Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian was criticized by Karabakh’s leadership after claiming on January 10 that the international community has always regarded the disputed region as an integral part of Azerbaijan. Pashinian also said his government must only deal with Armenia’s problems and that the authorities in Stepanakert should themselves settle the conflict with Baku.
In a joint statement issued the following day, Karabakh’s government and main political factions said Pashinian’s remarks undermine the Karabakh Armenians’ right to self-determination. Vardanyan went farther, linking them with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s latest statements on the conflict also made on January 10.
Pashinian responded on January 12 by urging the Karabakh leaders to tone down their rhetoric and negotiate with Azerbaijan in order to end the Azerbaijani blockade.
That was followed by reports that Arayik Harutiunian, the Karabakh president, wants to sack Vardanyan and force snap presidential and parliamentary elections. Artur Tovmasian, the Karabakh parliament speaker, did not rule out the possibility of such elections when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Saturday.
“I am not going to resign, especially in the existing situation,” Vardanyan wrote on social media later in the day. “At the same time, the possible resignation of the country’s president and parliament is unacceptable.”
“In this situation, we have no right to serve the enemy's agenda and surrender,” added Vardanyan.
One of his political allies in Armenia said sacking Vardanyan and holding snap elections in Karabakh in the current challenging circumstances would be tantamount to “treason.”
Davit Galstian, a Karabakh opposition leader, suggested on Monday Pashinian pressured Harutiunian to replace the holder of the second-highest post in Karabakh’s leadership. Harutiunian has not bowed to the pressure so far, he said.
Armenian opposition figures likewise accused Pashinian of seeking to get rid of Vardanyan to facilitate far-reaching concessions to Azerbaijan.
“It’s possible that there was pressure from Armenia especially aimed at removing individuals who have a principled position contradicting the Armenian government’s approaches,” said Tigran Abrahamian, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Pativ Unem bloc.
Neither Pashinian nor other Armenian government officials publicly commented on the political situation in Stepanakert. Some Pashinian allies and supporters criticized Vardanyan in recent days, implying that his exit is necessary for ending the blockade.
Meanwhile, Harutiunian on Monday met with Karabakh lawmakers and insisted that “there is no political crisis in Artsakh.” According to his press office, the Karabakh president said the authorities in Stepanakert should address “internal political problems” only after overcoming the humanitarian crisis caused by the month-long blockade. The office gave no other details of the meeting.
Vardanyan, 54, is a prominent Armenian billionaire who made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s and 2000s. He was appointed as Karabakh’s state minister in November two months after renouncing his Russian citizenship.
Azerbaijan’s government condemned Vardanyan’s appointment, with Aliyev claiming that the former investment banker was sent to Karabakh by Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that Moscow “has nothing to do with Mr. Vardanyan” when he met with his visiting Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov on December 23 less than two weeks after Azerbaijani government-backed protesters blocked the sole road connecting Karabakh to Armenia. Speaking at a joint news conference with Lavrov, Bayramov said Vardanyan must step down and leave Karabakh.
Vardanyan has made defiant statements throughout the blockade. He has said that the Karabakh Armenians will continue to resist Baku’s efforts regain full control over the territory.