Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan dismissed State Minister Ruben Vardanyan on Thursday, announcing his decision during a meeting of his cabinet.
In a statement issued Thursday, Vardanyan blamed “immense outside pressure” for this outcome, which was continuously denied by him and the Harutyunyan administration for weeks.
“We have the outside world and an internal world,” Vardanyan said Thursday. “Evidently, the external pressure does not help us to have a domestic situation where we feel that we are able to fight against this pressure more strongly.” The now former state minister said that he plans to remain in Artsakh and work through his “We are Our Mountains” foundation.
“I am aware that there are external pressures related to my remaining in Artsakh, but I should mention that not only will I not go, but I can’t imagine myself without Artsakh,” Vardanyan said.
Voicing support for Harutyunyan, in his parting words Vardanyan also emphasized the need to strengthen the system of governance.
“Your responsibility is extremely hard, as the president, who was elected four months before the war, you are in a very difficult situation. You have been carrying that burden for so long. I confidently say that in order to become successful, we must create a systemic approach. If we do not create a system, if we do not introduce transparent, consistently created mechanisms, it is very difficult to achieve success,” Vardanyan said.
Azerbaijan authorities, specifically President Ilham Aliyev, made Vardanyan’s dismissal a pre-condition for talks with Artsakh authorities over a resolution to the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, which has been closed since December 12. Aliyev reportedly reiterated the demand when he met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday in Munich.
Harutyunyan rejected Aliyev’s demand with his spokeswoman saying on Monday that Vardanyan’s current role is “Artsakh’s internal affair” and “can in no way be a topic of discussion for the government of Azerbaijan.”
A close ally of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Tuesday essentially echoed Aliyev’s demands and called for Vardanyan’s removal from office, saying that he was sent to Artsakh by Russia, a claim widely made by the Azerbaijani president.
Earlier this month, the Harutyunyan’s and Vardanyan’s press spokespeople did not confirm or deny reports that the two leaders had secretly traveled to Moscow to hold negotiations. Sources speculated that the two met with separate circles in Moscow and were anticipating that Vardanyan would return with “resignation in hand,” Azatutyun.am reported on February 9.
“Ruben Vardanyan and I have been together during this entire time, following the events and developments happening both in Artsakh and in the outer world on a daily basis, we have constantly exchanged ideas about finding solutions to the current situation,” Harutyunyan said in announcing his decision to fire the Russian-Armenian businessman, who denounced his Russia citizenship late last summer and moved to Artsakh.
“I am grateful to Mr. Vardanyan for his willingness to always share the responsibility with me to the fullest extent as a friend and partner and did not try hold the constitution over my head. On the other hand, he approached the extent of my personal responsibility for the situation created in Artsakh and all future problems with awareness and understanding,” Harutyunyan said, according to a statement his office released on Thursday.
The Artsakh president also said that he greatly appreciated Vardanyan’s efforts both in raising international awareness about Artsakh and solving numerous domestic problems during the blockade.
Harutyunyan said that he has asked Artsakh Prosecutor General Gurgen Nersisyan to assume the responsibilities of the State Minister, taking into consideration his professional and personal qualities, professionalism, fairness, principled stance and his commitment to statehood.
He added that all state bodies will coordinate their activities with the new state minister, with the exception of law enforcement agencies and the foreign ministry.