Yesterday (21 September), Armenia marked the 30th anniversary of its independence with a number of public events, activities, and speeches by the country's leaders.
The celebrations began with a speech from the president, Armen Sarkissian. He admitted that the occasion had come at a difficult time, when Armenia was still grappling with the impact of last year’s 44-day war, as well as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, he noted that the struggle for independence three decades ago had not been an easy one – “nobody gave us independence. We tried, we fought, and we achieved. We achieved it not only at the cost of our will and devotion but also at the expense of the lives of many of our compatriots.” – and called for a similar fighting spirit in the face of the current challenges. “Today, the history of our country, the people, the present, and the future are intertwined. We must learn from the past. At the same time, we must not let the past hinder us from moving forward”.
The prime minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, and other high ranking officials then visited Yerablur military pantheon, to pay their respects to those who lost their lives fighting for Armenia last year, while the Armenian Armed Forces held ceremonial parades throughout the streets of Yerevan. Putin, Macron, Xi Jinping and a host of other world leaders extended their congratulations to Armenia on this occasion.
The main event was held later in the evening at the Republic Square in Yerevan, and featured top government officials, foreign diplomats accredited to Armenia, and other high-ranking officials. Pashinyan delivered a congratulatory speech before the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra and the Armenian State Chamber Choir held a concert for the crowd.
Pashinyan begun his speech with a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in last year’s 44-day war, before reciting a poem by Hovhannes Tumanyan, the national poet of Armenia. He acknowledged that the past three decades had not been easy, and that Armenia’s path since independence has been filled with “successes and failures…victories and defeats…tears and joy”. In particular, he highlighted the heavy burden that last year’s 44-day war continues to have on Armenia today. However, he urged the country to look forward, to use its past experiences, both good and bad, to ensure that the sacrifices of the deceased had not been made in vain.
“This formula is perhaps our biggest task, to formulate the guideline of our life and future at this point of 30 years of independence for the coming decades of our independent state. My formulation is the following. History has shown and proved that victory in wars has not always been victory in general, in the same way the defeat in wars has not always been defeat in general. We must transform our defeat into victory, but we must also transform our formula for victory, because history has shown that it is not always necessary to defeat others for a victory. To win means to overcome despair, to overcome hopelessness, to overcome the fate, to overcome death”.
He concluded by praising the sacrifice made by Armenian servicemen, “they fell so as Armenia can live, they fell so as Artsakh [the self-prolaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic] can live. And as long as Armenia lives, as long as Artsakh lives, they are alive. When the Republic of Armenia is developing, when Artsakh is developing, their sacrifices have achieved their goal, because it’s about the homeland of their children, their brothers and sisters”, and announcing the construction of the 'Park of Life' in the Yerevan Botanical Gardens, as a way to eternalise their memory and commemorate their lives. It is to be a site “where trees symbolizing the aliveness and presence of all the victims of all the Artsakh wars will be planted, and the culmination of the park will be the Tree of Life, symbolizing the lives of all our martyrs sacrificed to the homeland”.
In the past week, the government had been criticised by some Armenians, who felt that the celebratory tone of the event was disrespectful to the memory of those who lost their lives in the 44-day war last year. In particular, Pashinyan’s claim that the event would be “colourful” caused a stir, for which the prime minister later apologised. Relatives of deceased servicemen expressed their discontent at the planned celebration by gathering in front of the government building, and some called for a boycott of the event altogether. It was in this spirit that the events of yesterday were less colourful, more muted, and centred on honouring and commemorating the lives of those who died fighting for Armenia. Nevertheless, both Pashinyan’s and Sarkissian’s speeches revealed a desire to use this occasion as a way to look back, but to move forward, towards a hopeful future.