December 10 marks the 30th anniversary of the referendum on Artsakh’s independence. In 1991, some three months after Artsakh declared independence from the Soviet Union, 99.89 percent of the population voted to make Artsakh an independent republic.
After seven decades under Soviet rule, this became one of the first expressions of the people’s will, defying Communist tenets and exercising their inalienable right to self-determination.
The concept of self-determination has been at the core of mediation efforts for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict and the latest push for the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to become engaged in addressing Artsakh’s status hinges on this.
After last year’s aggressive attack on Artsakh, Azerbaijan and Turkey have been advancing the notion that Artsakh, as an independent republic, does not exist. The two countries are pouring millions of dollars on infrastructure improvements, building roads, tunnels, airports, while at the same time erasing Artsakh’s Armenian heritage and identity.
So, it was beyond egregious for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to tell parliament on Wednesday that Artsakh’s final status may not include independence.
“The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh does not definitely imply its independence,” Pashinyan told lawmakers, saying that a referendum on Artsakh’s status was not discussed during post-war negotiations.
This is a dangerous statement coming from Armenia’s leader who is the one tasked with defending the interests of not only Armenia but also Artsakh in negotiations. Pashinyan can continue to point fingers in his ridiculous effort to shrug off blame for the humiliating defeat, but what he can’t—and must not be allowed to—do trample upon the will of the people so definitively expressed on December 10, 1991.
If Pashinyan and his government have given up on Artsakh’s independence, the people of Artsakh and the entire Armenian Nation must collectively fight to protect, at all costs, the will of the people of Artsakh.
The fact of the matter is that a referendum was already held on December 10, 1991 and the overwhelming majority of the people chose independence. This vote cannot be stolen from the people, especially since our sisters and brother spilled blood to defend it.
The November 9, 2020 agreement that ended the military actions in Artsakh and stipulated the surrender of territories to Azerbaijan cannot be viewed as an effort to override Artsakh’s independence. Hence, engaging in negotiations, such as the “3+3” scheme proposed by Ankara and hailed by Baku, pose direct threats to Artsakh’s independence.
The United States and Europe have signaled that the status of Karabakh remains unresolved, thus signaling the conflict has not ended, directly opposing the position taken by Baku and Ankara. Moscow, on the other hand, is tacitly pushing for the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen’s engagement in the process and, on many occasions, and has flip-flopped on the issue of status.
If the U.S. and Europe allow the status talks to veer from the concept of cementing people’s right to self-determination and independence, then they would be betraying their own commitments to upholding democracy and democratic norms and principles. This message should be sent loudly to lawmakers in the U.S. and across Europe and become a rallying call for all Armenians to demand international recognition of Artsakh.
Furthermore, based on Artsakh’s expression for independence 30 years ago, any discussions on its status must ensure that Artsakh does not fall under Azerbaijani rule.
The independence of the Republic of Artsakh cannot be compromised. Any effort to that end will set a dangerous precedent that the will of the people can be trampled upon the whims of political actors seeking to expand their personal and other interests and agendas.
The way that Armenians rallied together last year during the war showed the Armenian Nation’s ability to stand together in defense of the homeland. Preserving and strengthening Artsakh’s independence and statehood must become a priority for all Armenians.