Dr. Arshavir Gundjian

Sobering Reflections upon the 30th Anniversary of Independence of the Republic of Armenia

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By Dr. Arshavir Gundjian C.M.

On September 21, Armenia and all Armenians mark the historic cornerstone of the 30th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Armenia, which was declared in 1991, after a historic referendum and a resolution passed at the Supreme Council (National Assembly). Levon Der Bedrossian [Ter Petrosyan] was then elected the first president of the newly independent Armenian republic.

Since then, September 21 has become a landmark date for the Armenian people across the world, with independence anniversary celebrations organized, small or large, with legitimate pride and joy. Indeed, after several centuries of a most difficult history, at the tail of which Armenians had also become the victims of the devastating first largescale genocide of modern history in 1915, and after a last stretch including a brief first republic followed by some seven decades as part of the Soviet Union, Armenia in 1991 appeared to be finally entering a promising period of true independence.

History and Hopes

On that date Armenia was still facing enormous humanitarian and political challenges. It had just survived a devastating earthquake in 1988. The collapse of the Soviet Union had immediately created an intense adversarial relationship with neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey due to the historic decision of the Armenians of Artsakh, who had also declared their legitimate right for independence, leading to a war of liberation.

Despite such trying concerns, in 1991 the Armenian world was upbeat. The Republic of Armenia, as the continuation of the Soviet Republic of Armenia, had inherited quite a strong infrastructure. Indeed, in spite of the repressive communist regime, during the preceding seventy years, Armenia had become a truly all-inclusive state, respectable in all its aspects, and to be reckoned with. Armenia had an impressive industry. In the world of science and research it had developed and acquired an impressive and respectable position at the highest international levels. As one of the most productive military development regions of the defunct USSR, it had acquired top-level military knowledge, experience, and abilities. As for the Armenian diaspora, some hundred years after the genocide, it too had become a vast mass of multimillions with impressive human and financial resources, which stood both overwhelmed and excited by the sudden independence of their homeland. It was ready, willing, and eager to help its motherland in any way possible.

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Now, as we fast-forward to the forthcoming 30th independence day of Armenia, we can scan rapidly through the years where Armenia, as a totally independent country, had full control of its own destiny and had no one but itself to take credit for its achievements and also equally to be blamed for its mistakes and shortcomings.

To the average Armenian, up until the devastating second Artsakh war which started in September 2020, Armenia seemed to be working hard and appeared to be reasonably successful in developing itself as an emerging young country. It certainly went through some tumultuous political upheavals and government changes. Levon Der Bedrossian was replaced by Robert Kocharyan who in turn was succeeded by the invincible looking Serzh Sargsyan, and the latter gave in with surprising swiftness to the “All liberating Velvet Revolution” of Nikol Pashinyan, which inspired initially exhilarating hopes.

By getting rid of rampant corruption, as in other former Soviet republics, Armenia was finally on its way to become a true modern nation that would make any Armenian proud and comfortable in which to invest and even live. Indeed, due to the prevailing notorious corruption, the country had unfortunately already been depleted of a sizable portion of its talented population.

Artsakh and Security

During the more or less normally expected course of life adopted by Armenia, the Artsakh issue stood as the permanent elephant in the room. Subconsciously, Artsakh was pictured in the minds of Armenians as an unquestionably Armenian land where Armenians developed successful businesses and lived in paradisiac natural settings. The permanent conflict and skirmishes with Azerbaijan on the borders had become a nuisance which had simply to be lived with.

There was not even an inkling of concern about Armenia’s security which almost certainly also implied the security of Artsakh, the inseparable part of the New Armenia! Such a feeling of security was the result of the almost careless confidence every Armenian had acquired, having been led misled into believing that the military strength of the Armenian army was “the strongest of the region.”

The 44-day catastrophe of the Artsakh war suddenly pulled the cover off the enormously sad realities of the New Armenia!

It has become painfully evident that in the course of the 30 years of independence, all successive governments had been irresponsibly careless and guilty in neglecting to consider the permanent upgrading of Armenia’s military readiness to combat, which should have been their very first and top priority.

It should be evident to anyone claiming the responsibility of being Armenia’s governing authority that the country is geographically surrounded by neighbors the majority of which are its relentless hostile historical archenemies and aim at its complete destruction. Therefore, just as important as bread, butter and water, the maintenance of a top quality army is a top priority to be secured at all times and at the cost of any sacrifice.

While keeping proportions in perspective, the example of Israel surrounded by similarly threatening hostile neighbors offers an obvious lesson the Armenians need to emulate in many respects. Since its embryonic and difficult beginnings as an independent state, in 1948, the entire Israeli population and nation has lived in a state of permanent military readiness. All men and women are militarily trained there – why not do the same in Armenia? Israel has built over the years the world’s top grade military industry.

