28 May 1918 – 28 May 2018: The Birth, Rebirth & Revolution of a Republic
By Arevig Afarian
A recurrent question in my life as a diasporan Armenian is “Armenia? What’s that?” and I always feel a wave of sorrow rushing through me. This simple ignorant question is actually an existential question for every Armenian who has been asked. Armenia is a country in the Caucasus, but it never feels like the totality of the answer… Armenia is a religion, a story of tragedy, and a story of resilience, all in one. Armenia has a unique meaning for every single Armenian – how can we answer this question?
Our unique history offers a dimension to our Armenian identity that is carried around everywhere, and I think one of the foundations of this ambiguous self-definition is having 2 independences to celebrate. To be fair, who celebrates 2? Are you not supposed to celebrate the latest one only?
In high school, my Armenian history teacher told us something that stuck with me, mostly because I did not comprehend what he meant at the time. “Rare are the countries who have an independence day to celebrate, but rarer are those who have the privilege of having 2 independences to celebrate”. As a teenager, the first thought in my mind was the contrary of this statement. Didn’t having 2 independences mean we lost our liberty twice, while those who have no independence to celebrate have always been able to defend their countries or be strong enough to be the invader? Technically, it does mean that, but it also means Armenia was able to break its chains of oppression not once, but twice, and to thrive from that point on.
The first Republic of Armenia was born out of its ashes, burned and left to a certain death by the Ottoman and Russian Empires, and yet, it had implemented norms that were very advanced at the time, such as granting women the right to vote. Also, let’s not forget that Armenia had managed to show up on a world map once again by winning a war during the time 1.5 million were being subjected to genocide, millions fleeing towards other continents, and thousands arriving as refugees on the land that became the first Republic of Armenia. This miracle should never be forgotten or ceased to be celebrated. Unfortunately, the celebrations did not last long as Russia’s expansionist tradition had not died out with the last of the Romanov’s. The Red and Turkish Armies were soon at Armenia’s door again. The Soviet rule could have easily been the end of the remains of this ancient civilization, and yet, Armenian’s around the globe held on to the idea of a free & independent Armenia… And this idea has been embedded even in the minds of the generations born after the rebirth of the Republic of Armenia.
Perhaps, it’s this sociological statement that can explain the “Velvet Revolution” that overthrew the ruling party or perhaps it’s rather due to economical reasons. The youth took to the streets in Yerevan asking for a better future for themselves, the elders took to the streets asking for a better future for the youth. As the hopes of a better future filled the “Independence Square” in Yerevan, the colorful and lively pictures looked very familiar, and so did the cause. Exactly 30 years ago, we have black and white pictures that demonstrate the will of Armenians to strive for freedom and independence. I am referring to that time when the population took to the streets demanding the Oblast of Nagorno-Karabagh to become part of Soviet Armenia.
While in 2018, Armenians all over the world mobilized for a violence-free revolution in our country, we have to remember that our rebirth in 1991 came with a price. We have known a free and independent Armenia for the past 27 years, but we are yet to witness a free, independent and peaceful Armenia.
As we enter the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the first Independence of Armenia, we celebrate this independence without fifty percent of its territory. Our first independence proves that Armenia has always been able to overcome impasses, and with the hope of a better tomorrow for all Armenians, I wish for us to have an internationally recognized independent Republic of Artsakh.