By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert
The unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic marked Monday the 11th anniversary of officially declaring its independence from Azerbaijan in the presence of visiting Armenian President Robert Kocharian.
Kocharian, accompanied by NKR President Arkady Ghukasian and other NKR officials, strolled in Stepanakert, his native town, inspecting a hotel that is currently undergoing reconstruction. Journalists were kept from approaching the two presidents.
The purpose of Kocharian’s latest unpublicized trip to Karabakh, of which he was the wartime leader from 1992-1997, is not known. Nor is it clear whether he arrived in Stepanakert to attend the low-key independence celebrations.
In a written address to the NKR population, Ghukasian said his administration will continue to seek a peaceful settlement of the conflict with Azerbaijan, and warned Baku against attempting to restore its control over the disputed region by force.
Despite open-air concerts staged by a military brass band and folk music singers and dancers, the mood among ordinary Karabakh Armenians was less than euphoric. Many of them were more preoccupied with persisting economic difficulties.
“Our dream of independence has come true, but those who contributed to its realization most have gained little in material terms,” said Narek Asrian, whose son died in the war with Azerbaijan. His comments were echoed by another elderly man, Mikael Sahian, “This is not how we deserve to live.”
For their younger compatriot, Rafael Petrosian, independence is only a “temporary solution.” “I think Karabakh doesn’t need this independence. It would be better for us to become an Armenian province,” he said.