The people of Artsakh, on September 2, 1991, declared independence from the Soviet Union and became the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
The people of Artsakh along with their brethren in Armenia and the Diaspora have worked hard to maintain this independence and now, 20 years later, we, as a nation, mark this momentous occasion in our history.
The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has not been recognized internationally, yet in the last two decades has been able to establish democratic institutions, rule of law and guarantees of basic human rights in a manner that has escaped even some of the larger former Soviet republics, including often Armenia. The challenge is to ensure that this pace is maintained and that rule of law and democracy prevail in this 20-year-old state.
The declaration of independence in Karabakh was nothing but an expression of the basic principle of a people’s right to self-determination. This fundamental right is at the center of a rather prolonged conflict resolution process, in which this universally accepted standard is constantly being challenged by Azerbaijan, who claims its territorial integrity has been violated. Unfortunately, international mediators, who in advancing their own agendas and in speaking about other recent instances have praised self-determination as an important tenet for a people to express their will, are applying double-standards and allowing immoral interests to supersede this most basic of principles.
Yet, this has not deterred the people of Artsakh to move forward. In the last 20 years, Karabakh also has seen the beginnings of infrastructure building, socio-economic development and strengthening of the country’s defense structures. It is imperative for the Armenian people, be they in Karabakh, Armenia or Diaspora, to not only assist in, but prioritize this ongoing process, to guarantee that Karabakh, which is landlocked and under constant attack by Azerbaijan, persevere in its quest for freedom and justice.
War had already begun to take its toll on the people of Karabakh when independence was declared. They were subjected to constant bombardments from Azeri strongholds in and outside of Karabakh and were waging a daily life and death battle. This war, of course, was Azerbaijan’s response to yet another expression of Karabakh’s self-determination, when in 1988, both in Yerevan and Stepanakert, Armenians rose up to call for the just reunification of Karabakh with Armenia.
It is almost criminal that in the mediation effort under way for peace and a resolution to the conflict, none of the sides is focusing on Azerbaijan’s aggression that sparked the war. The sides seem to be focused on semantics and are guided by the self-interests of the co-chairing countries of Russia, US and France, who have all but forgotten that the cease-fire agreement signed in 1994 was between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. Today, however, Karabakh is not at the negotiating table as a side to the conflict and Azerbaijan is unrelenting in its threats to resume military operations.
The principles guiding the peace negotiations are lop-sided in favor of Azerbaijan and require Karabakh to make concessions that go beyond, not just the spirit but the letter of the Karabakh people’s independence.
Karabakh authorities have demanded a seat at the negotiating table and have vowed that even without international recognition they will forge ahead with their mission of guaranteeing the population’s security and safety. The Karabakh leadership must also remind those who are proposing or considering concessions that the people of Karabakh will not cede one inch of land, hard won by the blood of our freedom fighters.
Domestically, the authorities in Karabakh have to be vigilant and create conditions for the population to thrive in the country. This requires prioritizing the strengthening and reinforcement of infrastructures and ensuring that the undesirable climate that has become commonplace in other developing countries, including Armenia, does not rear its ugly head in Karabakh.
As this momentous occasion is being celebrated and marked, let us all use this as an impetus to be steadfast in our resolve to preserve and strengthen Artsakh. The future of the Armenian Nation depends on it.