Born and raised in Yerevan, Vardanyan moved to Russia in 1985 and made a big fortune there in the 1990s. Over the last 15 years he has developed major business interests in Armenia as well and increasingly financed charitable projects there.
Vardanyan, 54, received Armenian citizenship in June 2021 and is understood to have mostly lived in his home country since then. On September 1, 2022 he announced that he has decided to renounce his Russian citizenship and move to Karabakh.
Arayik Harutiunian, the Karabakh president, offered to appoint the tycoon as his state minister one month later. Vardanyan accepted the offer later in October. Karabakh officials say that he will have more powers than his predecessors.
“I and the people have very high expectations from you, Mr. Vardanyan,” Harutiunian said while introducing him to officials in Stepanakert.
“I must honestly tell you that I don’t see any chance of a miracle,” Vardanyan said at the meeting. “A very tough road awaits us. We have no more than 900 days to effect changes, to address security and development issues.”
Vardanyan appeared to refer to the three years remaining before the end of the initial five-year mission of Russian peacekeepers deployed in Karabakh following the 2020 war with Azerbaijan. The Karabakh Armenians say that their continued presence is vital for the territory’s security and survival.
In an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant published earlier this week, Vardanyan said that Armenia’s government has no mandate to negotiate on behalf of Karabakh and single-handedly decide its future.
Karabakh leaders are increasingly worried that Yerevan is ready to recognize Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh through an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace treaty. In a joint statement issued on October 30, Karabakh’s main political factions rejected “any document calling into question Artsakh’s right to self-determination.”