Armenia on Monday celebrated the 20th anniversary of adopting a declaration of independence that marked the beginning of its formal secession from the crumbling Soviet Union.
The declaration passed on August 23, 1990 by the Supreme Council of Armenia, the then the Soviet republic’s first post-Communist legislature, declared Armenia’s desire to seek an independent statehood and followed similar declarations passed by the legislatures of the Soviet Baltic republics of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
It took another 13 months for the Armenians to complete the process of their independence from Moscow in a formal referendum in September 1991 that was held amid so-called “independence parades” by then Soviet republics. The Soviet Union ceased to exist at the end of that year and the sovereignty and independence of its former 15 republics, including Armenia, was recognized by the international community shortly.
In his congratulatory message on the day, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian described August 23, 1990 as “one of the milestone episodes of our modern history” and said it signified “the point in time when the dreams of the people of Armenia and the entire Armenian nation began to turn into reality, a moment that symbolized our centuries-long yearn for independence.”
“The past two decades have made it clear that the adoption of the Declaration was timely and appropriate, that the objectives and ideas enshrined in the Declaration are viable and continue to be called to life through the joint efforts of all segments of the Armenian nation,” Sarkisian said. “It was not easy to turn our intents into reality; nevertheless, we have remained true to our principles and values. We did not succumb to hardships and did not diverge from the road toward political freedom and responsibility to master our own destiny.”
Aram Manukian, the youngest of Supreme Council members back in 1990 who read out the text of the Declaration, also describes it as “the best document in the history of our people” and remembers that day as “an hour of triumph”. “Nations live through such moments vary rarely. I am proud to have been part of it and feel great responsibility,” Manukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“No one has yet criticized it [the 1990 Declaration of Independence]. Nobody has the courage, knowledge or reasons to cast a shadow on this document, which is full of romanticism, realism and political literacy, as well as will, dream and desire that indeed was collective back then. In this sense this document is perfect,” added Manukian, a full namesake of a founder of the short-lived first independent Armenian republic at the beginning of the 20th century.
Manukian, who is a senior member of independent Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress opposition alliance, however, sees some serious losses that Armenia has suffered.
“We have taken the way of losing independence in the past ten years,” he said. “All the international treaties, all documents, all resolutions passed on Armenia are a loss for Armenia. It is also a loss that the guys who struggled for independence are now in prisons. This is a disgrace.”
The 20th anniversary of Armenia’s Declaration of Independence comes only there days after Armenia signed a deal with Russia extending the lease of a Russian military base stationed in the northwestern town of Gyumri till 2044 and upgrading its mission.
Some opposition and public circles in Armenia have criticized the deal, describing the amendments to the 1995 treaty with Russia as a sign of Armenia further losing its sovereignty to Moscow, which already keeps a tight grip on the South Caucasus country’s economy.
Local opposition parties also claim that successive governments in Armenia have failed to honor most of the provisions of the 1990 document or have deviated from them.
Hovsep Khurshudian, a spokesman for the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, maintained that only three out of a dozen points of the Declaration have actually been translated into action during these years.
“The rest remain on paper. Unfortunately, such distortions have happened because of all the three governments that Armenia has had since 1991. And today we suffer the consequences of the lust for power, financial gain and other shortcomings of certain leaders,” he added.
Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), also attached great significance to the 1990 Declaration of Independence, but said that the subsequent years have shown that “we often deviated from the general logic of the Declaration.”
“A national state path of developing the country in fact should have been built on that Declaration. And our main discontent toady is that that path has seen deviations during these 20 years,” Rustamian said in an RFE/RL interview.
Ordinary citizens approached by RFE/RL also spoke of the Declaration’s significance, at the same time noting some omissions made by the government.
“We’ve seen some great progress during these 20 years. Still, there is much to be done,” said only middle-aged man.
One elderly resident in Yerevan called it important that two decades after declaring independence Armenians still have an independent homeland. “To be free and independent is good to everyone. We would have a great country if people’s living standards improved,” he added.