By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert
Official ceremonies began in Stepanakert on Saturday to mark the tenth anniversary of the proclamation of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence from Azerbaijan.
On September 2, 1991 the leadership of the then Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) declared itself a sovereign republic, in a move that followed Azerbaijan’s secession from the crumbling Soviet Union. Later that year sporadic clashes in the disputed enclave between Armenian and Azerbaijani militias turned into an all-out war that ended in May 1994. The Russian-brokered truce left the Karabakh Armenians in control of almost the whole of the former NKAO and surrounding territories in Azerbaijan proper.
The celebrations, attended by Catholicos Garegin II and other dignitaries from Armenia, began with the unveiling of the statue of the late General Kristapor Ivanian, one of the top wartime commanders of the Karabakh Defense Army. The former Azerbaijani-populated village of Khojaly, located ten kilometers east of Stepanakert, was named after Ivanian earlier this year.
The celebrations will end on Sunday with an official reception at the office of Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian. Ghukasian on Friday received letters of congratulation from Armenian President Robert Kocharian, a native and wartime leader of Karabakh, and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.
"The people of Artsakh [Karabakh] had the opportunity to implement their historical choice of freedom, independence and democracy 10 years ago," Kocharian said.
Markarian, for his part, noted that "ten years ago, on 2 September 1991, the peace-loving people of Artsakh confirmed their right to independence and a free life in their historical homeland and their will and determination to create their own independent
state by their own efforts." According to Markarian, "the last 10 years have shown that despite internal and external difficulties, the people of Artsakh are fully determined to protect their achievements soaked with the blood of their sons.”
The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has grown tightly integrated with Armenia over the past ten years. However, neither Armenia nor any other country in the world has de jure recognized its independence. Still, French, Russian and US negotiators trying to broker a solution to the conflict appear to regard the NKR as a separate party and regularly visit Stepanakert.