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Who will decide Armenia's destiny -- patriots or tyrants?

As Armenia begins its 20th year of independence, its dreams for democracy have been mugged by the reality of a repressive government. But some patriots are working to ensure that the tree of liberty will grow in Armenia one day.

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Across an ocean and a continent, on a sliver of land tucked between two seas, a little republic today enters its 20th year of independence. I know a man there, an American by birth – except that 20 years ago, he quit his law firm in Los Angeles, decided he had no further business in the United States, and went to search for his destiny in Armenia.

It was a romantic time. One by one, the 15 Soviet satellites were breaking from the Kremlin’s orbit, and exiled sons were returning to their homelands to share in the creation of new republics.

As for my father, Raffi K. Hovannisian, once the football star of the Pali High Dolphins, he left a promising legal career and moved with wife and children to Yerevan, the capital of Soviet Armenia. After independence was officially declared on Sept. 21, 1991, my father was handed a fax machine and a first month’s paycheck of 600 rubles – $143. He was told he was the republic’s first minister of foreign affairs.

Post-Soviet seeds of democracy

All across the Soviet plains, the seeds of democracy were being sown into soil tyrannized for generations, but no one doubted that they would grow. My father certainly didn’t. Within a year, he had established diplomatic relations with every major democracy in the world. At United Nations headquarters in New York, he had raised the red, blue, and orange Armenian flag.

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