Protests in Stepanakert (photo aparaj.am)

For Artsakh, for Justice: First Major Peaceful Protest in Artsakh

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STEPANAKERT — On May 28, the anniversary of the First Armenian Republic, the people of Artsakh stood together to voice their discontent with their country’s current state and prevent possible future threats. They also demonstrated support to their compatriots in Yerevan who had been protesting for around two months on France Square in Yerevan.

Protests in Stepanakert (photo aparaj.am)

More than 10,000 people gathered at Renaissance Square, and the Artsakh people’s demands were heard again after the 1988 movement. The Square is significant as the place where the Karabakh Movement was pioneered in February 1988, resulting in the declaration of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in 1991. The demonstration started with a march from St. Hakob Church and fanned out through the central streets of Stepanakert to reach Renaissance Square.

The demonstration was organized mainly by the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) of Artsakh, the youth branch of Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). Two other parties also took part in organizing the event, the Democratic Party and Ardarutyun (Justice) Party.

Signs at the demonstration say “We don’t forget, we don’t forgive” (photo aparaj.am)

On the way from the church, the protesters were accompanied by a car with patriotic songs. They called to recognize the Artsakh Republic and demanded the resignation of the Armenian government, which the demonstrators characterized as defeatist and treacherous. Throughout the march, people welcomed the demonstrators from their homes and streets, supporting them with slogans and hanging the Armenian and Artsakh flags from balconies. The participants, in their turn, carried banners expressing solidarity with the opposition movements in Yerevan (Zartnir, Lao) and called the international community’s attention to the protection of the Artsakh people’s self-determination. Some of the slogans were “Unity, Fight, Victory,” “Fight for Artsakh,” and “Armenia without Turks,” which people hear in Yerevan streets every day. In contrast to the protests in Armenia, the Artsakh government didn’t take any measures to disperse the demonstrators and allowed the peaceful process of the gathering without acts of violence.

Little children dressed as soldiers during the protest (photo aparaj.am)

At 7 p.m., the heart of Stepanakert was full of kids, youngsters, and adults with their fists up, as one of the accompanying songs, Ver Bazukd, (put your fist up), to inspired them. For the first time since the end of the war, the square hosted thousands of people to voice their demands from their government and the international community. Among the speakers were activists of the 1988 movement, widows, soldiers, and refugees.

Lyudmila Grigoryan, a doctor and an activist in the 1988 Karabakh Movement, said during her speech, “Artsakhtsis should never look at Mrov Mount (the highest peak in Artsakh) the way we watch Ararat from afar. Our mission is to unite and save our independence. We need endurance, courage, and unity.”

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Mher Kirakosyan, a displaced resident from the Kashatagh region of Artsakh who fought in the 44-day war, said, “Today, as I am standing here, I see that everyone shares a single idea, that is saving our homeland. We will fight for justice to the end as Artsakhtsis’ spirit is unbreakable. We are the owners of our homeland. Artsakh! Hayastan!”

After the manifestation, Renaissance Square remained full as patriotic melodies became heard from the stage. “Genesis Armenia,” with the government’s support, organized the first concert in Stepanakert since 2020 in commemoration of the First Republic Day. The event carried a patriotic character and aimed to elevate the people’s spirit.

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