This Week in Armenian History

Declaration of Artsakh Independence (September 2, 1991)

On September 2, 1991, the people of Artsakh, then known as Nagorno (Mountainous) Karabagh, declared their independence from the Soviet Union. 

Lawmakers from the Nagorno Karabagh Regional Council and the Shahumian Regional Council convened a meeting on September 2, 1991, and declared the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic with its border encompassing those of the Nagorno Karabagh Autonomous Region, as Artsakh was known in the Soviet Union, and the Shahumian Region. The move was in line with the day’s laws, particularly a Soviet measure of April 3, 1990, which entitled national autonomies to determine their status on their own. 

On December 10, 1991, a few days before the official collapse of the Soviet Union, Karabagh held a referendum, where the overwhelming majority of the population, 99.89 percent, voted in favor of complete independence from Azerbaijan, which had already started its violent anti-Armenian campaign with pogroms, attacks against civilians, and other actions.  

The Artsakh liberation war began in September 1991, when Azerbaijan bombarded Stepanakert for the first time, launching Alazan rockets from Shushi. In 1994, at the request of Azerbaijan, a trilateral (Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabagh Republic, Armenia) ceasefire agreement, brokered by Russia, was signed on May 12. 

On September 2, 2006, the people of Artsakh adopted the country’s Constitution through a referendum. Artsakh has been able to establish and cultivate a pluralistic democracy and open civil society, ranking significantly higher on international freedom and democracy indices than its authoritarian neighbor Azerbaijan, which launched the unprovoked 44-day war in September-November 2020 and imposed its military superiority and the assistance of its ally Turkey and mercenaries over the heroic stance of Armenian soldiers. The ceasefire agreement on November 9, 2020, again brokered by Russia, only consecrated the loss of territories amid a deafening international silence and inaction. 

On the thirtieth anniversary of independence, on September 2, 2021, the Foreign Ministry of Artsakh declared:  

“Since its independence, the Republic of Artsakh has gone through numerous trials, including devastating wars and heavy losses. Nevertheless, neither terror and threats nor blockade and repeated armed aggressions could break the will of the people of Artsakh and their determination to defend their independence and sovereignty, as well as to strengthen and develop their statehood.

“We are convinced that the Armenian statehood in Artsakh is the main guarantor of the preservation of national identity, dignity and ensuring a secure future, as well as a means for the people to exercise their inalienable right to determine their own political destiny.”