The Constitution of the Soviet Union, adopted in 1977, established in article 71 that “Each Union Republic shall retain the right freely to secede from the USSR [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics].” In the late eighties, within the scope of Mikhail Gorbachev’s newly proclaimed policy of restructuration (perestroika) and transparency (glasnost), the political tension in the country would reach the point of explosion and, in the end, the secession and collapse of the Soviet Union would be completed between 1990 and 1991.
The Karabagh Movement started in February 1988, called “the test of perestroika” at the time, had its ebbs and flows, and the rise of the people became the inspiration for similar movements in other Soviet republics, such as the Baltic States, where the “popular fronts” made their appearance in the middle of the year. In Armenia, four days after the earthquake of December 7, 1988, the eleven members of the Karabagh Committee that led the movement were arrested and imprisoned in Moscow. A wide movement of international solidarity, as well as internal developments caused their release in May 1989.
The reformist tide in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the revolutions of 1989 that ended the Communist rule in Eastern Europe, including the fall of the Berlin wall that became the symbol of the reunification of Germany, were echoed in Armenia by the formation of the Armenian National Movement (ANM) as an alternative, democratic choice against party monopoly.
In February 1990 the Communist Party yielded its 70-year-long monopoly of power. The immediate result was the loss of four republics to the democratic opposition in parliamentary elections held in February and March (Lithuania, Moldova, Estonia, and Latvia). The three Baltic States, headed by Lithuania, declared the beginning of a process to reestablish themselves as independent states between March and May. In Armenia, the elections of May 1990 saw the victory of the ANM over the Communist Party.
In June a power struggle started between the Russian Federation, represented by Boris Yeltsin, newly elected chairman of the Presidium of its Supreme Soviet, and the Soviet Union, represented by Mikhail Gorbachev, first secretary of the Communist Party. It was followed in July by the resignation of Yeltsin from the Communist Party.
After run-off elections in June and July to complete the seats of the Supreme Soviet of Armenia, the democratic wave saw the victory of Levon Ter Petrossian, one of the leaders of the Karabagh Committee and the Armenian National Movement, over Vladimir Movsisian, the candidate of the Communist Party, in the election for president of the Supreme Council (Parliament), held on August 4.
Less than three weeks later, on August 23, Ter Petrossian, president of the Soviet Council, and Ara Sahakian, secretary, signed the proclamation of independence, which established that the Supreme Council declared “the beginning of the process of establishing of independent statehood positioning the question of the creation of a democratic society based on the rule of law” on the basis of the November 1, 1989 joint decision of the Armenian SSR Supreme Soviet and the Artsakh National Council on the reunification of Armenia and Upper Karabagh, “developing the democratic traditions of the independent Republic of Armenia established on May 28, 1918.”
The proclamation had twelve points: 1) The Armenian SSR was renamed Republic of Armenia, which would have its own flag, coat of arms, and anthem; 2) The Republic of Armenia became a self-governing state, where only its constitution and laws were valid; 3) The people were the bearer of Armenian statehood and exerted its authority through its representatives; the right to speak on behalf of the people belonged exclusively to the Supreme Council; 4) Citizens living on Armenian territory were granted citizenship, and Diasporan Armenians had the right of citizenship of Armenia; 5) The new republic created its own armed forces and organs of public security; 6) The republic led an independent foreign policy; 7) National wealth was property of their people, regulated by laws of the republic, which had the right to its share of the USSR national wealth; 8) The republic created the principles of its economic system and created its own money and financial system; 9) The republic guaranteed freedom of speech, press, and conscience; separation of powers; and a multi-party system; 10) The republic guaranteed the use of Armenian as the official language; 11) The republic stood in support of international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Finally, point 12 declared that the proclamation would be the basis for the future Armenian Constitution and, meanwhile, was the basis for the introduction of amendments to the current constitution and for the government of the country.
There was no date set to end the process of establishment of an independent statehood. The events would take a dramatic pace in 1991 and, thirteen months after the proclamation, Armenia held a referendum to declare its second independence in the twentieth century.