Armenians worldwide had many reasons to celebrate the month of September, as they observed the 20th anniversary of the twin Republics of Armenia and Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh).
Two decades ago, Armenians did not have a single independent republic. Now they have two, and look forward to the day when the two republics are joined by a third—Western Armenia—to form the Republic of United Armenia.
On Sept. 19-20, the Diaspora Ministry organized a Pan-Armenian Conference in Yerevan that drew over 500 participants from 50 countries, along with political and religious leaders from Armenia and Artsakh. It was a reunion of the Who’s Who of the Armenian world.
The conference had four main themes: language and education, youth, commemorating the centennial of the genocide, and strengthening Armenia-diaspora relations. Some speakers took the opportunity to point out the serious shortcomings that continue to plague Armenia 20 years after independence.
His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia, singled out emigration from Armenia as the greatest national crisis. “Our enemies wished to see an Armenia devoid of Armenians,” he stated. “Today, we are emptying Armenia with our own hands!” His Holiness also condemned the prevalent corruption in the country that protects “a prosperous minority.”
Armenian Revolutionary Federation leader Hrant Markarian chided government officials for the persistence of poverty, joblessness, a stagnant economy, social insecurity, injustice, criminal behavior, corruption, and emigration. He also criticized them for not withdrawing their signature from the “infamous Armenia-Turkey protocols.”
During the panel on the Armenian Genocide—I was one of the moderators—participants suggested training a new generation of genocide scholars, Ottoman language specialists, Turkologists, and international law experts. They emphasized that the time had come to demand reparations from Turkey rather than mere genocide recognition, and urged filing lawsuits against Turkey in international and national courts.
While in Armenia, I experienced many exhilarating moments as well as a few disappointing ones. The military parade on Independence Day was the highlight for all Armenians worldwide—either watching it live at Yerevan’s Republic Square or on television. The goose-step march of highly disciplined soldiers and the display of sophisticated tanks, missiles, warplanes, and helicopter gunships filled every Armenian with pride and a sense of security from menacing neighbors. Later that evening, hundreds of thousands of spectators were captivated by a special high-tech laser show that projected scenes from Armenian history on the facade of buildings overlooking Republic Square.
The four locally manufactured Armenian drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), displayed for the first time during this year’s military parade, drew the most attention, especially since the Artsakh forces had just downed a Azeri drone purchased from Israel. The parade held yet another surprise: a contingent of women soldiers with machine guns who had volunteered to join the exclusively male Armenian armed forces! Also marching was a contingent of military chaplains in clerical garb.
Two other developments added a special luster to the celebrations of independence. The Mesrob Mashdots Madenataran in Yerevan, the depository of ancient manuscripts, unveiled a massive new wing, funded mostly by Russian-Armenian entrepreneur Sergei Hampartsoumian. On this occasion, Mihran Minassian, a humble man of limited means from Aleppo, Syria, donated to the Madenataran over 10,000 priceless manuscripts and fragments he had collected through life-long efforts. A second momentous event in September was the opening of a state-of-the-art terminal at Yerevan’s Zvartnots Airport. The new complex can serve up to 3.5 million passengers annually, doubling the airport’s capacity. This important project was brought to fruition by industrialist Eduardo Eurnekian of Argentina, who controls “Armenia International Airports,” the concessional management firm overseeing the airport.
Two sour notes: Some of the Independence Day t-shirts handed out to participants of the Pan-Armenian Conference carried a surprising “Made in Turkey” label! The t-shirts were embossed with the following slogan, in Armenian: “2011: Armenia Is You!” Embarrassed officials explained that the t-shirts were donated by a local businessman.
More embarrassing was the no-show of the two former presidents of Armenia at any of the Independence Day celebrations. Regardless of the reasons for their absence, this was a serious mistake by the two heads of state who led the Republic of Armenia for 17 of its 20 years of independence.
Despite these shortcomings, all Armenians fervently embraced their homeland with a solemn pledge to defend and protect it, and to do their utmost to secure the well-being and prosperity of their compatriots in Armenia and Artsakh.