The declaration of Armenian Independence and the establishment of the First Republic of Armenia on May 28, 1918 was the definitive expression of our people’s right to self-determination. After centuries of foreign rule and oppression that milestone etched Armenia’s rightful place in the world and guaranteed the Armenian Nation its statehood—a Homeland.
No other instance in recent Armenian history comes close to the glory May 28 than the 1988 Artsakh Liberation Movement, which resulted in the actual liberation of Artsakh and the establishment of the Artsakh Republic through another expression of our people’s right to self-determination in a manner wholly similar to what had transpired on the same territories 70 years earlier.
The Armenian homeland has lived through tectonic shifts since we, as a Nation, marked the centennial of our victories in Sardarbad, Bashabaran and Gharakiliseh, in Armenia and around the world. On May 28, 2018 the people of Armenia had a lot to celebrate. Not only was it the 100th anniversary of the birth of Armenian Independence, but in the weeks leading up to that date, the people had collectively risen up to demand a better future for the then 27-year-old Republic of Armenia, which since its second independence was governed by greed and reprisals, instead of protection of fundamental rights, social justice and the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We have since witnessed the very concept of our independence and the existence of Armenia tested during the past five years. The 44-Day War in 2020 dealt a searing blow to our homeland, especially Artsakh, which today continues to be blockaded by Azerbaijan, which closed its only lifeline to the outside world—the Lachin Corridor—on December 12.
Thus it is more than disturbing that on the eve of this momentous anniversary, Armenia’s leaders, beginning with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, are making declarations that signal their willingness to allow Azerbaijan to control Artsakh and essentially tell the 120,000 Artsakh residents, who have been enduring an acute humanitarian crisis for the past five months, to fend for themselves—or in diplomatic parlance: find ways to negotiate with Baku.
Pashinyan’s statements this past week not only have widened a rift between the people of Armenia and Artsakh, but they have also all but obliterated the concept of self-determination as it relates to the Armenia reality. With the utterance of one sentence, Pashinyan has diminished the sacrifice of tens of thousands of Armenians who gave their lives at the altar of freedom, liberated Artsakh and then valiantly fought to salvage it in 2020.
He then rationalized his posturing by claiming that by Armenia and Azerbaijan mutually recognizing each other’s territory Armenia will finally have a “property deed,” claiming that our homeland has survived without one for 35 years and we, as a Nation, have lacked for millennia. This statement also diminishes the importance of Armenia’s Declaration of Independence in 1990 and its eventual independence in 1991, which was and continues to be recognized by the international community.
For someone who prides himself for shepherding democracy in Armenia, it is clear that the prime minister has either not understood or has forgotten the basic tenets of democracy, whose very roots lie with the people’s inalienable right to self-determination.
The people of Artsakh, just like their predecessors in 1918, exercised that very right and declared independence in 1991, which was followed by a popular referendum, whereby the overwhelming population voted for independence. Armenia’s legislature in 1992 overwhelmingly voted to exclude any scenario that leaves Artsakh under Azerbaijani control.
There is no question that Armenia is facing an existential crisis, much like the one it faced a century ago. One of the first steps to mitigate further losses is to bring together our nation’s entire potential—both within and outside of Armenia—to ensure that our state institutions, including our Armed Forces, are safeguarded, which can ensure growth, advancement and resilience.
One clear lesson from May 28, 1918 is that the will of the Armenian people to fight for what is inherently theirs is as strong as their determination. We must be guided by the principle that we not only deserve, but have a right to a homeland and must move forward with that conviction, without hiding behind documents and agreements, which we have seen are being violated by the other signatories.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation, with the leadership of Aram Manoukian, marshaled an entire nation to fight for our right to self-determination and an independent statehood.
It is incumbent on each and every Armenian to be able to stand up and fight for rights, so as Baruyr Sevag put it, generations will know themselves from Sardarabad.