AW: Arayik Harutyunyan resigns as president of Artsakh

Arayik Harutyunyan

Arayik Harutyunyan has announced his decision to resign as the president of the Republic of Artsakh. 

Harutyunyan said the global “unstable geopolitical situation” and “Artsakh’s internal political and social environments” require flexibility and a change in approach in governance. “A change in the primary actors is needed in Artsakh, starting with me,” Harutyunyan said in a message posted on Facebook on August 31.

“My background and Azerbaijan’s attitude towards it are artificially creating a number of conditions generating significant problems with regard to our further steps and flexible policy. Besides, the defeat in the war and the resulting difficulties that emerged in the country reduced trust in the authorities and especially the president, which represents a very serious obstacle to further good governance,” Harutyunyan said.

Harutyunyan said he will present his official resignation to the Artsakh National Assembly on September 1. Artsakh State Minister Gurgen Nersisyan also resigned, and Secretary of the Security Council Samvel Sergey Shahramanyan has been appointed to replace him. 

Harutyunyan assumed the presidency in May of 2020. He served as president of Artsakh during the 44-day war waged by Azerbaijan in the fall of 2020, which resulted in Armenia’s defeat and the loss of the seven districts adjacent to Artsakh as well as a large part of Artsakh itself.

Rumors of Harutyunyan’s resignation had already been circulating in Armenian and Artsakh media. He recently enacted a constitutional amendment that would give the National Assembly the power to elect an interim president in case of his resignation. 

The former president has also faced pressure from other local politicians to step down. His decision comes days after former Artsakh State Minister Ruben Vardanyan demanded his resignation.

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.

Lillian Avedian is the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly. She reports on international women's rights, South Caucasus politics, and diasporic identity. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Democracy in Exile, and Girls on Key Press. She holds master's degrees in journalism and Near Eastern studies from New York University.