Wars in the Past and Wars over the Past:  (De)constructing the 9 May celebrations


Wars in the Past and Wars over the Past: (De)constructing the 9 May celebrations

“Who controls the past controls the future."

- George Orwell "1984"


Celebration of 9 May is a highly symbolic contention point between Russia and former Soviet republics, involving important ramifications. Therefore, Armenia needs to create a national discourse on World War 2 memory and incorporate it into its official narrative.   

Text by: Tigran Zakaryan


On 9 May, Victory Day traditionally marked in Russia and most Post-Soviet republics, while the world continues to witness an awkward picture of a raging war between Moscow and Kyiv alongside a frenzied exchange of accusations in “Nazism”. In the  era of “post-truth”, it is more critical who accuses rather than the actual accusation. Previously,  any colonial state would consider itself as an embodiment the ultimate truth, at least for its colonies and client states. USSR, regardless of its ideological peculiarities, was no exception. With the downfall of the Soviet empire, Russia took up the baton after a brief limbo period, basing its new ideology on what some experts call a “cult of the Great Patriotic War”. Apart from asserting the USSR’s (and by extension Russia’s) exclusive role in the fight against Nazi Germany, it also vehemently rebuffs any “revisionism” of the World War 2 history and results. 

Although this claim might at first seem somewhat plausible (at least no official or major public figure in the West considers that the victory of the USSR against Nazi Germany was an unfortunate historical occurrence), it implies that Moscow’s policies throughout the war can be whitewashed. By the same token, attempts by Post-Soviet national historiographies at decolonizing their own non-distant past are stigmatized by Russia’s current elites.

Celebrations of 9 May in many Post-Soviet republics have become a ritualized event in which the Soviet past is glorified, involving far-reaching consequences. 

No wonder that in those states the 9 May celebrations are played down or adapted to their current national ideologies. In Armenia, the usual procedure has been fusing it with the narrative of Shushi’s liberation during the first Artsakh war. However, the official and mainstream discourse continued to freely to use the term “Great Patriotic War” inherited from the Soviet past. The latter claimed that the high number of Armenian casualties in the war was justified due to the eventuality of Turkey’s invasion of Soviet Armenia. Albeit this point can be valid to some degree, there are other well-argued opinions dismissing it. It is safe to say that a decent academic debate on this topic is long overdue and it is high time to stop sweeping this dispute under the rug. 

Armenia, particularly the state-funded official historiography, finally needs to look beyond Soviet memory patterns that had been among the key factors shaping modern Armenian identity. The history of and around World War 2, in which Armenia suffered well over 100 000 victims (the figure also needs a clarification) should be ultimately “de-Sovietized” and re-integrated into the national narrative.