Relatives of soldiers killed during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh stand near graves at the Yerablur Military Cemetery in Yerevan, November 12, 2020

Armenia Mourns Karabakh War Dead

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia began on Saturday, December 19, an official three-day mourning period for thousands of Armenian soldiers and several dozen civilians killed during the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire.

All flags on public buildings across the country were lowered to half-mast and memorial services will be held in all Armenian churches on Sunday to pay tribute to victims of the six-week war during which the Armenian side suffered massive territorial losses in and around Karabakh.

Thousands of people led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan marched to the Yerablur military cemetery in Yerevan where many of the Armenian soldiers killed during the hostilities were buried.

In a televised address to the nation aired earlier in the day, Pashinyan urged Armenians to join the procession and demonstrate that “we are going to live on” despite the “severe consequences” of the war.

Thousands of other Armenians walked to Yerablur late on Friday. The march was organized by a coalition of opposition parties that blame Pashinyan for Azerbaijan’s victory and demand his resignation.

The precise number of Armenian and Karabakh Armenian soldiers killed in action remains unknown. The Armenian Ministry of Health confirmed earlier this month over 2,800 combat deaths.

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Hundreds of other Armenian soldiers remain unaccounted for more than one month after Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered the Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire agreement. Armenian and Karabakh rescue have been looking for them or their remains in various areas seized by the Azerbaijani army. Russian peacekeepers and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross are also involved in the effort.

A Karabakh official said on Friday that the bodies of 969 Armenians have been recovered since November 13. According to the Ministry of Health, only about 300 of them have so far been identified through DNA tests conducted in Yerevan.

In his televised remarks, Pashinyan reiterated that he accepts, in his capacity as prime minister, “full responsibility” for the Armenian side’s defeat and resulting heavy casualties. At the same time, he sought to deflect blame at Armenia’s former leaders.

“We need a more in-depth analysis of the reality because what happened could not have been the consequence of mistakes committed by one or several persons or over several years,” he said. “We need to … admit that we made mistakes for many years and our mistakes were of systemic, conceptual and substantive character.”

All three former presidents who had ruled Armenia since independence have strongly condemned Pashinyan’s handling of the war. One of them, Robert Kocharyan, has said that Pashinyan’s government made the hostilities inevitable with reckless diplomacy and miscalculations of Armenia’s military potential and needs.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian emerges from the main govenment building in Yerevan to lead a procession to the Yerablur Military Pantheon, December 19, 2020.

The Armenian opposition also blames Pashinyan for the outcome of the war. Virtually all opposition groups want him to resign and hand over power to an interim government that would hold snap parliamentary elections within a year.

The opposition demands have been backed by President Armen Sarkissian, the Armenian Apostolic Church and many prominent public figures.

The prime minister again made clear on Saturday that he has no intention to step down and will not bow to the pressure from “elite circles.”

There were chaotic scenes at Yerablur when the crowd led by Pashinyan, his close political associates and security detail reached the military pantheon in the afternoon. It was confronted by several hundred angry protesters chanting “Nikol traitor!” and trying to stop Pashinyan from laying flowers at soldiers’ graves. “Nikol prime minister!” shouted back some Pashinyan loyalists.

Riot police pushed back the protesters. They also intervened to stop scuffles that broke out between some protesters and Pashinyan backers.

Opposition leaders claimed ahead of the ceremony that the embattled premier will turn it into a pro-government rally as part of his efforts to hold on to power in the aftermath of the war. Pashinyan denied any political motives behind the “mourning march” to Yerablur.

“The entire nation has been through and is going through a nightmare,” Pashinyan said in a video message before the march. “Sometimes it seems that all of our dreams have been dashed and our optimism destroyed.”

 

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