There is no need to expect that much of Armenia. However, why did Armenia not make its utmost effort to maintain what it had inherited from the Soviet regime, and relentlessly develop further its capabilities, especially in the relevant fields of lasers, drones and other relevant weaponry? These are only a few questions of which the answers point embarrassingly to the utter irresponsibility of Armenia’s succeeding governing circles and the so-called elite, where drinking the traditional “genatz” shots on Armenia’s independence days was considered enough to give a feeling of security to the country.

We in the diaspora are not blameless. We have been taken in by this deeply irresponsible attitude in Armenia. In retrospect, up until and even during the 44-day war, we too, sheeplike, expected that Armenia’s army was capable of and actually was effectively conducting the war victoriously against the Turkish-backed Azerbaijani aggressors.

The sudden and catastrophic Armenian capitulation of November 9, 2020 has unveiled an entirely different and sad reality. Suddenly a chain of fundamental flaws in the Armenian state have revealed its true image. Actually, to this date, the full reality of all that was involved in the devastating defeat has not been revealed because of the absence of a credible process of investigation. Furthermore, after almost a full year since the defeat, and a miserably ill-prepared general election that, as was expected, resulted in a totally dysfunctional National Assembly, Armenia as a country and Armenians as a nation, face dangerously threatening existential realities that can not be ignored.

As we approach the 30th independence anniversary date of September 21, given the balance sheet of the past thirty years as sketched above, informed and concerned Armenians, whether living in Armenia, in Artsakh or in the diaspora, are certainly not in a mood for celebrations. Instead, they have the most sobering serious thoughts and unconditional demands.

The current political landscape in Armenia is chaotic and unquestionably self-destructive, inside as well as outside the parliament. The so-called opposition forces of Kocharyan/ Armenian Revolutionary Federation/ Sargsyan have proven to be at the peak of political destructive irresponsibility, with not even the shade of any constructive proposals as an alternative to those proposed by Pashinyan’s majority government. The latter, which was pushed lately to the level of a majority only as a negative vote against the previous regimes, continues to act with the same arrogance and self-reliance that it had shown in its preceding reign of some three years that ended in the catastrophic defeat.

The Path Forward

The current regime has systematically avoided any effort to look for political and intellectual talent, outside its own narrow circle of friends and followers. Armenia can not afford nor tolerate such a narrow mindedness! We expressly demand of the large group of remaining political and intellectual elements of Armenia to finally step forward and take hold of the destiny of the nation. The so called “Third Force” (the so far invisible wished for political force, composed of Armenia’s experienced, serious intellectuals, politicians and professionals), wherever it is now, hiding itself, must come out to prevent a complete collapse and loss of the Armenian nation. The current ridiculous bunch of some 25 “political parties,” which are at best just small groups of friends gathered around some central leading individuals, incapable of having any possible political impact, would have been considered as political jokes, had the nation not been at this time in an emergency state.

Ironically, already just few months after the last anticipated elections, there is again serious talk for “new anticipated elections.” If and when that happens, the foregoing sad masquerade can not and must not be tolerated to happen again. A true effective, well balanced, all inclusive “third force” must already take shape starting now, in order to take over the destiny of the nation, and form a government of “National Rescue.” The diaspora, which has remained completely isolated from the entire last political upheaval in the motherland, must be able to participate, at the very least, by providing the benefit of its politically savvy members and others with well proven track records.

The next priority to be demanded of the expected government of National Rescue, or for that matter, of any responsible government, is to immediately put in place a long overdue program for the reconstruction of the nation and the urgent pursuit of efforts to generate the vital components necessary for an independent nation to possess and rely on.

The foremost need in this process is to revamp Armenia’s badly damaged military capabilities. That means the complete restructuring of the army to boost the moral of its fighters, as well as the initiation of a program of acquisition of up-to-date and relevant armament. The latter will require both the revival of the sadly abandoned local military industry, as well as the attempt to purchase modern material from friendly as well as simply commercially interested suppliers. Without undertaking seriously this effort, it is futile to pretend that any other nation building programs are being pursued!

Once the defense of the nation is reasonably catered to, the next vital step is to introduce serious programs for the development of Armenia’s financial, industrial, educational and cultural infrastructures. This requires credible planning with the help of well-established experts from within as well as from outside Armenia, preferably but not necessarily only Armenians. The diaspora can and must help.

The above will create stability in Armenia and will help re-establish the morale of the nation, leading to every kind of positive outcome.

In conclusion, in the wake of the tragedy that our nation just lived through over a period of nearly one year, the marking of the 30th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Armenia can acquire a genuine significance, only if and when the entire Armenian people, extending from Armenia to Artsakh and then throughout its worldwide diaspora, expresses its unwavering expectation that those claiming the responsibility of national leadership unquestionably respect and implement the above demands.

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