YEREVAN—On Sunday, November 11, in the afternoon, Armenia held a ceremony to mark the Armistice Day centennial. On this day 100 years ago, the Entente Powers signed the Armistice Agreement with the German Empire, formally ending the First World War. The ceremony took place at the Eternal Flame under the shadow of Yerevan’s massive Mother Armenia statue.
Organized by the British Embassy with the participation of the Armenian Ministry of Defense as well as the Apostolic Church, the memorial service gathered ambassadors, staff and military personnel from the Canadian, US, Polish, German, Greek, Russian and Bulgarian missions in Yerevan as well as citizens of Commonwealth countries. Attendees wore red poppies, the traditional symbol for remembrance, on their lapels.
The British Military Attaché began the program by reminding guests that Remembrance Day now serves to honor the memory of all those who fought and gave their lives in all wars around the world.
At 3:00 PM sharp, marking the exact moment 100 years ago when the Armistice came into effect in London time (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month), a British army bugler began playing ‘The Last Post’, signaling the start of the two-minute silence.
Once the bugler sounded the Reveille, HM Ambassador Judith Farnworth read the ‘Ode of Remembrance.’ Canadian Minister-Counsellor Annick Goulet followed with her recital of the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. The poem, which starts with the line “In Flanders fields, the poppies blow,” gave way to the tradition of wearing a red poppy flower on the left lapel from the 1st until the 11th of November as a symbol of remembrance. Proceeds from the sale of these poppies are usually used to improve the lives of veterans.
In a gesture of reconciliation, HE Matthias Kiesler, Ambassador of Germany (the primary foe in both World Wars) gave the closing speech. He spoke of the importance of peace, reconciliation and building a future based on cooperation. Once wreaths were placed at the Eternal Flame, the ceremony concluded with an Armenian Apostolic service at Saint John the Baptist church.
Although Remembrance Day is widely observed across the countries of the Commonwealth, as well as the United States as Veterans’ Day, it remains unknown in Armenia. Once a Soviet Republic, Armenia traditionally marked May the 9th, Victory in Europe Day on Moscow’s calendar, as its official day of remembrance. This significance would later be overshadowed when it coincided with the 1992 Liberation of Shushi.
Though the Armenian Genocide may dominate Armenia’s World War I memory, Armenians participated in all fronts of the war under different flags. From the Armenian Legion which fought with distinction in Palestine to the hundreds of Armenians who enlisted in the U.S. Marines, Armenians took part in military actions across the globe.
During World War II, Armenians once more answered the call of duty. Almost twenty thousand of them fought in the US military, many of whom served with distinction. Virginia-native Ernest Dervishian was awarded the Medal of Honor after single-handedly capturing German positions in Italy. Marine Harry Kizirian’s actions during the Battle of Okinawa made him the first American-Armenian to lend his name to a federal building.
Armenia also provided a disproportionate number of brilliant officers to the Russian (later Soviet) Army. Marshal Hovhannes Baghramyan became the first non-Slavic general to command a ‘front’ in the Soviet War effort. The Shushi-born pilot Nelson Stepanyan was immortalized for crashing his stricken plane into a German warship, sinking it.
As Remembrance Day commemorates the efforts of soldiers in all wars, attendees also honored Armenian servicemembers who took part in peacekeeping deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, and Lebanon.
In Paris, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan joined leaders from across the world at an official ceremony marking the Armistice centennial. He drew attention to the Armenian Genocide and called for the respect of sovereignty based on US President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Among the leaders at the commemoration and the conference were Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Donald Trump, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.