YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–Armenian armed forces paraded through Yerevan on Tuesday on the eighth anniversary of the country’s independence from the Soviet Union. Thousands of troops marched across the main city square to the sound of a military band–followed by tanks and artillery systems–with fighter jets and helicopter roaring overhead.
The celebrations are in commemoration of a 1991 referendum in which the overwhelming majority of Armenia’s population voted for secession from the disintegrating Soviet Union. Armenia was the only ex-Soviet that formally complied with a Soviet law on secession.
Tuesday’s military parade was also the first display of Armenia’s military might in the last three years. New rocket systems could seen among military hardware that rumbled past the country’s leadership–foreign dignitaries and a jubilant public.
A large part of the Armenian military’s modern armamen’s has been secured through close military ties with Russia. Armenia hosts a Russian military base which has been reinforced by sophisticated S-300 air-defense missiles and MiG-29 aircraft over the past year.
Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan–a former longtime defense minister–was visibly the most excited of the government leaders standing on a specially built pedestal. "I have touched almost every piece of hardware you’ve just seen," he told reporters. "I just wanted to show it to you–I know it by heart," he said.
Sargsyan’s enthusiasm was echoed by many ordinary spectators. There were also those who questioned the wisdom of spending scarce public funds on holding the parade.
Numerous Diaspora Armenia’s were more impressed. "It’s beautiful to see this. After what the Armenia’s have been through–we finally have an independent country–we have the ability to take care of ourselves and not to be massacred as we have in our history," said Mardiros Tololian–an Armenian-American.
President Robert Kocharian met with US Ambassador Michael Lemmon on Friday–at which time–the US diplomat forwarded a letter of congratulation from President Bill Clinton on the occasion of Armenia’s Independence Day–reported Noyan Tapan.
The message read:
"I congratulate you and the people of Armenia on the 8th anniversary of your country’s independence. The declaration of independence on September 21–1991–turned a new page in the ancient and most noble history of Armenia. Since that time the steady progress in establishing democratic structures and laying the foundations of free market economy ensured Armenia’s place in the world community. We expect further progress in the development of market democracy and establishment of peaceful cooperation among the nations of the Caucasus in the coming years. The United States is ready to support these efforts.
"I wish the best to the entire Armenian nation on the occasion of your Independence Day."
President Boris Yeltsin of Russia addressed a message of congratulation to President Kocharian.
In his message the Russian president particularly said:
"I am sending my most sincere and cordial congratulations to you and the entire Armenian people on the occasion of the national festival of the Republic of Armenia–its Independence Day.
"I am convinced that the strategic partnership between Armenia and Russia agrees with the historical interests of our two nations and plays an important role in preserving peace and stability in the Transcaucasus. We are going to make further efforts to strengthen our friendly ties as well as our cooperation within the framework of the CIS."
The Russian president wished his Armenian counterpart sound health and new successes and for the friendly Armenian people–well-being–happiness and prosperity.
President Jacques Chirac of France also addressed a congratulatory message to his Armenian counterpart. Below are excerpts from the message:
"The independence gained by Armenia allowed the country to restore the special links uniting our two nations over centuries. May Armenia continue to develop during the coming years as well.
"Taking advantage of the occasion–let me inform you that France fully supports all initiatives promoting stability in the region."
Kocharian also received telegrams of congratulation from the Pope–President of China Xang Xeming–President of Poland Alexander Kwasnewski–President of Greece Kostantinos Stephanopulos–President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma–President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel–and President of Indonesia B. Habibi–the presidential press service said