Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan (photo credit: Aram Arkun)

Exclusive: President Sahakyan Declares Azerbaijani Refugees Can Live Peacefully in Artsakh Republic


WASHINGTON – President Bako Sahakyan of the Republic of Artsakh came to the American capital for his first official visit on March 12 at the head of a governmental delegation for a week of political talks and meetings. When asked what motivated this particular visit, the president responded that Artsakh has enjoyed friendly relations with the United States for many years and he himself has visited the United States on numerous other occasions. However, these trips were primarily connected with the work of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund. “This time,” he said, “we had the opportunity, and we took advantage of it, to meet with political circles. I am very happy that such meetings took place.” For the first time in history, the Artsakh Republic’s delegation was in the US House of Representatives and worked to deepen the already existing relations with the United States.
President Sahakyan said that although no meetings took place with the US State Department this time, preparations have been made so that hopefully during a future meeting such meetings can occur.

Sahakyan appreciated the ongoing diplomatic efforts of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s Minsk Group, of which the United States is a leading member. He said, “We understand that the international community in the person of the Minsk Group is concerned with finding a solution to this complicated issue. However, the Minsk Group’s interest is not sufficient. Our profound conviction is that the non-constructive, extremist, bellicose position of one of the parties, Azerbaijan, toward this issue is the obstruction which we are unable to overcome to achieve more serious agreements.”

He also said that for the peace process to be successful, Artsakh must be one of the full parties or “sides” in negotiations along with Armenia and Azerbaijan, as was initially agreed upon at the 1994 Budapest OSCE summit, and that Artsakh continues to do whatever is in its power to restore that format.

The situation of refugees in the region is often raised in international circles. Sahakyan said, “At present, it is Azerbaijani refugees that are chiefly talked about. We naturally are in favor of talking not only about Azerbaijani refugees but also about Armenian refugees.” Sahakyan declared, concerning Azerbaijanis who used to live in Artsakh and who may wish to regain control of their properties, “We have said on multiple occasions over the course of recent years that Azerbaijani refugees naturally can return to Artsakh, to the Artsakh Republic, if they recognize its jurisdiction.”

He said that while no such applications have occurred so far, “if such applications take place, we will process them in accordance with the delineated norms and laws and present our conclusions and answers.”

When asked to describe the highlights of his achievements as president, Sahakyan modestly answered, “I cannot say that I am satisfied with the work that we did [in recent years], because there is always the necessity of doing more than what you do,” and stressed that it is up to the populace to evaluate the activities of its governmental representative.

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He spoke of the goals of his government, the first of which is to ensure the safety of its population. Secondly, the destruction caused by war with Azerbaijan requires extra effort for restoration, while the government simultaneously must attempt to establish the preconditions for greater socio-economic development. Education, he said, is particularly important for the latter, while the successes of the artists and athletes living in Artsakh, serve to inspire the people. The most important fields being developed in the economy are agriculture, energy (hydroelectrical in particular thanks to the abundant water reserves of the country), modern technologies, and tourism.

Sahakyan said that although the April War of 2016 with Azerbaijan had its negative effects on the development of the economy, that situation has been rectified now, and for the time being, border incidents are a bit less frequent. He emphasized that “it was thanks to the collective potential of our brothers and sisters in Mother Armenia and the Diaspora joined with the Artsakh population that all our work can be done.” Participation and aid from abroad was important during the Artsakh liberation movement, and continues to be important for Artsakh today, he said.

Sahakyan expressed hopes that Russian-American relations, now going through a period of increased tensions, would improve, as, he said, these were not only important for Artsakh and Armenians, but for the political and economic well-being of the entire world.

Of course Sahakyan was not always a president, or even a military leader. When he was in his twenties, in the Soviet period (1983-87), Sahakyan worked as part of a team for the preservation of historical and cultural monuments, in which Artsakh is very rich. This work was ultimately controlled from the center of the Soviet Azerbaijani government in Baku, which he said, “created some difficulties for us.” Nonetheless, some maintenance and restoration projects were successfully carried out, including at the Gandzasar monastery complex and in Shoushi.

Dadivank Monastery could not be accessed then since this complex was under the tight supervision of the Azerbaijanis. Today there are no such obstacles, the president remarked, and large numbers of specialists are working on a variety of projects, including the excavation of the ruins of the Hellenistic city of Tigranakert, which were discovered in 2005.

Sahakyan joined the Artsakh self-defense forces in 1990, and quickly rose in rank to deputy commander of the Committee of Defense Forces (1992) and then rear staff commander of the army (1993). During the period of the fighting for Artsakh’s independence, concomitantly Sahakyan managed to study law at Artsakh State University.

Many years later, after the establishment of an armistice, Sahakyan became interior minister of the independent republic from 1999 to 2001, and head of the National Security Service, with the rank of major-general, from 2001 to 2007, after which he was elected to his first term as president.

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