Armenia Marks 7th Year of Independence

YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–Official ceremonies led by senior government and religious officials and open-air festivities across the country marked the seventh anniversary of Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union Monday.

The celebrations started early in the morning with the official opening of a "Victory Arch," leading to the main military cemetery at Yerablur in a Yerevan suburb–where most victims of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia are laid to rest.

The ceremony–attended by the country’s entire leadership and top clergy of the Armenian Apostolic Church–was followed by festivities in Yerevan–with folk dance and modern groups performing in many parks and squares decorated with the national red-blue-orange flags.

Thousands of people took to the streets to watch a brass band of the interior ministry marching through the center of the capital. The celebrations culminated late Monday in a three-hour concert of local pop groups at Freedom Square–the main venue of the 1988 mass demonstrations that came to end 70 years of Communist rule in Armenia.

The holiday marks the September 21–1991 referendum in which the overwhelming majority of voters said yes to independence. Armenia was the only former Soviet republic that formally adhered to a Soviet law on secession.

A decision by the first non-Communist leadership in Yerevan to hold the independence referendum was made five months before the August 1991 putsch in Moscow that precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile–the mood was less solemn among ordinary Yerevan residents–in a stark indication of hardships most Armenia’s have gone through since independence.

Most middle-aged and elderly people questioned by the RFE/RL correspondent said they are more concerned with social woes like high unemployment and low pay–caused by the collapse of the command economy and unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan.

"Independence has left me without a job," said a woman in her mid-40s. "I do feel free but freedom is not just about expressing yourself. Without a decent life you can’t be free," said a man of similar age.

Another man’sitting in a downtown Yerevan cafe said he is happy with life as "I have a job I love and which I myself have created. Every person should create one for himself," he said. The optimism seemed to

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