BY ARMEN SAHAKYAN
Honors Student, Bloomfield College, NJ
Already this year we have seen President Obama inaugurated as U.S. President on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and the European Union declare 2013 as the year of the Citizen. Both of these celebrate democracy and liberty. A third event, less noted but important in its own way, is the celebration by the people of the independent Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) Republic the 25th anniversary of their liberation movement that led to the freedom they enjoy today.
Twenty-five years ago, the brave men and women of Artsakh decided to fix Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s arbitrary and illegal decision to sever Artsakh from Armenia, and to rejoin with the Republic of Armenia. Following the existing Soviet Constitution and all appropriate laws, the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast held a referendum, in which over 90% of the people voted in favor of reunification with Armenia. It was an extremely rare example of a human rights movement and brave step toward freedom within USSR. The West enthusiastically backed the struggle of the people of Artsakh for self-determination and self-governance. After all, this was the driving principle for the American, French, Haitian, and other revolutions that took place in the last three centuries. Why should Artsakh be any different?
Today, Artsakh serves as an oasis of democracy in the South Caucasus region. It holds regular and free elections, greatly praised by the international observers and organizations. The economy of the country is growing each year, paralleled with a rising number of tourists visiting this beautiful state. Recently, Artsakh also rebuilt its airport in order to establish airway connections with third countries, only to witness its neighboring Azerbaijan pass a law allowing its armed forces to shoot down “Air Artskah” civilian airplanes.
Recently we all celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and the National Day of Service. Following Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violent protests and determination to achieve justice, the people of Artsakh have made great sacrifices in the last two and a half decades. It all began with non-violent protests in Yerevan and Stepanakert that were aggressively resisted by the Azerbaijani and Soviet authorities resulting in a bloody massacre of Armenians in Baku, Sumgait, Kirovabad, and other locations. And so the long-repressed and mistreated people rose up to demand their rights to freedom, self-determination, and democracy all engraved in and supported by numerous international legal documents.
Azerbaijani authorities, drunk with petrodollars, have escalated their threats and acts of aggression. They have exponentially increased their military budget and begun a phase of unprecedented armaments buildup, declared the Armenians of the world as “their number one enemy”, pardoned and praised an Azerbaijani axe-murderer of an Armenian soldier at NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program, intensified ceasefire violations on the border, and claimed Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia that soon will be celebrating its 2800-year anniversary, as a “historical Azerbaijani territory”. The list goes on. Sadly, Azerbaijan’s destructive actions undermine prospects for regional security and prosperity, and even its own democratic development.
The aggressive stance of Azerbaijan enabled by the “diplomatically balanced” statements coming from the OSCE Minsk Group and other world powers in the wake of every new Azerbaijani outrage. Rather than constraining Baku, these artificially evenhanded responses only encourage greater aggression. Whereas Artsakh and Armenia have always maintained a position of resolving the conflict exclusively through peaceful means, and have never declared any group of people as their enemy, Azerbaijan has been constantly threatening the world community with the possibility of war and increasing its military budget exponentially year after year. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. Where are the friends of peace when they are needed the most? Why expect Azerbaijan to step back from its march toward war if no one is willing to stand in its way?
I would not wish to believe that the morality of the humankind has sunk so low as to rank oil a higher priority than the people’s unalienable right to self-determination. The same right that allowed Americans to declare their independence in 1776 and the same right that the U.S. has vowed to protect for other nations should always be provided for all the people living on this planet. Now is the time to reaffirm our principles and stand up for the same rights upon which this great American republic was founded. Artsakh Republic has constantly proven that it is capable to sustain itself as a democratic, prosperous, secure, and independent country that deserves its own place among other free countries of this world.