YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Tens of thousands of people walked to a World War Two memorial in Yerevan on Sunday as Armenia marked the 65th anniversary of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany which had taken a heavy toll on its population.
More than a hundred Armenian soldiers, meanwhile, marched through Moscow’s Red Square with troops from Russia, other ex-Soviet republics and key NATO states, in a massive military parade watched by two dozen world leaders, including President Serzh Sarkisian.
In a written address to the nation issued on the occasion, Sarkisian spoke of his “pride” for hundreds of thousands of Armenians, among them over 30 generals, who fought in the Red Army in 1941-1945.
“Our people saved nothing for that victory,” he said. “We suffered numerous casualties, whose memory will be kept alive by our children as well. We had heroes and military leaders, whose exploits will inspire the current and future generations as examples of patriotism and the art of warfare.”
At least 320,000 residents of Armenia, then a republic of less than 1 million people, were drafted to the Soviet army during the bloodiest war in the history of humankind. The total number of its Soviet Armenian participants is estimated at more than 500,000. Only just over half of them returned home alive.
The overall number of Soviet citizens killed in the war totaled a staggering 26 million. More than 8.5 million of them were soldiers. The number of surviving war veterans has shrunk rapidly in the past few decades.
Only about 3,700 veterans remain alive in Armenia at the moment. Hundreds of them were at the center of rare public attention on Sunday in Yerevan’s Victory Park, the main venue of V-Day celebrations in the country. With wartime medals decorating their chests, the silently filed past the eternal fire of the war memorial to pay their respects to their fallen comrades.
Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and other top Armenian officials as well as representatives of foreign diplomatic missions in Yerevan laid flowers by the fire in the morning. Scores of ordinary Armenians did so throughout the day.
President Sarkisian, meanwhile, was in Moscow, attending official ceremonies there marking the victory anniversary together with fellow heads of state from almost all ex-Soviet republics, several European countries and China. The culmination of the celebrations was Russia’s biggest military parade since the break-up of the Soviet Union staged on Red Square.
“Sixty-five years ago, Nazism was defeated and a machine that was exterminating whole peoples was halted,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in a speech preceding the impressive display of his country’s military might. “There was one choice — either victory or to become slaves.”
The parade also featured troops from several other ex-Soviet nations, including Armenia, as well as the United States, Britain and France, Moscow’s WWII allies. In a moment of great symbolism, an Armenian army company that goose-stepped in the vast square was led by a grandson of Sergei Khudyakov (born Armenak Khanferiants), a Soviet Air Force marshal who played a prominent role in the war.
Sarkisian sent wreathes to the Moscow graves of Khudyakov, Marshal Hamazasp Babajanian and Admiral Ivan Isakov (born Hovannes Ter-Isahakian) on Saturday. He also made a point of visiting the tomb of the Red Army’s most famous ethnic Armenian commander, Marshal Ivan Baghramian. The latter was buried under the Kremlin wall facing Red Square.