Karabakh's leadership in Stepanakert marking the republic's 31st anniversary

STEPANAKERT (Azatutyun) — Armenia’s government and parliament sent official delegations to Stepanakert on Friday, September 2, for official ceremonies to mark the 31st anniversary of the establishment of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

The ceremonies were attended instead by separate delegations of the three political groups represented in the National Assembly. The ruling Civil Contract party’s delegation consisted of only two parliamentarians.

“We are in Stepanakert as members of Armenia’s National Assembly,” said one of those lawmakers, Rustam Bakoyan. “This was the decision made by the [ruling party’s] parliamentary group.”

Bakoyan would not say why the parliament’s leadership, also affiliated with Civil Contract, did not send an official delegation to Stepanakert as it did last year. The parliament’s press office and leaders of its pro-government majority could not be reached for comment.

In a written statement, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan congratulated the Karabakh Armenians on the anniversary of the proclamation of their republic not recognized by any country. Pashinyan reiterated the official Armenian line that the Karabakh conflict will remain unresolved until the issues of the disputed territory’s status and security are “addressed irrevocably.”

Statements to the contrary are “inappropriate,” he said, alluding to Azerbaijani leaders’ regular claims that Azerbaijan essentially ended the conflict with its victory in the 2020 war with Armenia.

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“The Republic of Armenia will continue to support the maintenance of normal life, security and human rights protection in Nagorno-Karabakh,” added the statement.

Pashinyan said nothing about the future status of Karabakh acceptable to Yerevan. His political opponents and other critics claim that he is intent on helping Baku regain full control of the Armenian-populated territory.

The Armenian premier last visited Stepanakert during the six-week war stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire in November 2020.

“Artsakh (Karabakh) must continue to move along the path of independence,” Arayik Harutyunyan, the Karabakh president, said in a statement issued on the occasion.

Mikael Arzumanyan

Generals Indicted

An Armenian law-enforcement agency brought additional criminal charges against a former commander of Nagorno-Karabakh’s army on Thursday, September 1, hours after a court in Yerevan allowed his pre-trial arrest.

Lieutenant-General Mikael Arzumanyan was detained and charged with criminal negligence immediately after entering Armenia from Karabakh earlier this week.

The Investigative Committee initially indicted Arzumanyan over the capture by Azerbaijani forces of the Karabakh town of Shushi (Shusha) which happened at the end of the 2020 war. It claims that he failed to deploy more troops around Shushi beforehand.

Arzumanyan was appointed as commander of Karabakh’s Armenian-backed Defense Army on October 27, 2020 less than two weeks before the fall of the strategic town.

The Investigative Committee said on Thursday that the 49-year-old general also ordered Karabakh Armenian forces to withdraw from “strategically important” positions retaken by them days after the war broke out on September 27, 2020. It said that the order amounted to abuse of power.

Arzumanyan’s lawyer, Yerem Sargsyan, did not return phone calls throughout the day. He reportedly said on Wednesday that his client rejects the first accusation leveled against him.

Armenian opposition leaders have criticized Arzumanyan’s arrest, saying that it is part of  Pashinyan’s efforts to deflect blame for the disastrous war. They continue to hold Pashinyan primarily responsible for Armenia’s defeat.

Movses Hakobyan, Armenia’s former top general, also denounced the criminal case against Arzumanyan. He implied that it is aimed at lending credence to Pashinyan’s “political statements” on the outcome of the war.

“Accusing Arzumanyan is not honest, to say the least, because he took over the army at a time when everything was already predetermined,” Hakobyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Secondly, nobody can judge whether a commander made a right or wrong decision in a particular situation.”

Arzumanyan was dismissed as Karabakh army commander last year. He has worked as an advisor to Arayik Harutyunyan, the Karabakh president, since then. A spokeswoman for Harutyunyan on Tuesday described Arzumanyan as “one of our best military commanders.”

Another former commander of Nagorno-Karabakh’s army is being prosecuted in Armenia for serious military setbacks suffered during the 2020 war with Azerbaijan, it emerged on Friday.

Jalal Harutyunyan, at left

In addition, the Investigative Committee said it has indicted Lieutenant-General Jalal Harutyunyan on two counts of “careless attitude towards military service.” It decided not to arrest him for now.

One of the accusations stems from an Armenian counteroffensive against advancing Azerbaijani forces launched on October 7, 2020 ten days after the outbreak of large-scale fighting. Its failure facilitated Azerbaijan’s subsequent victory in the six-week war.

In a statement, the Investigative Committee said Harutyunyan ordered two army units to launch an attack southeast of Karabakh despite lacking intelligence and the fact that they were outnumbered by the enemy and had no air cover. He said he failed to “seriously examine” their combat-readiness.

The law-enforcement agency also blamed the general for poor coordination between the units, which it said also contributed to the failure of the operation. He should have stopped or delayed the counteroffensive that left scores of Armenian soldiers dead and 19 battle tanks destroyed, he said.

Harutyunyan was also charged over the capture by Azerbaijani troops of the frontline positions of a Karabakh Armenian artillery unit on October 12, 2020. The Investigative Committee statement said that this was the result of inaccurate information provided by Harutyunyan to the unit. The latter lost at least 20 soldiers and 8 howitzers on that day.

It was not immediately clear whether Harutyunyan will plead guilty to the accusations. If convicted, he will face between four and eight years.

The 47-year-old general was seriously wounded in an Azerbaijani missile strike on October 26, 2020. He was appointed as head of an Armenian military inspectorate after recovering from his wounds.

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