Senior officials in Armenia have been forced to apologise after a photo showing the remains of fallen soldiers stacked haphazardly in bags in a dirty room sparked outrage.
‘I would like to apologise to all the relatives for the improper maintenance of the bodies and remains’, Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan wrote on Facebook on Monday.
‘It was my omission that after some relocations I did not personally visit again to make sure about the details of the maintenance of the remains’.
The ministry confirmed that the photo (WARNING: graphic content) showed the remains of Armenian soldiers killed in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. They said it was taken in a morgue in the town of Abovyan, on the outskirts of Yerevan.
The ministry denied rumours that the remains were being concealed in order to hide the number of soldiers who died in the war.
The ministry said that the remains in question were of soldiers who had been identified but not yet collected by their families.
‘After seeing this scene, who would want to sacrifice their lives for the homeland?’, Mikayel Minasyan, the son-in-law of former president Serzh Sargsyan wrote on Facebook.
In an apparent effort at damage control, Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan responded to critics telling reporters that ‘the situation [in the photo] does not represent the state’s attitude’. He added that what was seen was not appropriate, ‘there are no words’, he said.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s spokesperson, Mane Gevorgyan, said that the PM had ordered an internal investigation to find out ‘whether such a problem was caused by the careless actions of the responsible official’.
‘Yesterday’s case is impermissible in any case’, Gevorgyan added.
Efforts to find and identify all of those killed during the war are continuing. According to the Health Ministry, it has not been possible to obtain DNA samples from the remains of 50 people. The authorities have also said they have retrieved DNA samples from another 150 but these had not matched with those of any of the parents in their database.
Officials say that around 4,000 Armenian servicepeople died in the war. The exact number is still not known as search and rescue operations continue, and the number of prisoners being held in Azerbaijan also remains unclear.