YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Echoing Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s demands, a senior Armenian pro-government lawmaker said on Tuesday that Ruben Vardanyan, the Nagorno-Karabakh premier, was “sent” to Stepanakert by Russia and must resign.
Gagik Melkonyan claimed that Vardanyan’s exit will be announced by Thursday. He said it will help to end Azerbaijan’s two-month blockade of the Lachin corridor and a rift within Karabakh’s leadership.
“Ask him, ‘Who sent you to Karabakh and why? Why did you cause a split within the Karabakh authorities?’ Of course, the Russians sent him. Who else could send him?” said the lawmaker representing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party.
He said that Vardanyan must go even if that means the Armenian side has bowed to pressure from Azerbaijan.
Aliyev again demanded Vardanyan’s ouster when he spoke during the Munich Security Conference at the weekend. He branded the Armenian-born businessman a “criminal oligarch” who was “smuggled” to Karabakh from Russia.
Vardanyan was appointed as state minister, the second-highest post in Karabakh’s leadership, in November two months after renouncing his Russian citizenship. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted in December that Moscow “has nothing to do” with the appointment condemned by Baku.
Like Azerbaijani officials, Melkonyan accused Vardanyan of acting on Russia’s orders. Those, he claimed, included “driving a wedge between Armenia and Karabakh.”
Last month, Pashinyan urged the authorities in Stepanakert to tone down their rhetoric and negotiate with Baku in order to get the latter to unblock the sole road connecting Karabakh to Armenia. Earlier in January, Karabakh’s government and main political factions criticized Pashinyan’s statements on the conflict with Azerbaijan, saying that they undermine the Karabakh Armenians’ right to self-determination.
Arayik Harutyunyan, the Karabakh president, is due to deliver a video address to the population on Thursday. A Karabakh opposition activist, Tigran Petrosian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Monday that Harutyunyan has decided to replace Vardanyan by his chief prosecutor, Gurgen Nersysyan.
Mediahub.am quoted Nersisyan as saying on Tuesday that he has been offered Vardanyan’s job but has not yet decided whether to take up the post of state minister.
Vardanyan himself did not comment on his political future. He has made defiant statements throughout the Azerbaijani blockade, saying that the Karabakh Armenians will never agree to live under Azerbaijani rule despite severe hardship endured by them.
Metakse Hakobyan, an opposition member of the Karabakh legislature, voiced support for Vardanyan and warned Harutyunyan against sacking him.