Remarks at Embassy Yerevan’s Independence Day Celebration

The United States of America Celebrates Independence Day

Mr. Prime Minister, other members of the Cabinet, distinguished guests, and dear friends: thank you for joining us tonight as we celebrate the 241st anniversary of the independence of the United States of America.

With this summer evening of jazz, food, and fireworks, we hope to recreate and share with you, right here in this little corner of America in Yerevan, the festive atmosphere of how we celebrate July 4th across the United States.

When Americans come together every July 4th to celebrate our Independence Day, we are reminded of the powerful desire for national sovereignty, for freedom, for democracy that inspired thirteen British colonies to adopt a declaration of independence on July 4th, 1776.

And I have to say, as I reflect on the privilege and the great gift of national independence, my thoughts this year turn not just to the United States, but also to Armenia, which has accomplished so much since gaining its independence in 1991.

And while I can only imagine, by reading history books and historical records, what it must have been like when the American founding fathers declared American independence, I had the very unforgettable and personal honor of experiencing a little bit of the birth and the first steps of the independent Republic of Armenia 25 years ago.  At the time, as I think many of you have heard by now, I was the first desk officer at the Department of State in charge of relations with new, independent Armenia at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC.  In fact, I remember a long, but very special night in December 1991, sitting in a room with three other lawyers from the Department of State, drafting the official memo that was to go to Secretary Baker, for him to formally approve the U.S. recognition of the sovereign Republic of Armenia. And I’m going to share a little story with you from that evening.

We were signing that memo right before the first visit of the first president of the independent Republic of Armenian to Washington.  The president and Secretary Baker were scheduled to meet the next morning, and all the necessary papers had been prepared, all the talking points had been drafted, and I thought I could go home, and then I got a phone call. And that phone call was from the Chief of Staff of Secretary of State Baker. And the chief of staff said, “Mr. Mills, Secretary Baker wants to know, what are the colors of the Armenian flag?”

And I said, “Red, blue, and orange”

And the Chief of Staff said, “Well then, why is the flag, flying in the lobby red, blue, and yellow? Secretary Baker would like you to make sure that there is a flag hanging tomorrow that is red, blue, and orange. Good luck.”

So at first I thought I should call Leigh and tell her that my career was over. But then I had an insight. I could always turn to the Armenian Church for help. So I call the Armenian Apostolic Church in northern Virginia and reached a very nice priest there and asked him, do you have an Armenian flag I could borrow. “But I have to make sure, is your flag really blue, red, and orange?”

And the very nice father said, “Well I’m here teaching some Armenian lesson to some young foreign 4th, 5th graders but we could get you that flag.” So I jumped into a car with three other State Department officers, and we drove to the church to get the flag. And when I arrived, I found 20 young Armenian-Americans holding orange paint brushes and orange magic-markers and a priest holding a beautiful red, blue, and very orange flag. So in the end we had a perfect red, blue, and orange flag for the first meeting of the president and secretary of state and I got to keep my job.

All of that just goes to show that the launch of any new independent nation into the international community is never smooth and that there are a lot of details that don’t get written into official histories.

But as we gather tonight on this beautiful but windy evening, we are celebrating not only American independence, but another important milestone – 25 years of the diplomatic relations that have followed between that meeting of the secretary of state and the first president, 25 years of U.S.-Armenia diplomatic friendship.

Before concluding, I would like to take an opportunity to thank all of you for joining us tonight. Everyone here represents the partnership, the people-to-people ties between the United States and Armenia and we are honored to have you here. And let me conclude also by thanking and expressing our sincere gratitude here at the Embassy to all our sponsors for tonight’s event. It is thanks to our sponsors’ support and enormous generosity that we are able to organize this very special event. You can find our sponsors’ logo on the big banner at the start of the walkway leading into the grounds, as well as in the program for tonight’s event. And I also want to end by thanking my good friend, Foreign Minister Nalbandian, for his personal support and generosity in allowing the Embassy to exhibit the photos that highlight key moments from our past 25 years of relations. Many of these photos come from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ archives.  Thank you, Eduard, for sharing them with us tonight.

And it is now my great pleasure to invite our guest of honor, Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan to say a few words.