The measure was proposed last month by three of the five political parties represented in Nagorno-Karabakh’s parliament. One of them, Free Fatherland, is led by Arayik Harutiunian, the region’s ethnic Armenian leader.
Earlier this month Harutiunian’s administration endorsed a relevant bill drafted by the three parties, paving the way for its passage.
The bill envisaging amendments to the region’s laws on the language as well as television and radio was passed with a vote of 27-0, with two abstentions.
It cites Nagorno-Karabakh’s history of “cultural, military and economic links” with Russia and says that giving Russian an official status would deepen them.
Its proponents have also argued that this would facilitate communication with Russian soldiers and aid workers deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh after last year’s Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
Russia’s presence in Nagorno-Karabakh increased dramatically after Moscow brokered a ceasefire agreement that stopped the six-week war on November 10. The deal led to the deployment of about 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops in Nagorno-Karabakh as well as along a land corridor connecting the disputed territory to Armenia.
The peacekeepers have helped tens of thousands of Karabakh Armenians, who fled the fighting, to return to their homes.
But some Karabakh lawmakers have voiced objections to the bill. They include Metakse Hakobian of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) party, one of the bill’s three co-sponsors.
Hakobian said on March 12 that the proposed legislation needed to be amended to guarantee the supremacy of the Armenian language. “Russian should have more of a working than official status and the two languages should not be equated,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service then.
Several Karabakh academics have also spoken out against making Russian an official language. One of them, Yana Avanesian, said the bill in question was “unfounded” in its current form.
Free Fatherland’s Aram Harutiunian, one of the authors of the bill, insisted that Armenian will remain Nagorno-Karabakh’s main official language, while Russian will be used “when necessary.”
The bill passed by Nagorno-Karabakh’s elected representatives will become law upon signing by the region’s leader.
Still in February, Azerbaijan, which considers Nagorno-Karabakh to be its territory, condemned the region’s plans to give Russian an official status.
President Ilham Aliyev said at a press conference on February 26 that “there can only be one official language in Azerbaijan – the Azeri language.”
Earlier, the Kremlin described the matter as “an internal affair.”
“This is not a subject of talks, it is a de-facto situation when people speak Russian both in Azerbaijan and Armenia,” the Russian president’s spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said on December 2, according to TASS.
“This is an internal affair of any country – both Azerbaijan and Armenia,” he added.