A New Political Climate
The resignation of Suren Harutiunian as first secretary of the CPA in April 1990 and the triumph of the APM in the elections of the spring and summer of 1990 signaled the end of the old party elite and the rise of a new Armenian political class that had matured during the two years of tensions over Karabakh. The newly elected Armenian parliament (which retained the Soviet-era name Supreme Soviet or Supreme Council) chose Levon Ter-Petrosian instead of the new CPA first secretary as its chairman, and hence as head of state of the republic.
With the APM in power and the communists in opposition, the transition from Soviet-style government to an independent democratic state began in earnest. The new government faced a nearly complete collapse of order in the republic. Buildings were seized by armed men in Erevan, and several independent militia groups operated in Erevan as well as on the Azerbaijani frontier. Frustrated by the Azerbaijani blockade and determined to defend their republic and Karabakh, members of Armenia's Fidain (whose name was taken from an Arabic term literally meaning "one who sacrifices himself" and recalling the Armenian freedom fighters of the turn of the century) raided arsenals and police stations to arm themselves for the coming battles. In July Gorbachev demanded immediate disarmament of the Armenian militias and threatened military intervention if they did not comply. In response, Ter-Petrosian's government itself disarmed the independent militias and restored order in Erevan.
On August 23, 1990, Armenia formally declared its intention to become sovereign and independent, with Nagorno-Karabakh an integral part of what now would be known as the Republic of Armenia rather than the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Armenian nation was defined broadly to include not only those living in the territory of the republic but also the worldwide Armenian émigré population as well.
In redefining Armenian national interests, the government acknowledged--but temporarily put aside--the painful question of Armenian genocide, having in mind improved relations with traditional enemies Turkey and Iran. This policy prompted strong criticism from extreme nationalist groups that wanted to recover territory lost to Turkey in World War I. The CPA was also vehemently critical.
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