Commentary: Celebrating 20th Anniversary of Armenia’s Independence


By Edmond Y. Azadian

The republic of Armenia is 20 years old. It seems that there is nothing unusual about this anniversary, but seen through the perspective of our turbulent past, the anniversary becomes very significant with historic ramifications.

At the turn of the 20th century, a historic opportunity was created for an independent republic, squeezed on a tiny portion of historic Armenia. The republic was short-lived, but it was a rare opportunity for self-rule after 600 years of foreign domination.

Political and historic events limited the life of the republic to only two years, after which Armenia was absorbed into the totalitarian structure of the emerging Soviet Empire.

Although ham-strung with constricted sovereignty and subject to authoritative harsh rule, Armenia survived — indeed thrived — in its second incarnation, with tremendous achievements in science, technology, education and the arts.

The third republic emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, at a most trying time, as a border war was raging with Azerbaijan and an earthquake had devastated one-third of the country.

On September 21, 1991, independence came to a gloomy Armenia. It was rather forced by the political circumstances, similar to the previous two republics.

Armenians at home and abroad welcomed independence with trepidation, as the specter of a Turkish threat was looming across the border.

Fortunately, Armenia won the war at the cost of 7,000 casualties. The ensuing and continuing no-war- and-no-peace status has hampered the country’s economic growth, coupled with the blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The days of power outages, freezing cold and lack of running water are already history, but the economic strangulation by Turkey is still taking its toll.

The government is trying to put a brave face over the country with pomp and circumstance. Fireworks and a military parade are intended to boost the morale of the populace, who do not have much to cheer.

There are mixed feelings in the country, with the realization of the dream for an independent Armenia, counterbalanced by the severe economic crisis, which is contributing to the depopulation of Armenia.

The diaspora is gearing up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of independence with a sense of history rather than the goals achieved in this time span. The economic hardships are at best academic for the Diaspora Armenians, while people in Armenia are at the receiving end of that crisis.

Armenians are also encouraged by the fact that while the first republic survived for only two years the third republic has already been around 10 times longer.

By the end of two years, Armenians around the world were at a psychological threshold waiting to see if the new republic could or would survive beyond that threshold. Now that moment is history too.

During the last 20 years, Diaspora Armenians got more and more involved with the life of the homeland, sharing the good and the bad days. Perhaps that is the reason President Serge Sargisian is flying to the US to celebrate the 20th anniversary of independence with the largest Armenian community abroad, although there are some rumblings in California, trying to politicize the occasion.

Armenia is the best chance for the survival of the Armenians in the world. The leadership may give some cause for concern, but the historic significance of the occasion must bind all the Armenians together.

Criticizing authorities for every ill has become the favorite sport for almost all the political parties and the press. But the blame-game can last only until we realize that every Armenian and every group has to carry his or her weight.

The diaspora has to do a lot of political legwork internationally to ease the blockade and allow the homeland to breathe easier.

Armenia is doing its share and should war break out, the country has the military hardware and technology “to impose peace,” as the president reassures us. Therefore, let us join with the people in Armenia to celebrate this historic moment and look forward to happier times.