Our Celebration of Self-Determination

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As with other important Armenian holidays, various governments and politicians issued statements on Sept. 21 on the occasion Armenia’s Independence Day.  The White House released a letter to the President of Armenia on the occasion, which stated, “we [the United States] remain committed to the promise of those early years, when Armenians proudly raised their tricolor flag for the first time since 1920.”

‘The citizens of Nagorno-Karabagh similarly decided to take control of their destiny and seek reunification with Armenia, but their desires were and continue to be ignored by the international community.’ (Photo: Rupen Janbazian)

North of the border, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, issued a statement as well. In his statement, he stated, “Canada and the Republic of Armenia enjoy a dynamic and friendly relationship, rooted in the shared values of democracy and freedom…”

The promise of those early years was indeed that of a society based on democracy and freedom, and the citizens of this young republic continue to strive for maintaining and strengthening these principles in their country. However, what these statements do not acknowledge, is that the Armenian people raised their nation’s flag for the first time in over 70 years after a referendum that was held on Sept. 21, 1991, to determine whether citizens were in favor of independence from the Soviet Union.

The second independent Republic of Armenia came to existence because of the fundamental right of a group of people to exercise their right to self-determination. The foundation of any democracy is based on the idea of people being able to collectively choose their destiny. Anything less and they cannot be considered free.

The citizens of Nagorno-Karabagh (Artsakh/NKR) similarly decided to take control of their destiny and seek reunification with Armenia, but their desires were and continue to be ignored by the international community.

The people started a petition for reunification in 1988—an unofficial referendum—which received 80,000 signatures; demonstrations ensued in Stepanakert and Yerevan; and eventually, the regional soviet of Nagorno-Karabagh oblast took the unprecedented action of voting for reunification. They decided to undo the “divide and rule” strategy Stalin had imposed and restore Armenia as a cohesive nation with integral borders. They decide to reject the return of administrative control of the region to Azerbaijan and the oppressive rule that threatened every aspect of their lives. They decided that only they can choose and forge their future—only then would they be free.

A couple months after establishment of the Republic of Armenia, on Dec. 10, 1991, the people of Nagorno-Karabagh again held their own referendum. Not sanctioned by the Azerbaijani government, but sanctioned by the collective will and need of a people who had no leadership or government that intended to safeguard and promote their livelihood and identity. The results were ignored, and violence and war escalated only further until the ceasefire of 1994.

Sept. 21 celebrations in Yerevan (Photo: Araz Chiloyan)

The people of Nagorno-Karabagh were and continue to be denied their right to freedom, safety, and prosperity. While the Republic of Armenia has experienced 25 years as an independent country, NKR does not celebrate the same type of independence. Instead, it marks an ongoing struggle for recognition that began more than 25 years ago.

The Diaspora should be thankful and happy to receive statements of congratulations from their governments and politicians on the occasion of Armenia’s Independence Day. However, they should be steadfast in their advocacy—especially on a day celebrating independence—for Artsakh’s populations’ unrecognized right to democracy and freedom. The people of NKR shared a common struggle, who took the same path of self-determination, and yet continue to be ignored by the world.

Our discussions about the struggles and challenges Armenia face 25 years on must include the integrity of Nagorno-Karabagh’s borders and reunification with Armenia. This is our common Armenian issue—one that the international powers cannot ignore and separate from our greater identity.

The day when an independent, free, and united Armenian homeland is truly realized is the day we may truly declare our Independence Day.

Source: Armenian Weekly
Link: Our Celebration of Self-Determination