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Armenia Marks 20th Anniversary Of Independence Declaration

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian
YEREVAN -- Armenia celebrates 20 years since the adoption of a Declaration of Independence that marked the beginning of its formal secession from the crumbling Soviet Union, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The Declaration passed on August 23, 1990, by the Supreme Council of Armenia, the then top legislative body of the Soviet socialist republic, declared Armenia's desire to seek an independent statehood and followed similar declarations passed by the legislatures of some other Soviet republics, notably the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.

It took another 13 months for the Armenians to complete the process of their independence from Moscow in a formal referendum in September 1991 that was held amid so-called "independence parades" by then Soviet republics. The Soviet Union ceased to exist at the end of that year and the sovereignty and independence of its former 15 republics, including Armenia, was then recognized by the international community.

In his congratulatory message on the day, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian described August 23, 1990, as "one of the milestone episodes of our modern history" and said it signified "the point in time when the dreams of the people of Armenia and the entire Armenian nation began to turn into reality, a moment that symbolized our centuries-long yearning for independence."

Aram Manukian, the youngest of the Supreme Council members back in 1990 who read out the text of the declaration, describes it as "the best document in the history of our people" and remembers that day as "an hour of triumph."

"Nations live through such moments vary rarely. I am proud to have been part of it and feel great responsibility," Manukian told RFE/RL's Armenian service.

But the current oppositionist, a senior member of the Armenian National Congress of Levon Ter-Petrosian, independent Armenia's first president, is critical of his country's recent course.

"We have taken the way of losing independence in the past ten years," he said. "All the international treaties, all documents, all resolutions passed on Armenia are a loss for Armenia. It is also a loss that the guys who struggled for independence are now in prisons. This is a disgrace."

The anniversary comes only three days after Yerevan signed a deal with Russia extending the lease of a Russian military base stationed in the northwestern town of Gyumri till 2044 in exchange for renewed security guarantees.

Some opposition politicians have criticized the deal, describing the amendments to the 1995 treaty with Russia as a sign of Armenia's further losing its sovereignty to Moscow, which already keeps a tight grip on the South Caucasus country's economy.

Opposition parties also claim that successive governments in Armenia have failed to honor most of the provisions of the 1990 document or have deviated from them.

Hovsep Khurshudian, a spokesman for the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, said that only three out of a dozen points of the declaration have actually been translated into action during these years.

"The rest remain on paper. Unfortunately, such distortions have happened because of all the three governments that Armenia has had since 1991. And today we suffer the consequences of the lust for power, financial gain and other shortcomings of certain leaders," he added.

Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), also attached great significance to the 1990 Declaration of Independence, but said that the subsequent years have shown that "we often deviated from the general logic of the Declaration."

"A national state path of developing the country in fact should have been built on that Declaration. And our main discontent today is that that path has seen deviations during these 20 years," Rustamian said in an RFE/RL interview.