STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL) — President Serge Sargisian led thousands of people on Friday in a march through Stepanakert that marked the 20th anniversary of Nagorno-Karabagh’s declaration of independence from Azerbaijan.
The crowd, also comprising Catholicos Karekin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Karabagh’s entire political leadership, gathered in the main town square and marched to a monument to the victims of the 1991- 1994 war with Azerbaijan.
Sargisian and the other dignitaries laid flowers at the memorial and an adjacent cemetery where hundreds of Karabagh Armenians killed in the fighting were laid to rest. A Karabagh honor guard marched there during the ceremony in tribute to the dead.
The bitter war, which left an estimated 30,000 people dead on both sides, began three months after the legislative council of the former Nagorno-Karabagh Autonomous Oblast declared the mostly Armenian-populated territory an independent republic on September 2, 1991.
Official celebrations of the anniversary began on Thursday, with Nagorno Karabagh President Bako Sahakian handing awards to military personnel and other local residents. Sargisian attended and delivered a speech at the ceremony.
“Tomorrow is a blissful day not only for Artsakh (Karabagh) but for the entire Armenian nation,” he said. “It’s a holiday of human and national liberty; it’s a holiday of human and national dignity; it’s a holiday of restoration for once abused human rights; it’s a holiday of victory for historic justice.” “Once Artsakh was Armenian pain, today it is Armenian pride,” he added. “The Republic of Nagorno Karabagh is an established state with all essential structures.”