Armenians celebrate their freedom

Serge Maranjyan, owner of Lamajoun, an Armenian bakery/cafe in Richmond which is usually busy on Victory and Peace Day. | Photo by Dan Walton

Each year on May 9, Armenians from Vancouver and around the world will be recognizing Victory and Peace Day, celebrating the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat in the Second World War.

“It’s a celebration of happiness,” says Serge Maranjyan, owner of Lamajoun, an Armenian bakery/cafe in Richmond which he runs with his family. “People are just happy on the streets, they sing, and we have performers. And the children put on a concert.”

Maranjyan, who grew up in Armenia, moved to Canada in 2002. He began sharing his favourite dishes of Eastern Europe upon launching Lamajoun in Richmond in 2011.

“I would say every day in Armenia is Victory Day. People are happy, very cheerful, nice. So, we usually see lots of smiles on the streets and hospitality. It’s more victory than anything else,” he says.

Mother Armenia

In the Armenian homeland, large crowds celebrate Victory and Peace Day at Victory Park in the capital city of Yerevan, Maranjyan’s hometown. Victory Park is home to the landmark 51-meter-tall monument known as Mother Armenia, which recognizes a proud military history of women taking up arms alongside men.

“It’s a big statue of a lady holding a big sharp sword,” says Maranjyan. “That stands for the lady who defended her land.”

The monument, which originally included a statue of Joseph Stalin, was erected to honour the Soviet leader after the USSR defeated Nazi Germany. The statue of Stalin was replaced in 1967 by one of Mother Armenia, which stands 22 metres tall. Other monuments at Victory Park include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and an eternal flame.

Armenian veggies and kebabs.| Photo by Dan Walton

“It’s a big celebration because it was also related to Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany. Armenians suffered one of the highest death tolls, per capita, among Soviet republics,” says Maranjyan.

Although the German Instrument of Surrender was signed on May 7, 1945, the USSR celebrated Victory Day on May 9, the date adopted by all republics of the former Soviet Union. The date originally commemorated the casualties of the Second World War – which killed nearly half of the 500,000 Armenians who fought on behalf of the Soviet Union – but later came to include those who fought in the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988 to 1994).

Normally on May 9 in Yerevan, Victory Park would be packed with veterans in their uniforms and civilians laying wreaths, everyone gathering around Mother Armenia to pay tribute. Similarly, on Victory and Peace Day, many local Armenians in the Lower Mainland – two Church communities in particular – order from Lamajoun to cater their parties and festivities. Delicacies include Lamajoun pizza, barbeques, lavash bread, zesty pastry treat called gata, baklava and sweet pastries like Napoleon cakes from Russia and France.

But due to social distancing measures around the world, the celebration is not expected to draw large gatherings at Victory Park in Armenia. Nor is the Richmond Lamajoun restaurant expecting the usual spike in business on that day. Although gatherings are not being planned for physical encounters, the church that Maranjyan attends will be hosting an online ceremony, which he plans on tuning into along with his family.

“Since we cannot gather together that makes it more difficult of course,” says Maranjyan.

Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

Another Armenian tradition that has been disrupted because of COVID was Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day on April 24 that commemorates the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million ethnic Armenians in Turkey during the period 1914–1923. Those recognizing the Memorial Day normally donate blood on that day, but since that is not an option this year, donations were made to local food banks instead.