30TH ANNIVERSARY OF ARMENIA'S INDEPENDENCE: AN OCCASION NEITHER TO LAUGH NOR TO WEEP
By Edmond Y. Azadian
The second part of this headline has been borrowed from Rev. Abraham Hartunian’s memoirs on the Genocide, Neither to Laugh Nor to Weep, because it reflects and defines the mood in Armenia today.
In preparation for the forthcoming 30th anniversary of the country’s independence, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced in a parliament session that the government had set up plans to mark the anniversary with grand and colorful celebrations.
The reaction was swift and intense, yet not for the reasons the premier might have hoped for. The announcement touched a raw nerve particularly amongst the family members of the martyred soldiers. There were flash mob events facilitated through Facebook by the grieving families, some of whom threatened to disrupt those celebrations.
In today’s polarized atmosphere, any issue can be cause for controversy. Therefore, it was not surprising that the opposition seized the opportunity to capitalize on the massive emotional outbursts by the families of the victims.
In the past, the independence anniversary was celebrated on Republic Square, with military parades and the demonstration of state-of-the-art weaponry backing the Armenian armed forces’ claims to be the most powerful fighting force in the region. After last year’s defeat, any such display not only would prove to be arrogant but would also expose and project the true picture of the army; if Armenia displayed its obsolete hardware, that would encourage the enemy to plan its next move accordingly. On the other hand, if Armenia paraded weapons recently procured from Russia, that would pose another political problem. That is why the government has opted for a colorful, civilian celebration and a company was hired whose founder revealed that "only classical music would be featured."
But that did not calm the public and the controversy went viral.
One opposition parliament member, Gegham Nazaryan, wrote: "They are planning to spend $2 million to insult the memory of our heroes. Those who are planning to sing and dance will be treading on the blood of our martyred children. If they want to mark an anniversary, let them play Bach and Mozart, let them invite the Catholicos to pray. … What are we celebrating? The fall of Shushi?"
Incidentally, on this occasion, official figures of the dead soldiers have been revised down from 4,000-5,000 to 3,800 or even less. That does not in any way mitigate the trauma of the losses nor can the figure of 7,000 Azerbaijani losses become a source of consolation.
The human sacrifices are coupled with territorial losses — Karabakh has lost 75 percent of its territory and Azerbaijani forces have crossed the border into Armenia, threatening to impose their will on Armenia should it not agree to the terms dictated by the victors and facing the loss of sovereign Armenian soil.
After waging a 44-day war against Armenia last year, Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan have become messengers of peace in the world. We have to admit that both countries have orchestrated their media campaigns so skillfully that no major power raised any objection to their blatant violations of international law. On top of that, President Vladimir Putin is now wearing the mantle of savior, claiming that had it not been for his efforts to draft and sign the November 9 tripartite declaration, Armenia would have suffered more losses.
In fact, President Aliyev himself confided recently that had the war continued for another week or so, their losses would have been insurmountable. And this despite the combined forces of Turkey, Azerbaijan, ISIS Jihadists and Pakistani Air Force pilots.
Ironically, with this war, Israeli drone manufactures became the inadvertent bedfellows of Islamic jihadists, all of whom worked to support illegal Azerbaijani actions.
The irony is the fact that both Turkey and Azerbaijan outspend Armenia in their media allocations and thus earn the moniker of "peacemaker," with Russia offering its mediation. In fact, at this time, all their interests coincide because the alternative to that conditional peacemaking is the convening of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, two of whose co-chairs (the US and France) insist the status of Karabakh has yet to be determined, as US Ambassador to Armenia Lynne Tracey said this week, while Moscow, Ankara and Baku have been trying to keep the West away from the Caucasus.
The war was bad enough to break the Armenian people’s morale; now the division and polarization are wreaking havoc.
Writing in the news outlet 1in.am, the commentator Aram Amatuni states, "The atmosphere of hostility is the most crucial challenge for Armenia’s government."
That statement reflects the true reality in Armenia. Yet, ironically, many in Armenia believe that Aram Amatuni is the penname of former Member of Parliament Arman Babajanyan, who is the main source of vitriolic attacks against the former regime.
Unfortunately, with all the current problems, the pandemic is spreading unchecked. The majority of the citizens fatalistically are embracing death by refusing to wear masks or to receive Covid vaccines.
Armenia’s independence is an occasion to rejoice and to laugh but the ravages of war, coupled with the remains of many soldiers still unburied, have created a trauma we have yet to overcome. It is a cause to grieve and to weep.
On September 21, Armenia’s population will be caught between two polar opposite emotions. They are not sure whether to laugh or to weep.