Ending weeks of speculation, Artsakh’s (Nagorno-Karabakh’s) president, Arayik Harutiunian, announced on Thursday the dismissal of his chief minister, Ruben Vardanyan, demanded by Azerbaijan.
Harutiunian also expressed readiness to embark on a “dialogue” with Baku which has been blocking Karabakh’s sole land link with Armenia for more than two months. But he stressed that the Karabakh Armenians will continue to resist Azerbaijani rule and assert their right to self-determination.
“Artsakh will never give up its sovereignty, and there can be no question of integration with neighboring Azerbaijan,” he said in an address to Karabakh’s population aired during a meeting in Stepanakert.
Azerbaijan has been trying to regain full control of Karabakh since its victory in the 2020 war with Armenia. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said late last week that Baku will be ready to negotiate over the “rights and security of Karabakh’s Armenian minority” only if Vardanyan resigns and leaves “our territory.”
Vardanyan is an Armenian-born billionaire businessman who was appointed as state minister, the second-highest post in Karabakh’s leadership, last November two months after renouncing his Russian citizenship. Baku condemned his appointment, saying that it was engineered by Russia. Moscow denied that.
n recent weeks, there have been signs of a rift between Harutiunian and Vardanyan related to the Azerbaijani blockade. Last month Vardanyan publicly ruled out his resignation which reportedly was also sought by Armenia’s government.
Harutiunian insisted that Vardanyan’s sacking is not the result of pressure from Baku or Yerevan. He attributed his decision to “tactical differences” between the two men over a number of “factors,” including the “interests of geopolitical actors.”
The Karabakh leader also cited the need not to “deplete our resilience” in the face of the continuing blockade that has caused serious shortages of energy, food, medicine and other essential items in the Armenian-populated region. He did not elaborate.
Harutiunian noted at the same time that “this crisis situation could significantly ease in the coming days.” It was not clear if he hinted at the impending lifting of the blockade.
Speaking during the cabinet meeting in Stepanakert, Vardanyan confirmed his “differences” with Harutiunian but shed little light on them. He expressed hope that Harutiunian’s “words are turned into action” so that “people don’t lose faith” in them.
Vardanyan also linked his dismissal to strong “outside pressure” exerted on Karabakh’s leadership. He went on to make clear that he will not leave Karabakh.
“Not only will I not leave, but I can’t imagine myself without Artsakh. I will happily continue with the activities that I have been doing so far,” the former investment banker said, pointing to his charity projects launched in Karabakh.
“Azerbaijan, which hoped to bring us to our knees and break us, made a grave mistake,” added Vardanyan. “Azerbaijan saw that we became more united.”