Vartan Oskanian’s Speech at the Independence Celebration in Washington

I am pleased, honored, and still a little awed by the fact that I can stand before you, as foreign minister, at the official celebration of 15 years of Armenia’s independence. The fact that we are celebrating in this important capital, with the representatives of a strong, active, prosperous, proud and engaged Diaspora, in the presence of several of Armenia’s ambassadors, is still the stuff of dreams. It has been 15 years since our independence. This came at the end of a difficult century and an even more difficult millennium. Armenia’s take great pride in their millennia of history. The leitmotifs that run through our recollections of our past are fraught with a search for silver linings. We have outlived the empires of the Babylonians and Assyrians, the Hittites and Medes, the Byzantines, the Mongols and the Ottomans. We shared the gods of the Greeks and the Romans, until St. Gregory illuminated the path to Christianity. We translated the Bible not just into Armenian, but also into Chinese. We recorded the history of Armenia’s and of Western civilization in beautifully illuminated man’scripts. We welcomed the Crusaders to our Kingdom in Cilicia, and accompanied European traders to the exotic East. Instead of fortifications, we built monasteries and centers of learning which have withstood invaders and earthquakes. In the 18th century, when first the American colonies, and later the people of France were upholding liberty, equality and fraternity, our students and merchants in Europe, were watching and learning. They knew that they had rights and liberties as subjects of three different empires, and used the formulations and vocabulary of the leaders of the Western enlightenment to articulate them. It wasn’t that they wanted to overthrow those governmen’s which abused or usurped their rights, but to reform them. It didn’t work. The Sublime Porte, which ruled over the majority of Armenia’s, made its Armenian minority the scapegoat for its own inability to govern. The Genocide followed. The remnants of the Armenian people who emerged following the Genocide had independence hoisted upon them in 1918. A population of refugees, insufficient resources with which to govern and protect, an elite that did not live in Armenia, and an army composed of well-meaning patriotsthat was Armenia’s first modern attempt at independence. It was a valiant effort to first wrestle with the social and existential dangers from within, and later to fight against the direct physical threats from without. The First Republic of Armenia’survived independently long enough that, when it fell, it fell as a legitimate, independent, political entity. That entity was subsumed into the Soviet Union as the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. That was the journey that brought us to today and to the improbability of our independencethe improbability that this surviving nation would witness the fall of yet another empirethis time Lenin’s. And that the homeland would be born again, free and independent. In Armenia, and in the Diaspora, too, where you are still overwhelmed at the improbability of Armenia’s independence, you sometimes suffer from the reverse: because we’ve never really had independence, we sometimes believe that we don’t deserve to have it or that it will necessarily be taken away again. I want to tell you that Armenia’s are not only worthy of independence, we are also capable of independence, aware of the deman’s of independence, responsive to the expectations of independence and accepting of the burdens of independence. But we were ready. Armenia’s Democratic Movement, the Environmental Movement, the Karabakh Movement were not just the product of a changed Soviet Union, but they also accelerated the transformation of the USSR. Independence is borne of high ideals. We believed that freedom is the secret to a prosperous nation, a healthy nation, a fair and just nation, and a stable future. We believed that freedom isn’t just the right to do what you want, it’s the opportunity to do what you want, it’s the opportunity to make choices, the right choices. We made the basic choice ”we chose the way of a liberal society”open markets and democratic institutions. That was the first choice. And today, as we celebrate independence, we are celebrating that choice. We are celebrating in Washington, the capital of the country that proved that a liberal economy in a democratic republic is a winning combination. Americans are the people who set out to design a political system that is built around the individual, his liberties and capacities. In other words, the American Declaration of Independence is about rights. It is a testament to the rights of individuals, of peoples, of society. But no man was ever endowed with a right without being at the same time saddled with a responsibility. We are privileged to be the generation that is consolidating independence. We do have wide and generous opportunities to turn a dream into a country, a stable country with a promising future. And to that end, I want to propose a declaration of responsibilities. Our responsibilities. This generation’s responsibilities. The responsibilities of Armenia and Diaspora, of all those who call themselves Armenian. * We have a responsibility to empower our people to confidently participate in building their democracy. * We have a responsibility to create an even playing field for every Armenian citizen. * We have the responsibility to continue on the diffcult but necessary path of political and economic reforms. * We have a responsibility not to take Armenia for granted, but to work to create an Armenia that makes real the promises of democracy and freedom. * We have a responsibility to remember our past, without being bound by it, because the future is ours. * We have a responsibility to reach a just and lasting resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict based on mutual compromise. 8 We have a responsibility to make the Diaspora an extension of the homelandnot a permanent dislocation, not a destructive dispersion. * We have a responsibility to welcome and embrace every Diasporan who calls himself or herself an Armenian. * We have a responsibility to rally every bit of our resourcesindividual and collective, private and public. * We have a responsibility to stand united, to work united, to go forward united in the face of new challenges, we can win together, and not lose separately. These responsibilities come with independence, with freedom, with liberty. Demanding freedom means recognizing the responsibility to ourselves, for ourselves. Freedom is also the right to make mistakes, to learn from those mistakes. It remains for those who have greater experience in freedom to be patient as we sort out the options and freely choose the one that is right for us. We believed that independence may be bestowed, but freedom must be achieved. Independence meant rights. Liberty means responsibility. Thank you.

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