About 50 veterans of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh demonstrated in Yerevan on Monday to demand a rise in modest pensions that are paid to them for their past military service.
The small crowd gathered in the city’s Liberty Square and marched to the prime minister’s office to hand officials there a letter containing their demands.
The demonstration was led by Volodya Avetisian, a retired Armenian army colonel who began a daily sit-in in the square with the same demands on Saturday. The lone protest attracted the attention of other participants of the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan.
One of the protesters, Levon Karapetian, lost a leg during fierce fighting in Karabakh’s northern Martakert district in 1992. He said he is finding it increasingly hard to get by with a monthly pension of only 65,000 drams ($157). “It’s ridiculous given the existing prices,” Karapetian said as he walked with crutches towards the government building.
“People need to get from 100,000 to 200,000 drams in order to be able to get by,” Avetisian told journalists after handing in the letter signed by the protesting veterans. “Today I got a phone call from a freedom fighter from Talin who said that he cannot afford coming to Yerevan … and is ready immolate himself,” he said.
The protesters were joined outside the building by Margarit Yesayan, a parliament deputy from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). “I asked some of them to keep me posted,” she said afterwards. “I will try to be helpful.”
According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian supports the veterans’ demands, having repeatedly raised the matter with the government.
The ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that government funding for thousands of veterans will rise sharply this year. Most of that increase will be spent on housing construction, Hovannisian said. “Housing is much more important for freedom fighters,” he added.