Home / Analysis / How Levon Ter-Petrossian Envisioned Independence in 1991: Leaked Cable

How Levon Ter-Petrossian Envisioned Independence in 1991: Leaked Cable

In May 1991, then Armenian Supreme Soviet Chair Levon Ter-Petrossian outlined to US Embassy officials his vision of the path to Armenia’s independence. First, he said, Armenia planned to follow the USSR Supreme Soviet law on secession. This was stated in a recently leaked US diplomatic cable written by then US Deputy Chief of Mission to the USSR James F. Collins.

Ter-Petrossian told US officials that six months ago, Moldavian President Mircha Snegur introduced a plan for cooperation among the six republics which had no intention of signing the union treaty. These include the three Baltic republics, Georgia, Moldova, and Armenia.

“At that time these republics had a strong sense that the center would implement punitive measures to keep them in the union. Armenian Supreme Soviet foreign affairs committee member Hovanes Igityan had just returned from a trip to Moldova and was preparing to leave for the Baltics the next day to continue these discussions. Igityan is the working-level Armenian representative in the formulation of countermeasures to any kind of economic pressure the nine may try to inflict on these six republics.

“Igityan indicated that these discussions had become more frequent since the Apr. 23 signing of the nine-plus-one declaration. He added that the leaders of the six republics had not yet met because they have been busy with their own problems in their respective republics.

“Ter-Petrossian maintained that any kind of economic sanctions against the six republics would be very difficult to carry out because of the nature of the Soviet economic system. He asserted that the close economic integration of the republics would make it very hard for the center or the nine republics to take action without suffering retaliation. Thus, he concluded that such economic pressure would backfire on the center,” writes Collins.

In a section titled “A Legal Path to Independence,” the US diplomat notes that Ter-Petrossian informed embassy officials on his plan for Armenia’s secession from the Soviet Union:

“This process will begin with the Sept. 21 republic referendum on independence. Soon after, Armenian officials plan to hold republic elections. After the elections, the new Republic Supreme Soviet will draft a new constitution. Finally, the Republic will complete the final stages for complete independence from the Soviet Union. Ter-Petrossian and Armenian Supreme Soviet foreign relations commission chairman Vardaniyan could not give a specific time frame and indicated that the process could take a long time. Ter-Petrossian maintained that Armenia’s choice to follow the legal route to independence had upset the center and therefore the center exacerbated the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute.”

Collins also mentions meetings with Armenian Communist Party and government officials, who said that Armenian Communist Party chief Stefan Pogosyan resigned on May 13 because “he refused to collude with the center against the Armenians.” However, local government official Serzhik Dovladbegyan told them Pogosyan resigned because he had been asked to form a national salvation committee in Armenia to work against the Armenian independence movement. Kamu Kocharyan, another local official, said Pogosyan resigned because “he did not want to betray his people.” Other officials told us the last straw for Pogosyan was when he asked Gorbachev for a meeting to discuss the deportation of Getashen and Martunashen and was refused.

“Dzhema Ananyan, formerly a very active Armenian Communist Party activist and member of the USSR CPSU Control Commission, embodied the bitterness local communists feel toward the CPSU and the center… When [embassy officials] met Ananyan on May 15 in her office in the Armenian border city of Idjevan, she exuded bitterness and disgust toward the center and the CPSU. She accused the center of conducting ‘a campaign of state terror against the Armenians.’ She added, ‘I have been a loyal and dedicated Communist Party official for 40 years and this is how they treat us.’ She showed [embassy officials] a copy of her published statement in which she resigned from the CPSU Control Commission and aired her disgust with the center’s support of Azerbaijan and the shelling of villages along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. She also reflected that ‘it is strange that they would give the Nobel Peace Prize to a man who would conduct this kind of terror campaign’,” referring to Gorbachev.

The cable ends with the US Deputy Chief of Mission returning to his discussion with Ter-Petrossian, who said Armenian officials are engaged in negotiations with the Soviet Army over the status of Armenia’s draftees and where they will serve. According to the draft agreement with the Soviet Army, Armenia would conclude its own agreements with other republics about where soldiers would serve.

“Ter-Petrossian said they were in the process of concluding such an agreement with Lithuania, for example. The Armenian leader said the plan has the blessing of USSR Defense Minister Yazov and one of his deputies, who has just been in Armenia to finalize the agreement.

“Ter-Petrossian said that Armenia was particularly anxious to settle this issue, particularly given their historical experience with Russian troops. He said that in 1918 and 1942, Russian soldiers had abandoned Armenia to the enemy and had not defended the republic against hostile forces. ‘With our own part of the army staffed by Armenians, this would not happen,’ he said,” wrote Collins.

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