Says Russia acted as Observers During Sept. 19 Attack
Artsakh President Samuel Sharamanyan said that he hopes conditions will be created so that the residents of Artsakh who fled en-masse will repatriate to their home.
Speaking in an interview Saturday with Artsakh State Television, Sharamanyan detailed the challenges facing his government and the Artsakh population since the large scale offensive launched by Azerbaijan on September 19 and his ensuing decision to sign an agreement on September 28 essentially dissolving the Artsakh Republic.
He also noted that during and after the military operations in September, that triggered a mass exodus of Artsakh residents to Armenia, Russia, through its peacekeeping forces, acted as mere “observers.”
Shahramanyan also made clear that one of his top priorities now is to assert “the right of our citizens displaced from Artsakh to return home.”
“Various political centers — the American, European and Russian ones — are interested in the issue of the return of the population,” Shahramanyan said. “I think that Azerbaijan is also interested in that because they are accused by the international community of forcibly deporting the population. And I think that negotiations should start on that issue.”
“Hours after the start of military operations [on Sept. 19], I realized that we were alone against Azerbaijan’s aggression,” Sharamanyan, who was selected by the Artsakh Parliament to assume the presidency 10 days before the attacks, said in the interview.
“On the morning of September 19, I was with the commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces. The initial indication of a potential military operation came when the Azerbaijani forces stationed at a base near Shushi approached the Russian base, which was at the same location, and advised them to take cover, as artillery would soon start firing. We brought this information to the attention of the Russian peacekeepers, who said they were already aware of it. After the necessary verification, it became evident to me that military operations were imminent,” recalled Shahramanyan.
“Over an extended period of time, our military forces and security apparatus were brought to a high combat level, appropriate instructions were given, including those related to civil defense. Half an hour after I went up to the office, military operations began. Almost all regions were under intense shelling and we had to do everything we could to resist,” explained the Artsakh president.
During the interview, Sharamanyan recalled in detail the events leading up to and during the September 19 attack, lamenting that Russian peacekeepers, with whose command he was meeting the morning of the attack, essentially left Artsakh residents on their own.
“The Russian side, one might say, was in the position of an observer, and we were left to deal with our issues on our own,” Sharamanyan said.
The Artsakh leadership was faced with the clear communication by the Azerbaijani side that their ultimate goal was to completely occupy Artsakh and that they would not stop until they reached their “ultimate goal.”
“Countermeasures were initiated in coordination with the defense forces, other relevant agencies, and our citizens. It was thanks to these actions that it was possible to start negotiations with Azerbaijan, which lasted 12 hours,” he said.
The Artsakh president emphasized that he and his team recognized the imperative to halt military operations, as the forces were significantly mismatched, and prolonging the conflict would only result in a greater number of casualties and losses.
“My goal as the president of Artsakh was to stop the war as soon as possible to avoid more casualties,” Shahramanyan stressed.
“Taking into consideration that Azerbaijan also had significant losses and our regions were under siege — the enemy’s special forces units and military equipment had approached Stepanakert, very close to the Krkjan area — we found ourselves compelled to make more substantial concessions in those circumstances. And I suggested that they send their demands in writing for an immediate cessation of hostilities,” recalled Shahramanyan.
“We clearly did not accept the initial document. We engaged in continuous discussions and modifications with a large team, involving the entire security council, former presidents, and nearly all political factions, while also keeping the Azerbaijani side informed of these developments,” Shahramanyan explained, adding that the initial document was essentially a surrender and, thus, was rejected.
“As a result of the negotiations, we adopted a document that provided for the cessation of hostilities in all directions on October 20 at 1 p.m. The second point was the dissolution of the defense army, withdrawal of the remnants of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia, among them, heavy military equipment was handed over for further utilization,” he noted.
However, the President emphasized that the formulation that stipulated there were Armenian Armed Forces in Artsakh was Azerbaijan’s false narrative, since, of course, there were no Armenian forces in Artsakh.
“It was clear that such a wording was unacceptable for us, but it was Azerbaijan’s assertion. We, understanding that we do not endorse this document, did not accept any legal responsibility, and we informed them verbally and in writing that there are no Armenian Armed Forces in Artsakh,” the Artsakh leader explained.
Regarding the disarming of the armed forces, Shahramanyan said that with the establishment of the illegal Azerbaijani checkpoint on the Lachin Corridor, the opportunity to return weapons to Armenia was lost.
“We lost the opportunity to deliver weapons to Armenia after the Azerbaijani side established a checkpoint, and it was clear that we would not be able to leave Artsakh with heavy equipment. As per the statement, we handed over the equipment to the Russian side for further disposal. According to the agreement, it was to be destroyed,” Shahramanyan explained.
Per the third point of the agreement, a meeting took place in Yevlakh on September 21, during which the integration issues presented by Azerbaijan were supposed to be discussed. “This point was not new to us,” Sharamanyan said. “We had agreed to a meeting in Yevlakh even before this, with the aim of reducing and easing tensions.”
Shahramanyan emphasized that he and the Artsakh leadership made the decisions at the time in order “to save the lives of Artsakh people, the army, soldiers and officers,” which, in his opinion, they were able to do.
“After the end of the military hostilities, all Defense Army personnel were able to pass through the checkpoint, and no one was detained. This was the result of our agreement,” he concluded.