Fotolur photo: President Robert Kocharian laying a wreath at the Yerablur war memorial in Yerevan.
By Hrach Melkumian
Armenia marked the 11th anniversary of declaring independence from the Soviet Union on Saturday with low-key official ceremonies attended by its leadership and top politicians.
President Robert Kocharian, accompanied by other government officials and Catholicos Garegin II, began the day with a visit to the Yerevan’s Yerablur memorial to Armenian soldiers who died in the 1992-1994 war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. He was scheduled to hold an official reception in the evening.
Hundreds of government officials, politicians and other dignitaries were expected to attend it. Invitations were also sent to leaders of the country’s main opposition parties. But one of them, Hanrapetutyun, was demonstratively shunned.
The party’s chairman, Albert Bazeyan, said he and other Hanrapetutyun leaders, including former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian, would have ignored a presidential invitation anyway. Another prominent opposition leader, Artashes Geghamian, said he was invited to the reception, but will boycott it in protest against Kocharian’s rule.
But other top oppositionists said they will attend the official event in view of the significance of the occasion. “The government and the opposition must not be at odds over issues as such independence and national defense,” Vazgen Manukian, leader of the National Democratic Union (AZhM), told RFE/RL.
Manukian served as prime minister when the vast majority of Armenians voted for secession from the disintegrating Soviet Union on September 21, 1991. The Armenian parliament formally declared the country’s independence two days later amid nationwide euphoria.
The former ruling party, the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), was due to mark the anniversary with a separate reception at its Yerevan headquarters to be attended by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
Manukian acknowledged that widespread public disillusionment with post-Communist reforms has discredited the idea of independence. But he said he believes that most young Armenians now take independence for granted. “I now see a new generation that does not imagine anything beyond independence,” he said. “They may be unhappy with the existing situation, but will not say ‘Let’s give up our independence’.”