An entire generation of Armenians—in Artsakh, Armenia and throughout the Diaspora—has been defined by the Artsakh Liberation movement, the 30th anniversary of which is being observed throughout the world where there is an Armenian presence. This movement, which was guided by the basic principles of freedom, justice and self-determination and deeply-rooted in a people’s conviction for those tenets has also defined the entire Armenian Nation and has become a blueprint for advancing the Armenian Cause in places and instances that one would not have fathomed 30 years ago.
On February 13, 1988, the people of Artsakh rose up and staged what was at the time unthinkable in the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands flocked the streets of Stepanakert, then under Azerbaijani rule, demanding Artsakh’s reunification with Armenia. For the Diaspora, which, for decades, had nurtured the idea and aspired for a liberation struggle, the events of February 1988 became the catalyst that pivoted a generations-long dream into reality and into action.
For those on the ground in Stepanakert and simultaneously in Yerevan and other major cities in Armenia, those events became at once a bold challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika, as well as an outpouring of national aspirations that were stifled and outlawed by the Soviet establishment, thus catapulting Artsakh onto the international arena.
The fact that today Artsakh is an independent republic with a democratically elected government and institutions that adhere to internationally accepted democratic norms is a testament to the core of the movement that began in 1988. This hard-won independence came at a steep price that our brethren were willing to pay and continue to do so on the frontlines in Artsakh, because the simple yet complex notion of protecting and fighting for one’s homeland has become the norm for the people of Artsakh and a lesson that keeps on teaching for an entire nation.
The response to calls for self-determination and unification came fast and it was brutal. A week after the demonstrations began, the Soviet Azerbaijani government, with backing from Moscow, began a systematic campaign of annihilation Armenians in Armenian-populated cities.
First came Sumgait. On February 28 and 29, 1988, Armenians living in this bustling industrial city were rounded up and murdered in the most vicious way not seen since the Armenian Genocide 73 year earlier. What became known as the Sumgait pogroms were followed later in another Armenian-populated Azerbaijani city of Kirovabad and later the capital of Baku. The same savage methods were employed by Azerbaijan during the war in the regions of Shahumyan and Getashen.
Despite these critical obstacles the people of Artsakh marched forward fighting one of the most brutal wars, marred by lack of military equipment and hardware, but sustained by the people’s will to persevere. Artsakh and with it the entire Armenian nation emerged victorious.
That victory and the imperative to protect and strengthen Artsakh remain one of the most important challenges facing our nation today. Our will was tested in 2016 when Azerbaijani forces launched a massive attack in April of that year on all Artsakh fronts. As was the case back in the 1990s, Armenians around the world came together and those on the frontlines repelled the attacks and demonstrated that what has been won by blood of our freedom fighters will not be ceded at any price.
The Artsakh Liberation Movement also created modern-day, larger than life heroes, whose dedication, commitment and drive for freedom has informed a new generation, which is now protecting the Artsakh borders and in doing so, is also protecting our Armenian homeland. The young generation of Diaspora has grown up knowing only an independent Armenia and Artsakh and having the luxury and ability to visit and experience first-hand that land of the heroes. This generation is grounded in the knowledge that their efforts must be directed at ensuring that our homeland is strong, but more important, that dreaming of liberation sustains that belief, which is attainable and achievable through resilience and conviction for the cause.
Our nation was reshaped with the simple expression of self-determination 30 years ago. The liberation struggle still continues as long as Artsakh is at war and as long as we dream of a Free, United and Independent Armenia.
Long Live Artsakh and the entire Armenian Nation.