Armenia’s Independence Day


For many countries, independence day is a routine date in the calendar, when the anniversary is remembered while many of the liberties and opportunities created by that independence are taken for granted.

For Armenians, independence has a very special meaning, because we have lost it so many times and rediscovered it through the upheavals of history. It is much more precious, and we have to count our blessings every year that we celebrate independence, because the first independence in the modern era, in the early 20th century, lasted less than three years. When Armenia turned independent again in 1991, the first two and half years presented a threshold, a psychological barrier, which we crossed with the fear of losing independence in our hearts.

The two independence opportunities that were offered to Armenia came to being through international developments; in 1918, independent Armenia rose over the ruins of the collapsed Russian Empire and the second, in 1991, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Following World War I, a political vacuum was created in the Caucasus, one which the emerging Kemalist movement in Turkey and Lenin’s Bolshevik revolution in Russia were racing to fill. Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan formed a confederation called the Seym, which was meant to hold those three embattled nations together. But the constituent nations had so many historical, territorial contradictions and adversities that the union did not last long and was dissolved as each nation declared independence.

Armenia was the last one to declare almost by default, as Prime Minister Simon Vratzian lamented in his book, that “people were crying like a mother who had given birth to a defective child.”

But even that beleaguered republic emerged to become a country, paying a very steep price as a nation, recently risen from the ashes of the Genocide, had to stand up to the invading forces of Karabekir to create a new Armenia. Were it not for the victory at Sardarabad, Armenia’s current territory would end up as part of the Republic of Turkey.

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On September 21, 1991, the people of Armenia voted in a referendum to proclaim their independence from the Soviet Union. Although independence came as a direct result of the dissolution of the Soviet empire, once again that salutary occasion rose out of the ruins of a devastating earthquake, a war with Azerbaijan and the confusion that the demise of the empire brought.

It was ironic that in the first four years of independence, people were deprived of basic necessities, survived in freezing temperatures and fought and won the Karabakh war, but as the conditions improved, the rate of emigration accelerated.

Armenia has become a bustling country, attractive to tourists from around the world, yet its citizens do not feel comfortable because the shadow of war continues to loom.

With all the trappings of independence, Armenia has yet to have a peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another.

Only Levon Ter-Petrosian’s election as the first president of the republic can be legitimately claimed as free and legal. The succeeding elections of Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan were marked by fraud and irregularities. And Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s administration skipped the ballot box and came to power through a popular revolution, albeit a “velvet” one.

Today, politicians and news outlets have been struggling to preserve Armenia’s sovereignty, although it seems that the latter term is becoming a euphemism or a code word for anti-Russian policies.

The definition of sovereignty in the dictionary is very clear: “Sovereignty is the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies. In political theory, sovereignty is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity.”

In real life, how many countries can claim complete sovereignty as any super power may bring “regime change” in most of the countries over the globe. Therefore, sovereignty is relative and commensurate with the power of a given country.

Recently, Pashinyan, while attending a meeting with civil society representatives, made a statement on the state of democracy in Armenia, saying: “This is perhaps the most important dilemma that exists in democratic countries or at least in such democratic countries as Armenia, which still needs to finalize and clarify the basic concepts. … This means that democracy, in particular in the Republic of Armenia, still has a long way to go and may be even not so long.”

If Armenia is striving to emulate the Western democracies of Europe, it has to develop similar or the same political culture. Western democracies are built around a political structure upheld by political parties, each advocating and adhering to a political and economic policy. During the last decades of independence, political parties have emerged and disintegrated because they were centered on a strong man or his pocketbook. Many have collapsed and are now trying to reconfigure, hopefully around ideas rather than individuals.

By the same token, the political system in Armenia has not been able to absorb and integrate the political parties of the diaspora. And if those parties were deemed imperfect, organic indigenous ones did not emerge, either.

After celebrating Armenia’s independence at home, Prime Minister Pashinyan will fly to Los Angeles to address enthusiastic crowds, which will remain as crowds devoid of any political clout, because there is a long way for that crowd to consolidate around political ideologies and structures to be counted on a political force.

Pashinyan’s government has made a wise decision to switch the focus to other cities. Yerevan has become a European city, attractive to world Armenians and foreigners alike, and yet in contrast with the more rural character of the rest of the country.

“On September 21, the main independence day celebrations will take place in Gyumri and thus we are putting a start to a new tradition. So, every year, we are going to move the celebration of September 21 from one province to another,” said Pashinyan, who concluded his remarks with these telling words: “Going through defeats, we [Armenians] have been able to give new strength to our will to victory.”

Independence Day is an occasion of celebration. Let us hope that Armenia and Armenians can celebrate it without apprehension and free from dangers of war and destruction.

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