By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
On the occasion of the 24th anniversary of Armenia’s independence, I had the honor of delivering the keynote address at the celebration organized by the Armenian Consulate in Glendale, California. Here are excerpts from my remarks reflecting on some of the accomplishments since independence, and the challenges that still lie ahead.
The most remarkable achievement in the early years of the Armenian Republic was the liberation and establishment of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabagh). As a result, a whole generation of Armenians under age 20, born and raised in independent Artsakh, has not spent a single day under Azerbaijan’s oppressive regime -- and God willing -- never will! Artsakh’s independence is an irreversible reality. Artsakh will never again be a part of Azerbaijan!
However, our challenges in Artsakh are not yet over. While it is true that we sacrificed much to win the war, we must now win the peace! This is not the time to let our guard down. Armenia's border towns come regularly under attack from Azeri bombardment.
Armenians must take a series of important steps to ensure thatArtsakh’s independence is secured. Artsakh must not only survive, but thrive! To accomplish this imperative necessity, we must first bolster Artsakh’s defenses. The best way to avoid war is to have a good defense.
For Azerbaijanis, recovering Nagorno Karabagh is a hollow luxury; but for Armenians, Artsakh is an existential necessity!
Besides reinforcing Artsakh’s defenses, Armenians need to replenish its population. We must create new facts on the ground so that the Azeri regime is convinced that Armenians, rather than abandoning Artsakh, are relocating there in larger numbers, thus making the return of that territory practically impossible.
Another key objective is putting Artsakh’s independence on firm legal grounds and gaining international recognition! The Armenian-American community has successfully countered the massively financed Azeri lobby in Washington and all 50 states.
Lastly, we must create better living conditions in Artsakh, by providing housing and jobs, so Armenians currently there, and those planning to relocate, can enjoy safe and comfortable lives.
However, none of these burdens should be borne alone by the people of Artsakh, but by the collective will of all Armenians and their supporters throughout the world.
To ensure Artsakh’s survival, we need a strong Armenia, which is also a necessity for the preservation of Armenian communities worldwide.
Now, almost a quarter century after independence, we must do everything in our power to ensure that the homeland is secure and prosperous.
Regardless of our ideological, political and religious differences, we must ALL unite under the banner of the Yerakouyn -- the Tricolor. It matters not whether we agree or disagree with any particular leader. Government officials come and go, but the Armenian people and the homeland are everlasting!
However, we must keep in mind that the relationship between citizens and their government is a two-way street. Government officials are duty bound to create a social environment that is fair, conducive to a prosperous life, free of discrimination and intimidation. Citizens must have the chance and the choice, through democratic processes, to elect their preferred representatives without any interference from the authorities.
The political opposition, on the other hand, has the responsibility to hold the government accountable for its actions through constructive criticism and peaceful means, without risking the country's stability and security.
Unfortunately, there is still widespread poverty and unemployment in Armenia. Immediate solutions must be found to feed the hungry, help the needy, and heal the sick, which will stem the tide of emigration -- an existential threat to the homeland!
Despite the hardships that many Armenians continue to suffer from -- some man-made, and others due to circumstances beyond government control, such as blockades by Turkey and Azerbaijan -- we must acknowledge that there has been, over the past 24 years, a gradual progress in the living conditions of Armenia's population.
Another successful accomplishment was the worldwide commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial earlier this year. Thanks to the persistent efforts of the Diaspora in the last 100 years, and the Armenian government’s international diplomatic contacts in the past quarter century, the recognition phase of the Genocide is pretty much accomplished. We must now seek justice through restitution. The Turkish government must return everything that was confiscated during the Genocide and pay compensation for whatever cannot be returned.
The challenge ahead is creating a more efficient mechanism for coordinating the efforts of all 10 million Armenians from Armenia to Artsakh, and throughout the Diaspora.
One such approach would be to rename and transform the existing Centennial Committees in various countries as well as the Central Centennial Committee headquartered in Yerevan into permanent bodies responsible for:
1) Managing all pan-Armenian issues and crises affecting Armenian communities such as Syria;
2) boosting Artsakh’s security, economy, and autonomy;
3) halting and reversing emigration from Armenia; and
4) seeking restitution from Turkey for all human and material losses suffered by Armenians during the Genocide.