On September 21, 1991, Armenia held the first referendum in its 4.000-year history. The reason was as momentous as the occasion was unique: a “yes” or “no” vote on independence from the USSR. Along with scores of observes from Soviet republics and foreign countries, Helsinki Commission staff monitored the balloting, in which, according to official Armenian sources, 95 percent of eligible voters participated and 99 percent of them voted “yes”.
Armenia is the only Soviet republic that is seeking its independence in conformity with the Soviet law on secession, which currently involves a series of referendum over five years and protracted negotiations with central authorities. The overwhelming result on September 21 provided what Armenia’s leadership sees as the legal basis for a declaration of independence, which the parliament issued unanimously on September 23. Armenia has now taken its initial step toward independence, even if the process of obtaining full independence may still take several years. At this writing, the Armenian government is waiting to enter into serious, good faith negotiations with the Central Government in Moscow regarding financial claims by both sides.