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Introduction- The Value of Independence
This Independence Day, known colloquially as the Fourth of July, America celebrated the 247th anniversary of her Declaration of Independence. The Second Continental Congress ratified this Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. This is the most critical date when the United States of America became an independent nation. America chose self-determination with this historic, meaningful, and timeless unanimous declaration of the original 13 states.
While the French Revolution, celebrated on July 14, known colloquially as “Bastille Day,” is different from the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, the symbolic siege of the seat of the “Ancien Regime” (Old Regime or the King) signaled the victory of the People of Paris against tyranny establishing self-determination.
Enlightenment and Declaration of Independence
The Enlightenment theories of ethics, psychology, and social constructs inspired the Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution. The ideals of a social contract were sharply contrasted with the tyrannical central power of a chosen few. Locke and Bentham in England, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot in France, and Paine and Jefferson in America sharply criticized the authoritarian state, arguing for a social organization based on natural rights functioning as what we know to be a democracy. Jefferson and the founders of America particularly enshrined natural rights into the first ten amendments of the United States Constitution, known as the “Bill of Rights.”
The words of self-determination found in the Declaration of Independence were powerful.
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
International Law and Treaties
Not surprisingly, the American Declaration set the tone for developing international law on human rights. Self-determination is a core principle of international law, arising from customary international law, but also recognized as a general principle of law and protected in several international treaties.
Today, The right to self-determination is contained in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Self-determination is also found in the United Nations (UN) Charter in Article 1 Section 2, which establishes that one of the primary purposes of the United Nations, and thus the Security Council, is to develop friendly international relations based on respect for the “principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.” Article 2 of the same Charter prohibits threats or use of force and calls on all nations to respect other states’ sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 15 states that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no one should be arbitrarily deprived of or denied the right to change nationality.
“Benefiting from this history and international law on self-determination, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia for the second time on February 17, 2008, the first being proclaimed but remaining unrecognized on September 7, 1990. Serbia again disputed the validation of the 2008 declaration. The International Court of Justice, in an advisory opinion dated July 22, 2010, concluded: “that the adoption of Kosovo’s declaration of independence of February 17, 2008, did not violate general international law.” The Court citing the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999, said, “The international law of self-determination developed in such a way as to create a right to independence for the peoples of non-self-governing territories and peoples subject to alien subjugation, domination, and exploitation” and that “a great many new States have come into existence as a result of the exercise of this right.”
Right to Independence
In November 2020, I wrote a short piece, “Lasting Peace in the Caucasus can only be achieved with a collaborative frame.” In that article, I cited the law the people of Artsakh used for self-determination in 1991, the same direction that every “independent state of the former Soviet Union,” including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, used to declare their independence. Like Serbia’s rejection of Kosovo’s first declaration, Azerbaijan refused to recognize the declaration, which resulted in the war of 1991, where the people of Artsakh secured their land, which they had occupied for several millennia. Sadly, encouraged by its ally Turkey, Azerbaijan, aided by several countries including Israel and Turkey, launched an unprovoked offensive to occupy most of Artsakh. Today what remains of Artsakh is under a complete blockade by the Azeri military for more than 200 days.
Instead of supporting Artsakh’s right under international law for self-determination, every country, including the United States and France, has become tone-deaf in not hearing the cries of 120,000 ethnic Armenians trapped in their land.
Question to the world?
If self-determination denotes the legal right of people to decide their own destiny in the international order, and if Self-determination is a core principle of international law and good for the United States, France, and Kosovo, then why are all these political gymnastics jeopardizing the lives of ethnic Armenians of Artsakh?
No one, including Armenia, has the right to subjugate the people of Artsakh to the proven ill will of an authoritarian. The Republic of Artsakh must be allowed to negotiate its destiny for independence. As France celebrates “Bastille Day,” I ask President Macron to think about the phrase inscribed in the Pantheon, “Vivre Libre ou Mourir.”
Frank V. Zerunyan is a Professor of the Practice of Governance at the University of Southern California (USC) Sol Price School of Public Policy (USC Price) and Director of Executive Education at USC Price Bedrosian Center on Governance. Professor Zerunyan oversees USC’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) as the Director and University Liaison for the U.S. Air Force, Army, Naval Reserves ROTC, and Nautical Science Programs.
Professor Zerunyan’s principal areas of expertise include governance, public-private partnerships, civic and ethical leadership, land use, medical regulation, negotiation, and executive education. He lectures locally and globally to build capacity and foster leadership among public executives worldwide. He is the author of books, book chapters, and many short articles published nationally, internationally, and on USC Price’s “Faculty Perspectives.” Professor Zerunyan is often quoted in the media and is a USC resource for journalists as an expert in governance and leadership. He is also an expert on public administration at the United Nations Innovation Branch (formerly Capacity Building Branch).
For his influential advisory role in the Republic of Armenia, he was awarded LL.D. Doctor of Laws – Honoris Causa by the Public Administration Academy of the Republic of Armenia. Professor Zerunyan designs curricula and teaches at the American University in Armenia, Yerevan State University, and the Vazgen Sargsyan Military University in Armenia, with an honorary rank of colonel. He also teaches for the U.S. Navy at the U.S. Naval Service Training Command.
Professor Zerunyan serves on the editorial boards of the Public Administration Scientific Journal for the Republic of Armenia and the Ukrainian Law Review. He is on the board of councilors of Anahuac University Law School, Xalapa, Mexico (Consejo Consultivo de la Escuela de Derecho).
Professor Zerunyan earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence (Doctor of Laws) degree from Western State University College of Law and his Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University Long Beach. He also completed his advanced legal education in Corporate Taxation at the University of Southern California Law Center (USC Gould). He is a graduate of the California League of Cities’ Civic Leadership Institute.
Professor Zerunyan, trained and practiced as a lawyer, is a four-term Mayor and Councilmember in the City of Rolling Hills Estates, California. He serves on several city, county, and regional policy boards and committees. He was also a gubernatorial appointee under Governor Schwarzenegger, serving 38 million medical consumers on the Medical Board of California.