Yerevan Remembers

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YEREVAN—A constant stream of people crossed the Hrazdan bridge and passed the Hamalir into the Genocide memorial park perched atop Armenia’s capital. As the walking paths narrow, the crowd gets thicker until they reach their destination: the Dzidzernagapert, or in English, the “Fortress of Swallows.”

This monument, designed to commemorate the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians during the Genocide of 1915, was erected in 1967, two years after spontaneous protests on the occasion of the Genocide’s 50th anniversary caught Soviet authorities by surprise. Short of official recognition—the USSR maintained good relations with neighboring Turkey throughout the Cold War—the monument would be presented to the Armenian people as a compromise.

On April 24, 2019, it was surrounded by a sea of people, who came in droves to pay their respects to fallen family members and compatriots. An estimated one third of Armenia’s population is directly descended from genocide survivors.

The twelve slabs surrounding the eternal flame, the centerpiece of the monument, represent the twelve historical Armenian provinces lost during the Genocide. Inside the circular steel structure which houses the flame, the sheer volume of the masses made it difficult to move an inch. The bed of flowers, which demonstrators brought to tribute the fallen, grew into a floral wall so high that police officers had to continually compact it for stability.

The crowd was made up of locals, Diasporan repatriates and foreign visitors. A Polish family unveiled a Polish flag, while a group of Yezidis travelling from the province of Aragatsotn waved the flag of Kurdistan. The procession, which started at eight o’clock that morning, continued without losing steam until eight o’clock in the evening, as people leaving their jobs continued to prop up the ranks of the marchers. April 24 is officially a public holiday in Armenia, but there are still those who work to keep the city, and the country running, even on holidays. They, too, took the time time to pay their respects.

President Armen Sarkissian and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, flanked by members of his cabinet, visited the memorial earlier in the morning, a year and a day after the Armenian people managed to peacefully overthrow an autocratic government in the Velvet Revolution.

On the eve of the annual commemoration, young Armenians gathered at Republic Square armed with candles, Armenian flags and torches to march up Baghramyan Street all the way to the Memorial under the pouring rain—a common weather pattern on this solemn occasion.  

Unlike the loud demonstrations held by their compatriots across from Turkish embassies abroad, the attendants to the procession maintained a sobering silence. Someone in the crowd lets out a stray comment about how civil and and organized the march was, almost uncharacteristic for a large mass of congregated Armenians. He was right. The atmosphere around the Memorial hill was somber, yet defiant. April 24 seems to be the one day of year where Armenians, notorious for their disagreements, come together behind a common cause: to mourn the losses, demand recognition and rejoice at survival. The Armenian people live. And they continue to do so.

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-born entrepreneur and occasional journalist who likes to ramble on about socioeconomic and political issues in Armenia. He lives in Yerevan with his family. He also holds a masters degree in International Relations.

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