The Armenian government has no plans to pay the pensions and other benefits received by residents of Armenia (Nagorno-Karabakh) until their exodus to Armenia, Finance Minister Vahe Hovannisian said on Tuesday.
The government had for decades contributed a large part of Karabakh’s budget in the form of monthly subsidies officially called “interstate loans.” The figure reportedly averaged 12 billion drams ($30 million) per month this year, with roughly half of it used for paying public sector salaries, pensions and other benefits.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s administration made clear that it will not pay them anymore shortly after more than 100,000 Karabakh Armenians took refuge in Armenia following the September 19-20 Azerbaijani military offensive that restored Baku’s control over the region. It said that all refugees will instead receive 50,000 drams ($125) each in November and December in addition to 100,000 drams given to them this month.
An exiled Karabakh official told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service earlier this month that Yerevan is even reluctant to pay the September pensions and salaries despite the fact that the exodus began at the end of last month.
Hovannisian confirmed this, saying that the government has no obligation to meet the Karabakh leadership’s last financial obligations.
“We didn’t give pensions to anyone [in Karabakh,]” he told reporters. “We gave the government of Nagorno-Karabakh money and it decided to what to do with it: pay pensions or make other expenditures.”
“We have no decision not to give [the September pensions,] but I see no reason why we should give … We are already paying people sums equivalent to pensions,” added the minister.
A Karabakh office in Yerevan indicated, meanwhile, that the Karabakh pensioners, many of whom lack adequate housing, may still be paid for September. It said nothing about benefits paid to other categories of Karabakh’s displaced population, notably retired military personnel.
Armen Arushanian, a disabled Karabakh veteran of a past war with Azerbaijan, still hoped to continue getting his monthly allowance in Armenia when he visited the office on Tuesday.
“They told me to forget about military pensions,” Arushanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Armenian opposition figures and other critics have condemned the government’s stance as immoral. They claim that Pashinian is washing his hands of the Karabakh refugees after controversially recognizing Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh in May.
Pashinian has repeatedly assured the refugees that his government will help them settle down and find new livelihoods in Armenia.
The government sparked another controversy last week when it decided to grant them “temporary protection” formalizing their status of refugees. It thus made clear that it does not consider the Karabakh Armenians as citizens of Armenia despite the fact that virtually all of them hold Armenian passports. Government officials described their passports as mere “travel documents,” a claim disputed by some legal experts.