Prime Minister Arayik Harutyunyan in his office in Stepanakert, Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh

Arayik Harutyunyan

Our exclusive interview with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh

How are the people of Nagorno-Karabakh coping with the aftermath of April’s four-day war, and what has changed in their daily lives?

A:People have largely re-established their daily routine, and with time it will be possible to repair the physical damage to their country and restore their economy. Tragically, however, the same cannot be said for the soldiers and civilians who were killed in the fighting.

Sadly, the reality of war is familiar to our people who have lived through the first war in the 1990s during which they survived with remarkable dignity. Today again we share the pain of our compatriots and will try to help them overcome what they endured in this latest military aggression. These difficult and challenging times have also motivated us to be more consistent in meeting those challenges and achieving our goals. With a stronger commitment, we are now making every effort to strengthen the country’s defenses and to stimulate its economic development. 

Q:How many people have been displaced, and when might they return?

A:During the fighting, the frontier settlements were evacuated and the majority of the people were displaced. Today I can report that with the exception of the village of Talish the inhabitants of all the other settlements have returned. As you know, Talish is quite near the border and the events of April demonstrated that it is too dangerous for its residents to return at this stage. For that reason, we took the decision to temporarily settle the residents of Talish in more secure areas of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Q:In terms of the government’s strategic priorities, what has changed?

A:The principal objective of the government of Nagorno-Karabakh has always been to increase the quality of life of its citizens through economic development. We are continuously working toward developing the institutions necessary to ensure our state-building aims and security. Taking into consideration the new situation, we are focusing our attention on strengthening the security system to reduce the risks to our people as well as to promote sustainable development.

Q:Do you believe it is possible to resolve this protracted conflict through negotiations and diplomacy?

A:Historically almost every conflict between nations and peoples has been solved through diplomacy. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is no exception. However, the current format for negotiations unfortunately cannot lead to any serious progress. I cannot be optimistic as long as the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh is not a full partner in the negotiation process, and as long as the Azerbaijani authorities continue to engage in unprovoked acts of military aggression. We would only be deceiving ourselves to expect a diplomatic solution under these conditions. 

Across the lines of battle, care packages from Armenia reached Nagorno-Karabakh fighters, including sweets and letters from schoolchildren.

Across the lines of battle, care packages from Armenia reached Nagorno-Karabakh fighters, including sweets and letters from schoolchildren.
Across the lines of battle, care packages from Armenia reached Nagorno-Karabakh fighters, including sweets and letters from schoolchildren. Photo by Nazik Armenakyan

Q:If Azerbaijan agrees to negotiations and Nagorno-Karabakh is accorded equal status as a negotiating partner, what concessions are you willing to consider? 

A:As I have made clear in the past, we will only reveal our position and specific options if the Azerbaijani authorities demonstrate a willingness to negotiate. Until then it is premature to discuss any hypothetical situations. I can only say that our homeland and the right to self-determination and security for its people are not negotiable. The government of Nagorno-Karabakh is always ready to discuss any reasonable offers and we have never avoided direct negotiations on the basis of equality. So far, however, no offer has been made. 

Q:To what extent do you feel the continued sales of advanced weaponry to Azerbaijan from Turkey, Russia and Israel have fueled the conflict?

A:The unprecedented stockpiling of weapons by Azerbaijan has clearly escalated the conflict, and has been met with an attitude of apathy on the part of the international community. Both the governments of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, as well as various influential organizations within the diaspora, have made it clear on numerous occasions that the supply of arms to Azerbaijan should not be allowed under international law. Azerbaijan has never hidden its anti-Armenian behavior and its military ambitions against the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

It is only thanks to the Defense Army of Nagorno-Karabakh that relative peace has been maintained in the region and further aggressive actions by Azerbaijan have been prevented.

Q:Over the past twenty years could the international community have done more to try to help resolve this conflict? 

A:I believe that there was much that could have been accomplished outside of the mediation process, which would have maintained the peace and helped lead to a resolution of the conflict. In particular, the international community could have been more consistent in addressing the issue of armaments and more forceful in its condemnation of ceasefire violations. In addition, it should have established direct relations with the government of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Q:The Armenian diaspora has pledged its support to the population of Nagorno Karabakh. What specifically can it do to help? 

A:First of all, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all our compatriots in the Armenian diaspora for supporting Artsakh both materially and morally since the April attacks. I can assure everyone that their support provided an additional source of strength for the civilians and soldiers defending the border. The diaspora’s unanimous response helped deter the enemy. 

Since the first war more than two decades ago, the role of the Armenian diaspora has been significant in restoring and developing our economy and infrastructure. In this sense, we hope the diaspora will increase its investment, charitable donations, and other projects

I would like to appeal to all your readers to visit as often as possible, and consider returning to their historic homeland. I am always so proud to see the organized activities undertaken by Armenian communities in the diaspora, particularly ensuring that their children speak Armenian. Our unity and strength is based on a close relationship with the homeland. The Armenian homeland is mighty and its sons and daughters are awaited in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Banner photo by Nazik Armenakyan

Originally published in the August 2016 ​issue of AGBU Magazine. end character

About the AGBU Magazine

AGBU Magazine is one of the most widely circulated English language Armenian magazines in the world, available in print and digital format. Each issue delivers insights and perspective on subjects and themes relating to the Armenian world, accompanied by original photography, exclusive high-profile interviews, fun facts and more.