Lawyer Plans ‘Write-in’ on Today’s Ballot for Armenian Independence : Election: ‘We’re creating our own national state at last,’ will be his message. Ebullient citizens share his optimism.
Serob Musaelian plans to do more than just vote a resounding “Yes!” in today’s referendum on whether Armenia should become independent.
On his ballot, the 65-year-old lawyer said: “I’ll write this: ‘For more than 600 years, our people were deprived of statehood and served other nations, big and small. And now a historic era has opened, and we’re creating our own national state at last.”’
Although the election was still a day away, Armenians were already in the streets of their capital Friday to celebrate the overwhelming vote that everyone expects for secession from the Soviet Union.
Even Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the cautious scholar who is president of this mountainous Soviet republic of 3.2 million, said in an interview that he expected a 75% majority, more than enough to qualify the referendum result as valid under Soviet law’s strict requirement of two-thirds.
“Today,” Ter-Petrosyan told a visiting delegation of American congressman, “the republic of Armenia is entering a new stage of history.”
Until recently, he said, many Armenians feared that their small nation could not manage without the giant Soviet Union to protect it. But now, he said, Armenia has come to understand that it must create its own guarantee of security, “and this means mainly normal relations with all its neighbors.”
Eight of the other remaining 11 Soviet republics have also declared their independence. But Armenia alone is pursuing that goal in full compliance with Soviet law. Ter-Petrosyan backs Armenian participation in all the top Soviet power structures for the time being, including the new Supreme Soviet (Parliament), the State Council of republic presidents and economic coordination groups.
The Armenian Parliament is scheduled to meet Monday to issue a proclamation of independence, and negotiations on secession are expected to begin soon after, as specified in Soviet law.
Armenia was independent for a brief period from 1918 to 1920 before being absorbed into the Soviet Union. It has not enjoyed long-term sovereignty since the downfall of the Armenian state of Kilikia in the 14th Century.
Even if Armenia’s independence is not immediately recognized by the Soviet Union, officials say the republic will still agree to broad economic cooperation with the other republics. Some propose a military treaty with the Russian Federation, as long as it does not impinge on Armenia’s independence.
Even more striking than Armenia’s pragmatic approach to the Soviet Union is its willingness to normalize relations with Turkey, the longtime enemy responsible for the massacre of estimated 1.5 million Armenians in 1915.
“We’re not even scared of our traditional enmities with some of our neighbors,” Ter-Petrosyan said.
Armenia’s festering conflict with the neighboring Soviet republic of Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has evolved into a virtual civil war in which hundreds have died, may also be nearing a turning point.
Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and Kazakhstan President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev arrived in the region Friday to seek a political solution to the conflict. Ter-Petrosyan said military tension had already dropped since Soviet troops stopped intervening in the dispute after last month’s failed coup in Moscow.
The mood in Yerevan seems better than at any time since the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict erupted in 1988. Armenia has compiled an impressive measure of success in its economic reforms, with about 70% of public land already sold to private farmers.
The streets of Yerevan are enlivened by small stands selling imported beer, cigarettes and food--at exorbitant prices by Soviet standards, although they are reportedly dropping--and orange-red-and-blue national flags hang everywhere.
Some residents said they could not remember the city so festive since the Armenian soccer team won the Soviet championships in 1973.
“Here you can see the smiles on people’s faces,” said university student Nune Zastukhova. “In Moscow, even now, you can’t find a smile.”
Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Manukian said on television that the republic has laid a good economic foundation for independence, with plans under way to continue privatization, set up Armenian banks in France and begin using a new satellite communication system.
Government financial specialist Karen Shakhnazaryan predicted that the referendum could approach a 100% yes vote, and Zastukhova agreed.
“Who wants to live in slavery?” she asked.
Babken Ararktsian, chairman of the independence referendum commission, said he could not predict the vote’s outcome. But he made no pretense of neutrality.
“For all the Armenian families, both inside Armenia and in the diaspora, this has been one of their biggest dreams, to have an independent state,” he said. “Tomorrow, we’ll give an answer not only on our behalf but also on behalf of our fathers and grandfathers, and our children and coming generations.”
Musaelian, the lawyer, could be seen Friday evening at an independence rally holding his 2-year-old grandson, Michael, in his arms as megaphones blared Armenian music.
“I want my grandson to see all this,” he said, looking down at the doe-eyed boy, “and remember this solemn day, this historic day for our people.”