YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Hundreds of thousands of people in Armenia Thursday took part in official ceremonies and public festivities to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the independent republic. The main celebrations were held at Sardarabad–culminating in a military parade.
The holiday–officially known as the Day of the First Republic–marks the restoration on May 28–1998 of an independent Armenian state after more than 600 years of foreign rule. Many Armenia’s regard the 1918 declaration of independence as an historic event that saved the nation from physical annihilation in the aftermath of the 1915 genocide by the Ottoman Empire.
Thursday’s parade–watched by a huge crowd and the top Armenian leadership–was in commemoration of the Sardarabad battle during which armed detachmen’s of Armenian volunteers stopped and pushed back the advancing Ottoman army. The victory in the battle was immediately followed by the declaration of independence in 1918.
In his radio address to the nation–President Robert Kocharian said: "May 28 proved that the Armenian people possess huge moral potential and are able to surmount the hardest and most tragic ordeals."The existence of the First Armenian Republic was a breakthrough in our people’s psychology and political consciousness," he said. "It provided the Armenian people with political maturity for self-reliance–the will for rectifying historical injustice perpetuated against them and the determination to return to the international arena."
Kocharian argued that contemporary Armenia must have a "strong state structure,"galloping economic growth" and a "powerful army."
"We have no right to work slowly. We are obliged to become the best organized state in the region," Kocharian said. "We are simply doomed to have a powerful army without which the balance of forces in our complicated and unstable region will be disrupted."
Turning to the country’s internal politics Kocharian vowed to foster "national unity," and rule out "internal political polarization and confrontation." He indicated that the previous Armenian authorities are to blame for creating "an atmosphere of intolerance" and "senseless social cleavages."