By Hrach Melkumian
Armenians marked on Friday the 86th anniversary of the establishment of their first short-lived independent republic that emerged from the ashes of the Russian Empire at the end of the First World War.
The main ceremonies commemorating what is officially called Republic Holiday again took place in Sardarapat, a village 40 kilometers west of Yerevan and the scene of a crucial battle between Armenian fighters and the advancing Ottoman Turkish army. After weeks of fierce fighting the Turkish offensive was repelled on May 26, 1918. Armenia declared independence two days later.
The republic, governed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), ceased to exist in November 1920 after being invaded and defeated by Kemalist Turkey. The territory of modern-day Armenia was incorporated into what was to become the Soviet Union.
“Despite its severe challenges and a short period of existence, the First Republic managed to create the prerequisites for the development of our country and people,” President Robert Kocharian said in a written address to the nation.
Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and other senior Armenian officials were among thousands of people who visited a war memorial at Sardarapat throughout the day. There were also visitors from the worldwide Armenian Diaspora.
“Today is a special day for us,” said one Armenian-American man. “We regained our independence after 600 years of foreign rule. The foundations of the First Republic were laid here.”
“I assure you that Armenia is on the right track,” Kocharian told reporters. “The most important thing is to draw lessons from our past and not become a tool in the hands of aliens in our own country,” he added in a veiled attack on his political opponents.