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Restoration of Armenian Independence: Armenian Third Republic

Armenia Map

Map of Armenia.

On September 21, 1991, the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia decided to hold a referendum to separate from the USSR and declare its independence. Following an overwhelming vote in favor, full independence was declared by the Supreme Council of Armenia.

On October 16, 1991, just about a month after independence, Armenians went to the polls. Levon Ter-Petrossian won the election by a pressing majority of 83 percent. However, there were many internal and external pressures the newly elected president had to face. The major internal problem was the virtual blockade of Armenia by Azerbaijan and Turkey, a situation which has still not been resolved to this day. Another major issue concerned the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan. Other domestic problems included the employment of free market reforms and the establishment of democratic governmental structures. The most pressing external concern was the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh.

Meanwhile, Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, continued to support Azerbaijan in order to pressure Armenia to join his new union, the Union of Sovereign States. Ter-Petrossian rushed to calm Moscow’s concern regarding its future relations with Yerevan. Deciding not to join a political union, Armenia signed an economic treaty with Moscow which created a free-trade zone. Gorbachev had a verbal agreement to join his new union from leaders of seven republics including Azerbaijan; but Armenia, the Baltic republics, Georgia and Ukraine refused to join.

However, things evolved much faster than anyone could foresee. On December 8, 1991, the heads of three Slavic republics--Ukraine, Russia and Belarus--announced the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Armenia was the first state among the former Soviet Countries to positively respond to the Minsk Agreement. On December 21, together with eight other republics, Armenia applied to join the CIS. On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formally dissolved.

A bloody war, started towards the end of Soviet Union, ended in 1994 with the signing of a ceasefire, which left Nagorno Karabakh as a de facto independent state. Peace talks, mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group, have been held since by Armenia and Azerbaijan. There was significant progress in peace talks in 2009, but progress then stalled, and in 2010-11 there were a number of ceasefire violations. Russia, France and the US co-chair the OSCE's Minsk Group, which has been attempting to find a political solution to the conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.