Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan has announced he will resign from the post amidst recent rumors of his coming leave from office as well as pressure from local officials, according to him. This also comes only a few days after former Artsakh State Minister Ruben Vardanyan also demanded his resignation.
Harutyunyun’s decision comes at a difficult time for the Armenian enclave that sits surrounded by Azerbaijani territory, nine months into a brutal supply blockade by Azerbaijani forces that has deprived over 100,000 citizens of Artsakh of essential goods including food, water, and fuel, as well as a lack of outside medical services or supplies. Widespread shortages and emergency conditions have been onset as a result in the enclave, as well as mass unemployment and the closure of schools. Human rights observers have called such actions a form of warfare that they liken to ethnic cleansing and genocide. Azerbaijan has sabotaged critical infrastructure, including gas, electricity, and internet services; blocked alternate routes; threatened Artsakh with military invasion; and fired on foreign observers and civilians. Harutyunyan notably come to power before the 44-day war in 2020 that saw Armenia forced to concede disputed land containing 5 cities, 4 towns, and 286 villages to Azerbaijan.
“Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan has announced that he will resign on Friday, September 1. Harutyunyan also said he dismissed Artsakh State Minister Gurgen Nersisyan and named Artsakh’s Security Council Secretary Samvel Shahramanyan as his replacement. Artsakh State Minister’s Advisor Artak Beglaryan has also resigned after State Minister Gurgen Nersisyan was dismissed by President Harutyunyan.
According to the latest amendment to the “Rules of Law of the National Assembly” of Artsakh, the President of Artsakh can be elected by the Parliament. The Parliament adopted the change in two readings in June. On July 14, President Arayik Harutyunyan signed the amendment, which entered into force. According to that amendment, during martial law, the Parliament elects a President who will stay in office until the end of the incumbent President’s term expires. The election should take place no earlier than 7 but no later than 10 days after the resignation.
Arayik Harutyunyan was elected in May 2020 for a five-year term. Therefore, the President elected by the National Assembly will serve until 2025. Harutyunyan said, “I made this final decision two days ago, taking into account my interactions with all internal and external actors and the public in recent weeks. This is a decision made solely by me based on the results of the analysis of the information I have,” in a Facebook post.
Harutyunyan said he will continue to live in Artsakh with his family and will support the authorities. “This step is aimed, among other things, at ensuring strong public order and domestic stability in Artsakh. Against all odds, domestic stability and public solidarity are preconditions for all successes, and any deviation or attempted deviation from this must be ruled out,” he added.”
“In a Facebook address on August 19, Vardanyan said that Harutyunyan had promised to resign by the start of that week and several times previously. “Some of the eight people present at that meeting did not believe your word. Another part said, ‘Maybe he is telling the truth this time,’” Vardanyan said.
Vardanyan’s video address came days after members of a state-controlled volunteer militia entered the Artsakh parliament in a show of support for Harutyunyan on August 16. They demanded a meeting with the head of the Artsakh parliament Davit Ishkhanyan and other parliamentarians, which did not take place. The militia was created during the 2020 war. It is made up of civilian volunteers and is under the control of the Artsakh Defense Ministry. The head of the militia Karen Matevosyan said that the militia was created to save Artsakh from “elimination” and did not intervene in domestic politics. At the time, Ishkhanyan called for “vigilance and restraint.” “Steps taken by some people who have appeared on public platforms under the guise of false unification calls aimed at destroying the foundations of our statehood are unacceptable,” Ishkhanyan said in a statement, without specifying who he was referring to. Ishkhanyan, a member of the ARF Bureau and opposition parliamentarian, was elected the speaker of the Artsakh National Assembly in a secret ballot on August 7. He was nominated by the “Free Motherland-United Civic Alliance” ruling coalition led by Harutyunyan.
Harutyunyan’s resignation comes nearly nine months into a devastating blockade imposed on Artsakh by Azerbaijan. Supplies of food, medicine and other basic necessities have dwindled, and international organizations and human rights groups have warned of a humanitarian crisis. Political analyst Tigran Grigoryan said that intense internal political developments have been unfolding in Artsakh over the past months against the backdrop of the blockade. He argued that different groups have emerged with diverging approaches to how to end the blockade and pursue negotiations with Azerbaijan, each of which have been vying for power. In an op-ed for CivilNet, Grigoryan argued that Vardanyan has united the opposition factions in the Artsakh parliament and the former presidents of Artsakh under one of these poles, with a differing stance on how to end the blockade than Harutyunyan.
Both the ruling leadership and opposition in Artsakh have been increasingly critical of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s administration since the 2020 Artsakh War, especially PM Pashinyan’s announcement that he is ready to recognize Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan.”