As we in the U.S. enjoy the fireworks and celebrate July 4, we probably don’t think about independence.

Armenia doesn’t have that luxury. We know that independence was never a given, at any time during the last 30 years, and even less so in the last few years.

Part of assuring independence is understanding it. How did it come about? What were the initial hopes and desires? How did those change over time? What has consolidated independence and what has served to weaken it?

That’s exactly what we are doing at the USC Institute of Armenian Studies.

The UNDERSTANDING INDEPENDENCE: Oral Histories of Armenia 1986-1994 program collects long-format interviews with those who directly participated in Armenia’s independence break from the USSR, on the path to independence.

Interview with Karabakh Committee Member Aleksan Hakobyan

The program is an attempt to understand what went right and what went wrong immediately before and after independence.

The majority of interviewees are from Armenia and Karabakh; some are in Los Angeles, Boston, and other communities. They include Karabakh Committee members, former prime ministers, environmental activists, journalists, teachers, and translators.

Interview with journalist, co-founder of Golden Apricot Film Festival Susanna Harutyunyan

“Together, the collection of these testimonies will become a primary source for anyone investigating this important time period in Armenia’s modern history,” says Associate Director Syuzanna Petrosyan, who manages the program. “The materials will provide sources for scholars, artists, filmmakers, and researchers worldwide.”

When did you first realize that the Karabakh issue was not going to be solved quickly? At what point did you understand that the Soviet Union was irreversibly falling? How did you receive news about events in Stepanakert in the early 90s? What were the connections with the diaspora before independence? These and other topics make up the extensive questionnaire prepared for each interviewee.

Interview with Margarita Karamyan - member of the regional administration of Hadrut, Karabakh.

“This program is of great importance for the field of Armenian Studies. The interviewees’ memories and thoughts reveal the history of the period and the most important events. With these materials, we can understand and re-evaluate the preconditions of the Artsakh movement and independence,” says Georgi Mirzabekyan, who is one of the interviewers. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Armenia’s National Academy of Sciences History Department, and is a journalist at

If “information is power,” then this is a powerful collection. Over time, this first-of-its-kind archive will be incorporated into the USC Digital Libraries, while the hard copies of documents and photographs will be housed at the National Library of Armenia.