most vicious war. They then joined the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Garegin II, in making a joint prayer for the dead.
The annual ceremony also involved a small parade of Armenian and Russian troops.
In a separate written address to the nation, Kocharian praised Armenian contribution to the Allied victory in World War II which was celebrated across the former Soviet Union. “Armenian soldiers, officers and generals participated in battles waged on all fronts of the war, always keeping high Armenia’s honor,” he said.
Some 600,000 citizens of Soviet Armenia took part in the war. Nearly half of them lost their lives - a catastrophic death toll for what was then a republic of less than two million inhabitants. The total Soviet death toll in World War II is officially estimated at round 25 million -- far higher than that of any other country that played any role in the war.
As always, the celebration of what is officially called Victory and Peace Day in Armenia had a particular significance for the country’s dwindling ranks of the mostly octogenarian veterans. Hundreds of them again put on their wartime medals to visit Yerevan’s Victory Park and remember their fallen comrades.
Gurgen Martirosian was an 18-year-old Red Army conscript when Nazi Germany unleashed a massive assault on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. “We were awakened at five o’clock in the morning on that day and fought until April 28, 1945,” he recalled. “That’s when I left Berlin and returned home.”
Gurgen Manukian also reached Berlin after nearly three years of fierce fighting. “I was in trenches for one thousand days,” he said proudly.
“We hope you won’t see what he have seen,” said another gray-haired veteran. “The worst thing on earth is war.”