STEPANAKERT—The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic marked the 18th anniversary of its independence from Soviet Azerbaijan on Wednesday with celebrations throughout the republic.
An official commemoration, attended by state officials and clergy, was held at the Stepanakert memorial in honor of the freedom fighters lost during Karabakh’s liberation from Azeri rule.
The ceremony, which was preceded by a parade through Freedom Square, was presided over by Nagorno-Karabakh Republic President Bako Sahakyan, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, former Armenian President Robert Kocharian, and former Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasyan.
Nagorno-Karabakh, a historic Armenian territory forcefully placed under Soviet Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction in the early 1920s by Stalin, declared its independence on September 2, 1991. The move followed a nearly three year-long grassroots movement in Karabakh calling for self-determination and unification with Armenia that was met with pogroms and deportations against the Armenians in Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh by the Soviet Azeri leadership.
Shortly after the September 2 declaration, Karabakh’s population on December 10, 1991, held a general referendum and overwhelmingly voted in support of independence.
Karabakh’s independence was, however, met with violence as Azerbaijan engaged in an unsuccessful war against the young republic aimed at stifling its independence. A Russian-brokered ceasefire in 1994 ended the conflict, but the republic, which has been developing its democratic institutions since independence, has yet to be recognized by the international community.
This year’s anniversary comes amid heightened unease as international mediators seek to pressure Armenia into signing an agreement with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s fate. The basic principles of the Karabakh peace process call for the return of nearly all of the seven historic Armenian districts liberated from Azerbaijan that currently comprise the Karabakh security belt, linking the mountainous republic to Armenia. According to the Basic Principles, Stepanakert, which has been left out of the negotiations thus far, will also be required to hold another referendum on its status at an undisclosed date.
Many in Armenia and Karabakh fear that a peace deal under such terms will jeopardize the security and statehood of both Armenian republics.
Below is Karabakh President Bako Sahakian’s address to the nation on the occasion of the 18th anniversary of Karabakh’s independence.
Respected citizens of the Nagorno Karabagh Republic,
Today we celebrate the 18th anniversary of formation of the Nagorno Karabagh Republic.
On September 2, 1991 the people of Artsakh opened a new chapter in our ancient history, resolutely embarking on the hard and honorable path toward the building of a free and independent, sovereign and democratic state.
From the very first day of its formation our state was forced to solve hard problems and in the first place ensure security of the country and its citizens. Together with Armenia and the Diaspora, Artsakh carried out this mission with flying colors, defending state independence and further strengthening its security. Many Armenians sacrificed their lives in the defense of the Fatherland. Eternal glory to them!
After the war, the state faced new challenges this time of an economic nature. We had to both restore the destroyed economy and lay a firm foundation for the further development of the state. The creative will of the Armenian people as well as the inexhaustible optimism and vigor of the people of Artsakh helped the Nagorno Karabagh Republic carry out these tasks in a relatively short period of time.
Today our country shows stable growth; almost all the branches of economy are developing; the living standards of the population are rising; and the democratic system functioning in our state meets international norms and criteria. Artsakh stands as one of the key factors for preserving stability in the region and its international recognition is only a matter of time.
The most important security guarantor of our state and people, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Defense Army, is able to give a fitting rebuff to any encroachment upon its independence and security. Still, there is a lot to do and we will only solve issues our republic faces and further develop our country through diligent and ongoing work.
On the path of its development and state building the Nagorno Karabakh Republic follows the ideas of establishing friendly relations and peaceful existence with the neighboring states. We are confident that any dispute should be settled only by peaceful means, through direct and sincere dialog. At the same time there could be no doubts about the independence of Artsakh or even the slightest weakening of the republic’s security. These unconditioned values are not subjects to any speculations.
Dear compatriots, I heartily congratulate all of us on this holiday of utmost importance and wish you peace, health and all the best.”
President Serzh Sargsyan issued a congratulatory address on the occasion of the Nagorno Karabakh Independence Day, President’s Press Office reported. The message reads:
I congratulate us all on the occasion of Nagorno Karabakh Independence Day.
The past eighteen years reaffirmed the unambiguousness of the historic decision adopted in 1991. Today, the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh is a full-fledged state with its structures, army and most importantly, with the citizens who are the masters of their own destiny.
Today, for us and for the international community Artsakh is a modern republic that embodies the ideals of freedom, sovereignty and democracy, and which is progressing despite all the obstacles and artificially created hindrances and hardships, developing its economy and culture, and defending peace.
Throughout these years the Republic of Armenia and the entire Armenian nation have been and will continue to be Artsakh’s sturdy supporters. I assure all the citizens of Artsakh and all Armenians that the peaceful resolution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict will be first and foremost based on the consent and free will of the people of Artsakh.
Dear people of Artsakh,
We owe this holiday first of all to those who stepped into immortality sacrificing their lives for motherland and freedom. Bowing to their memory, I once again congratulate you on this holiday and wish you all well being, happiness and valor.