02/15/2024, 10.56
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Armenia's identity yesterday and today

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Behind the ongoing discussions in Yerevan on whether to change the constitution, along with the national symbol and anthem, there is not only the Nagorno Karabakh issue. At stake is above all the affirmation of the 'duty to pursue the interests of the entire Armenian world', which risks looking at the history of the past rather than the interests of the citizens of Armenia today. The knot of relations with Moscow.

Yerevan (AsiaNews) - Discussions continue in Armenia over whether the constitution should be changed, along with the national symbol and anthem, following proposals made by Prime Minister Nikol Pašinyan. The deputy of the majority party of the Civil Accord, Vaagn Aleksanyan, commented in an interview with Ota on the opposition's accusations that the current leadership intends to "distort the identity of the Armenian people". In his opinion, 'very deep dimensions of our life are at stake in this debate, which we must address together, otherwise we will not be able to move forward'.

There are several elements that need to be clarified, Aleksanyan insists, both in the text of the constitution and in the very symbolism included in the national coat of arms, with the shield between the eagle and the lion (wisdom and pride) representing Mount Ararat with Noah's ark on top (the biblical mountain now in Turkish territory) and the rest of the territory sinking into the waves of Lake Sevan below. He observes that 'it is certainly not a positive identity to have a people living underwater in a foreign land'. The paintings on the sides of the mountain present with images of plants and animals the four kingdoms of Armenian history, the Bagratids, the Aršakids, the Artašesids and the Rubenids, of which the present population now knows very little.

Today's Armenia is in fact just a peripheral remnant of the ancient kingdom, the first Christian state in history, then almost completely annihilated by the Ottoman Turks until the genocide in the early 1900s, and saved substantially by the support of the Soviet Russians. Aleksanyan is convinced that 'we must understand our identity today, it is neither necessary nor possible to do so in a few days, but we must at least start talking about it'. The loss of the Artsakh conquered by the Azeris is one of the triggers for this new realisation, along with the conflict between Russia and Ukraine itself.

In this sense, it is important to clarify the proposal to remove from the constitution the reference to the Declaration of Independence, which states in practice that 'the Republic of Armenia as a state has the duty to pursue the interests of the entire Armenian world', making it very difficult to define what the interests of the many Armenians living in Russia and Ukraine, not to mention the disputed territories with Azerbaijan, are. He is convinced that 'Armenia's constitution must be about the interests of the people living in Armenia'.

One of the most heated aspects of the debate concerns the claims of Baku's president Ilham Aliev, to whom Prime Minister Pašinyan would like to submit. For Aleksanyan, 'it is a strange statement, whereby first Pašinyan says he wants to change the constitution, then the opposition says he wants to do it at Aliev's behest, and only at the end does Aliev say: yes, I want you to change the constitution'. Indeed, it is not clear what Aliev's wish consists of, except for the references to Nagorno Karabakh, which are not explicit anywhere in the text.

According to Pašinyan, Armenia must become 'a competitive and autonomous country in the new geopolitical conditions', and Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan also called it 'an exaggeration' to consider the process of regulating Armenian-Azerbaijani relations as the sole cause of the amendment to the state's basic law. In addition to the rhetorical skirmishes with Azerbaijan, with which tensions continue to remain very high, with constant episodes of local conflicts on the borders, the issue of the 'new identity' affects the relationship with Russia in even deeper ways.

In Pašinyan's recent interview with The Telegraph, which is also fuelling discussion and controversy, the premier stated that 'relations with Moscow should no longer be one of stable alliance, but of simple partnership, as with the United States and the European Union'. A stance far more radical than local issues, severing bridges with Armenia's ancient and recent past.

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