Nagorno-Karabakh - Armenian soldiers at a frontline position, October 18, 2020.

Armenian Army Day Marked With Low-Key Ceremonies

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By Astghik Bedevian

YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Citing a coronavirus outbreak within its ranks, Armenia’s political and military leadership on Friday avoided holding festive events to mark the 30th anniversary of the official creation of the national armed forces on January 28.

Senior officials instead issued written statements on the occasion and laid flowers at the Yerablur military pantheon in Yerevan where hundreds of Armenian soldiers killed during the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh were buried.

Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan, who led a government delegation visiting Yerablur, said that an official reception dedicated to the army jubilee was “postponed” due to a spate of COVID-19 infections.

The government announced on January 26 that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has tested positive for the coronavirus for the second time in 20 months and gone into self-isolation. The Armenian Defense Ministry said the following day that a group of high-ranking military officers have also been infected. It did not name them.

Pashinyan and many other officials were among several hundred guests who attended on January 22 Defense Ministry Suren Papikyan’s lavish wedding celebrated at a restaurant amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the country. Grigoryan dismissed suggestions that many of them may have caught the virus there.

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The Defense Ministry said on January 27 that Papikyan is not showing any symptoms but will take a coronavirus test. Its press office could not be reached for further comment on Friday.

Papikyan, who is a leading member of the ruling Civil Contract party, refused to answer questions from journalists when he visited Yerablur together with other senior government officials.

Only the Armenian Apostolic Church held an awards ceremony on the occasion. Its supreme head, Catholicos Garegin II, handed Orders of St. Nerses the Gracious, a major church award, to a dozen army officers.

Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan lays a wreath at the Yerablur Military Pantheon, Yerevan, January 28, 2022.

In a written statement, Pashinyan reiterated that his administration is doing its best to rebuild and reform the Armenian army after its defeat in the 2020 war.

“Improving the army’s combat readiness, weaponry and conditions of service is our priority,” he said amid continuing claims to the contrary made by his political opponents.

Former Presidents Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan, who now lead the country’s main opposition groups, also issued statements paying tribute to the military and congratulating it on the anniversary. They both used the opportunity to take a swipe at the current government.

“The army that used to be the guarantor of security in Artsakh (Karabakh) and the whole region today itself needs protection,” Kocharyan said. He expressed hope that it will “straighten its back” in the near future.

For his part, Sargsyan, who had served as defense minister for over a decade, charged that the army fought the war “under treasonous command.”

Meanwhile, several opposition lawmakers visited army posts on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan and posted on social media their photographs with soldiers serving there.

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