YEREVAN — Armenia celebrated the 22nd anniversary of Independence on September 21 with pompous official events and street marches calling for real independence and protesting the decision of President Serzh Sarkisian to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

In his congratulatory message on the occasion of Independence Day President Sarkisian said that independence is an intrinsic value. Yet, he did not say a single word about the decision to join the Russia-led Customs Union. He just said that one should not underestimate or overestimate their strength.

Armenia’s national independence is not at risk he insisted. “We live in a free country and can make anything a subject of discussion. But there is one thing that cannot change in any situation: the sovereignty of the Republic of Armenia,” Sarkisian said in a speech at an official reception held on the occasion.

“It’s a dream come true and an obligation that always accompanies us,” he declared. “It’s a holiday that we inherited with the blood of our heroes and an obligation that we must pass on to our grandchildren.”

The remarks appeared to be an attempt to allay fears raised in Armenian opposition and civic circles by Sarkisian’s September 3 pledge to make Armenia part of the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which Moscow wants to turn into a more tightly-knit Eurasian Union. Kremlin critics view the idea as an attempt to recreate the former Soviet Union. Hence, accusations in Armenia that Sarkisian put national independence at risk with his last-minute U-turn.

World leaders have sent congratulatory messages on the occasion of the 22nd anniversary of Independence Day; among them were the presidents of Russia, France, Germany, Turkey, Mexico, China, Ukraine, Belarus; Queen Elizabeth II of England, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in particular, expressed confidence that with the joint efforts the two states will ensure further strengthening of the entire range of bilateral relations, “also in the context of Armenia’s accession to the Customs Union, which reflects the fundamental interests of the two brotherly countries”.

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Thousands March to “Reclaim” Armenia’s Independence

A few thousand marchers took to the street in Yerevan in a civic initiative to “reclaim” Armenia’s independence and to voice their opposition to Sarkisian’s recent announcement that the country intends to join the Russian-led Customs Union.

March organizers had released a statement arguing that Sarkisian does not speak in the name of the people and that Armenia should not join any outside union that threatens its sovereignty.

The marchers, from various political affiliations and stripes, assembled in Yerevan’s Liberty Square and then made their way down Northern Boulevard to Republic Square.

As the ranks of the marchers swelled, they took over one half of Amiryan Street despite the best efforts of the police to confine the protestors to the sidewalk.

A number of minor scuffles broke out between the marchers and the cops along the protest route.

More police were called in to confine the marchers along one sidewalk of Mashots Avenue as the throng made its way towards Baghramyan Avenue and the Presidential Palace.

Special Unit Forces were stretched to the limit as the marchers, mainly young people, circumvented police barricades, reaching the intersection at the National Assembly.

There, a cordon of police formed a human chain and held back the protestors from advancing further.

In the meantime, a convoy of black SUV’s was seen leaving the Presidential Palace.

Once the convoy had fled the scene, the police opened the barricade, allowing protestors to assemble opposite the now empty Presidential Palace.

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