The election of Samvel Shahramanian, strongly condemned by Azerbaijan, came ten days after the resignation of his predecessor Arayik Harutiunian. The latter said that Karabakh needs new leadership in order to better cope with a severe humanitarian crisis resulting from the Azerbaijani blockade of the Lachin corridor and other challenges facing the Armenian-populated territory.
Shahramanian was backed by Harutiunian’s Free Fatherland party and three opposition groups. The 44-year-old has held various positions in the local security apparatus for over two decades. He did not make public statements immediately after his election.
The fifth party represented in Karabakh’s 32-seat parliament, United Fatherland, boycotted the vote after its leader, Samvel Babayan, was deemed ineligible to run for president because of not having lived in Karabakh for the past 10 ten years.
Babayan, who had led Karabakh’s armed forces in the 1990s, condemned his “illegal” disqualification and urged supporters to rally outside the parliament building in Stepanakert during the vote. Only a few hundred people reportedly gathered there. Karabakh’s leadership has implicitly accused the once powerful general of trying to destabilize the political situation despite the increased risk of another Azerbaijani attack.
Unlike the other Karabakh factions, Babayan’s party does not oppose the opening of a new, Azerbaijani-controlled supply route for Karabakh which Baku says is a precondition for allowing renewed humanitarian supplies through the Lachin corridor. Babayan’s detractors accuse him of secretly collaborating with Armenia’s government.
The government seemed in no rush to congratulate Shahramanian on his election. The new president was swiftly congratulated instead by some Armenian opposition parties.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry condemned Shahramanian’s election as a “blatant violation” of international law and Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Karabakh. It claimed that Armenia and the “separatist regime” in Stepanakert “have taken the path of provocations and escalation of the situation.”