STEPANAKERT—As the world marked the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Thursday, The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic commemorated two declarations of its own, celebrating the decision of its people to declare independence in 1991 and a vote by the population in 2006 to approve a new constitution reaffirming democratic statehood.
Karabakh’s population on December 10, 1991, held a general referendum and overwhelmingly voted in support of independence from the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan, which had been given control of the indigenous Armenian region of Karabakh by Stalin responded to the pro-democracy movement with military force, declaring war on Karabakh.
In 2006, the people of Karabakh held a second referendum on December 10, internationally known as Human Rights Day, to adopt a new constitution that reaffirmed Nagorno-Karabakh as a sovereign and democratic state.
“In the modern history of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), December 10 twice proved to be pivotal,” Karabakh’s President Bako Sahakian said in an address congratulating the nation on the “crucial holiday.” “For us the powerful, independent, sovereign, democratic and legal state is an exclusive value that has no alternative.”
“In 1991 on this day the Artsakh Armenians expressed their unified will and confirmed the dedication of creating an independent statehood. On the same day of 2006 again through the nation-wide referendum the basic law of our state, the Constitution, was adopted, registering another great victory of our state, which succeeded in defending its independence and freedom and was firmly staying on the path of democracy,” he said.
He described December 10 as “symbolic” for the people of Karabakh, who had faced seven decades of discrimination and subjugation under Azeri rule. “December 10 is also celebrated as International Human Rights Day. This fact is symbolic for itself as the Artsakh movement, the birth and the very existence of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic are the integral parts of human rights, the reflection of the basic universal rights of equality and self-determination of nations,” Sahakian said.
But the two plebiscites, and nearly two decades of democratic development in Karabakh are largely ignored by international mediators working to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, left frozen since a Russian-brokered cease-fire in 1994 put an end to the brutal war launched by Azerbaijan in the wake of the 1991 referendum.
Ongoing peace talks, currently between Armenia and Azerbaijan, leave Karabakh out of the equation and ignore its people’s right to self-determination. Meanwhile, mediators from the OSCE Minsk Group have said the two sides are close to an agreement on Karabakh, which will see the transfer to Azerbaijan of liberated territories vital to the survival of the fledgling republic and a referendum to determine Karabakh’s status that will follow the assisted influx of Azerbaijanis into the country.