RCDS Insights: Resignation of Nagorno-Karabakh President

RCDS Insights: Resignation of Nagorno-Karabakh President




President of Nagorno-Karabakh Arayik Harutyunyan has resigned.




Calls for Harutyunyan's resignation have been ongoing since the loss of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. In an address in December 2020, Harutyunyan promised to step down when the conditions were favorable and new elections could be held.


Despite the precarious political situation over the past two years, Harutyunyan has managed to remain in power by striking deals with critics and co-opting opposition members. To boost his government's legitimacy, Harutyunyan appointed Ruben Vardanyan as state minister with enhanced powers in November 2022. However, over time, Harutyunyan's relationship with Vardanyan soured, and he eventually dismissed him in February 2023.


Since his dismissal, Ruben Vardanyan has been working to consolidate forces in Nagorno-Karabakh that are critical of the policies of Harutyunyan’s government. In this period, Vardanyan successfully forged a coalition comprising three parliamentary factions (Justice, Democracy, and ARF Dashnaktsutyun), two former presidents of Nagorno-Karabakh, Arkady Ghukasyan and Bako Sahakyan, along with the various siloviki within their circles. There is a second political force, led by former commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army Samvel Babayan, that has been demanding the president's resignation.


There has been pressure from all sides for Harutyunyan to resign and a broad political consensus that he is no longer fit for office and cannot effectively fulfill his duties.

The current political crisis began weeks ago when Vardanyan's circle began demanding Harutyunyan's resignation behind closed doors. Even before his actual resignation, there were reports circulating in the Armenian media speculating about Harutyunyan's impending departure. These rumors gained significant attention in Azerbaijani media as well.

This behind-the-scenes political struggle burst into the public eye when Vardanyan released a video in which he vehemently criticized Harutyunyan and accused him of reneging on his commitment to resign. The crisis took a more dramatic turn when Azerbaijani forces abducted three Armenian students from Nagorno-Karabakh at the Hakari bridge on the Lachin Corridor. This incident triggered spontaneous rallies and protests in Stepanakert.

As tensions escalated, the parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh convened lengthy deliberations involving major stakeholders. These discussions extended into the early hours of August 29, 2023. Subsequently, Harutyunyan addressed the assembled crowd outside the parliament, offering assurances about forthcoming actions on the issue. He subsequently resigned.


What Happens Next

The procedure for electing a new president is as follows: three days after resignation, the nomination process will commence and candidates will be accepted for a maximum of three days (September 4 to 7, 2023).

Immediately thereafter, parliament will elect a new president with a two-thirds majority. If a two-thirds majority is not achieved, a new vote will take place in which the new president is elected through a simple majority. 

It is worth noting that amendments enabling Parliament to participate in the presidential election process were implemented earlier this year. In the interim, Davit Ishkhanyan, the speaker of the Parliament, assumes the role of acting President.


A Likely Candidate

There is speculation circulating that former Secretary of the Security Council and newly appointed state minister Samvel Shahramanyan, is a likely candidate. Shahramanyan, closely affiliated with former President Bako Sahakyan, has held various positions within Nagorno-Karabah’s security apparatus. It’s important to note that he is not considered an independent figure and is likely to serve as a symbolic representative of Ruben Vardanyan’s political coalition.




  1. These developments could potentially strain relations between the Armenian government and Nagorno-Karabakh, as every member of this coalition holds reservations about Yerevan's policies. Some have openly voiced criticisms of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his administration. Furthermore, the former presidents of Nagorno-Karabakh, along with the three aforementioned parliamentary factions, maintain strong connections with Armenia's former ruling elites. 
  2. This coalition has a tougher stance on important conflict related issues and it may become more difficult to find more practical solutions on the ground.
  3. This coalition encompasses a wider range of stakeholders compared to the political representation in Stepanakert until now. Consequently, it is likely that the decision-making process will adopt a more collegial approach.
  4. Russia’s role: While speculation in the Armenian press has suggested Russia’s involvement in these recent developments, the actual situation on the ground tells a different story. Even since the deployment of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia has demonstrated little interest in local domestic affairs and appears unconcerned about the leadership dynamics. Despite this coalition reportedly aligning more with pro-Russian views, their proposed solutions for the crisis directly contradict Russia’s stated aims.