The ceremonies began in the morning at the Yerablur Military Pantheon in Yerevan where President Armen Sarkissian, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and other senior officials laid wreaths at a Karabakh war memorial.
Journalists were barred from not only approaching the officials but also watching the wreath-laying ceremony. Security officers deployed at Yerablur also interrupted their interviews with the parents of several fallen soldiers who wanted to prevent Pashinian from approaching their graves.
“He must not come to my boys’ home,” said one woman. “I didn’t invite him.”
Moments later the angry father of another soldier was forcibly removed from the military cemetery where hundreds of Armenian victims of the first Karabakh war of 1991-1994 were also laid to rest.
“Nikol, you will answer for ruining our independence,” shouted another man holding Pashinian responsible for Armenia’s defeat in the 2020 war that left about 3,800 Armenian soldiers dead and more than 200 others unaccounted for.
He and other protesters, most of them relatives of soldiers killed in action, argued with riot police after the prime minister left Yerablur.
More than 200 other relatives led by a well-known political activist staged a candlelight march to Yerablur from the city center in the afternoon. They not only paid their respects to their loved ones but also protested against the Independence Day concert organized by the Armenian government in the city’s central Republic Square.
Pashinian announced the concert on September 8, saying that it will be the culmination of “large-scale and colorful” celebrations of Armenia’s main public holiday. He said it will be “first and foremost dedicated to our martyrs who sacrificed their lives for Armenia’s independence.”
The announcement prompted strong condemnations from many families of war victims as well as opposition politicians and other critics of his government. They said that any festivities would be highly inappropriate in a country which is still mourning the war dead and has not yet found, identified and buried all of its fallen soldiers.
Pashinian last week apologized for using the word “colorful” but said the concert will not be an affront to the soldiers’ memory and will go ahead as planned.
The concert featured classical, folk and modern music played in front of the country’s political leadership and other dignitaries. It also attracted hundreds of ordinary people to the sprawling square guarded by an unusually large number of police officers and other security personnel.
Addressing the crowd before the live performances, Pashinian paid tribute to the fallen soldiers. He said they must be regarded as “symbols of life, not death.” He also urged Armenians to “transform our defeat into victory” and “defeat desperation, destiny and death.”
Lawmakers representing Armenia’s two main opposition alliances led by former Presidents Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian were also invited to the event broadcast live by state television. Predictably, they chose to boycott it.
Also invited was Levon Ter-Petrosian, another former president who led Armenia to independence in the final months of Soviet rule. Ter-Petrosian, whose spokesman branded Pashinian a “nation-destroying scourge” right after last year’s war, shunned the event too.
The government’s press office declined to clarify whether personal invitations were also sent to Kocharian and Sarkisian, who are even more critical of the current Armenian authorities.
Both ex-presidents again blamed Pashinian for the outcome of the six-week war stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire last November in separate statements issued earlier on Tuesday on the occasion of the independence jubilee.
“As recently as one year ago, we were proud of our Armed Forces and were an essential factor in the geopolitical configuration of the South Caucasus,” read Kocharian’s statement. “But now we have not only ceased to be the security guarantor of Artsakh (Karabakh) but are also unable to protect our own sovereignty and citizens.”