By Anna Saghabalian
Armenia’s leaders joined on Tuesday ordinary citizens in offering their sympathy and support for Russia as it mourned hundreds of people killed in last week’s shock terrorist attack on a school in the Russian republic of North Ossetia.
President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and other senior officials visited the Russian embassy in Yerevan to pay their respects to the victims of the world’s bloodiest hostage crisis. They left written notes in a special ledger strongly condemning the massacre and offered their condolences to the families of the dead.
At least 335 people, most of them children, have been officially confirmed dead since Russian special forces stormed a secondary school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan seized by Islamist militants fighting for neighboring Chechnya’s secession from Russia. Unofficial reports from the region, put the death toll at between 500 and 700.
Press reports cited Armenia’s general consul in southern Russia as saying that at least nine of the hostages killed by the terrorists were ethnic Armenians. It is not clear how many of them were Armenian citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians live in North Ossetia and other parts of the Russian North Caucasus.
Kocharian, who avoided any contact with journalists after the visit to the Russian mission, had already expressed shock and anger at the attack in two separate messages to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
His words of condemnation were echoed by Markarian who said Armenia, Russia and other ex-Soviet republics should more closely cooperate in the “fight against terrorism.” “First of all, the people must have some security guarantees. That is the main task of any state,” he said.
Markarian also said that Armenia has already sent medical supplies to Beslan and is ready to receive local children that survived the three-day ordeal and are now in need of physical and mental rehabilitation.
“I want to express gratitude to all Armenian people who are the Russian people today,” Moscow’s ambassador in Yerevan, Anatoly Dryukov, told journalists.
In his address to the nation, Putin urged Russians to close ranks in the face of what he described as “intervention” by global terror networks. He warned that failure to deal with the threat in a tough manner could spark “an endless spate of bloody conflicts” that had broken out in Nagorno-Karabakh and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.
Some Armenian politicians and newspapers were quick to take issue with Putin’s reference to Karabakh in such a context. “Unfortunately, the Karabakh conflict has indeed been bloody,” said Tigran Torosian, a leading member of Markarian’s Republican Party. “But I’m sure everyone remembers -- if some people don’t, they must recall -- that we Armenians never took any bloody steps to spark that conflict. The beginning was peaceful and democratic. The blood was introduced into the Karabakh problem by Azerbaijan.”
Meanwhile, scores of ordinary Armenians placed flowers, toys and even bottles of water outside the Russian embassy in solidarity with an estimated 1,200 hostages taken on September 1, the first day of a new academic year in both countries. The captors did not allow them to receive any food or water.
Many of those expressing their grief were themselves school students. “I want to express my condolences to the students of the school in Russia attacked by evil people,” said one girl.