BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
When hundreds of thousands of Armenians took to the streets on February 20, 1988 to demand the reunification of Karabakh with Armenia, a modern-day Armenian liberation struggle was born—a movement that still unites and mobilizes the Armenian Nation.
This movement was a direct challenge to then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of openness—Glasnost and Perestroika—and effectively began the collapse of the Soviet Union.
More importantly, however, it became a true struggle for the universal right to self-determination, which 25 years later is still at the center of the Karabakh question.
This simple call for self-determination, freedom and justice, however, was met with the most brutal of responses when not even a week after the spark of the movement Azeri OMON forces, aided by the Soviet Red Army began a systematic massacre and deportation of Armenians—pogroms—in the industrial city of Sumgait outside Baku. These brutal killings would continue in Kirovabad and Baku, and, like the Armenian Genocide they remain crimes that have gone unpunished and ignored by the international community.
The Armenian people’s expression of free will and their exercise of democratic norms also unleashed indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population of Karabakh that soon escalated into a full-fledged war.
The heroism of the people of Artsakh inspired an entire nation and won a war.
Today, Artsakh—the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic—stands tall and victorious and has become a model for democracy and through the arduous process of rebuilding it is a jewel in the Caucasus.
One of the most significant aspects of the Karabakh liberation movement is that at a time of political uncertainty during the latter days of the Soviet Union, this movement brought together the Armenian nation, which was dispersed around the world as a result of the Armenian Genocide and divided by the iron curtain. It became a rallying call for all Armenians to unite behind a banner of liberty and justice and the preservation and perseverance of our nation, bringing renewed impetus to the Armenian liberation struggle.
Karabakh remains at the center of our national reality. The Azeris continue their aggressive campaign of military intimidation and threats against civilian life through their continued violation of the cease fire and relentless sniper attacks, casting a pall over residents of the Artsakh and destabilizing the region.
The most recent victim, 20-year-old Gor Ghazarian, was shot and killed by Azeri snipers at the Karabakh-Azerbaijan border on Wednesday, the day of the 25th anniversary of the Karabakh movement. The Karabakh Defense Ministry reported “unprecedented activity” by Azeri forces in recent days.
Yet a generation that was born during the war is committed and determined to protect its nation, be that on the ground in Artsakh or elsewhere in the Armenian World.
Today’s conscripts in the Karabakh National Armed Forces were children when their parents bore arms to protect their historic homeland. Their brethren in the Diaspora were too young to understand the wrath of war, but today through different efforts, such as the AYF Youth Corps and With Our Soldiers campaign, are ensuring that the liberation movement that began a quarter of a century ago continues until justice prevails.
Today, as we reflect on the enormous importance and impact of February 20, 1988, we must bow our heads in remembrance and respect to all the heroes who gave their lives on the road to freedom, and recognize that we, as a nation, are still guided by roots of the Karabakh movement.