Artsakh Foreign Minister Sergey Ghazaryan

Artsakh Foreign Minister Hopes for Concrete Steps by International Actors


WATERTOWN — When Foreign Minister of the Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) Republic Sergey Ghazaryan took office in January 2023, the now over-eight-month blockade of Artsakh had already begun. The 44-year-old Stepanakert native was chosen in part for the position because as Artsakh’s representative to Armenia since July 2020, he was already located in Yerevan, and so could have easier communications with the outside world. In fact, he said that taking into consideration the various difficulties connected with shortages of electricity, fuel, and as a result no public transportation, and issues of daily life now in the capital of Stepanakert, a good amount of the work of the ministry must be carried out in Yerevan.

As people begin to die of malnutrition in Artsakh due to the blockade, the current objective of Azerbaijan is clear to Ghazaryan, who declared: “Azerbaijan is trying to reach its genocidal goal to ethnically cleanse Artsakh of its indigenous Armenian population. Even now no Armenian is safe. The abduction of our citizens in the illegal Azerbaijani checkpoint at the Lachin Corridor is a vivid example. The declarations of the Azerbaijan president, that those who are not ready to accept Azerbaijani citizenship must abandon these territories, also attest to that. I do not know people in Artsakh who will be ready to accept Azerbaijani citizenship. Back in 1991, our people, declared independence and expressed the collective will to live safely and freely in their ancestral homeland. Until today, our collective view has not changed.”

Expectations from International community

Ghazaryan expressed his dissatisfaction with the results of the United Nations Security Council meeting discussing the blockade on August 16. He declared: “As you know on August 8, 2023, the Artsakh Republic’s president issued an urgent call outlining the expectations from different actors of the international community, including the  Republic of Armenia. In response to that appeal, the Republic of Armenia called for this urgent UN Security Council meeting. We had great hopes. If there were a resolution adopted, it could have prepared a strong basis for an airlift to be carried out and bring necessary humanitarian aid, despite the obstacles that the Azerbaijani side might create. However, once again we witnessed the politicization of human rights and human lives.”

The Artsakh government’s position has not changed. He said: “We have declared on numerous occasions that the time for statements is over, and we expect concrete steps, mostly by the global actors represented in the UN Security Council, three of whom for many years were involved in the Artsakh-Azerbaijan or Nagorno-Karabakh peace process through the Minsk Group co-chairmanship. We have consistently stated that they in their turn bear responsibility for the situation created.” More specifically, he said of the Security Council that “now we expect this process will have its logical continuation, which will be expressed not only in the adoption of a resolution, but also concrete steps emerging from all this to suppress Azerbaijan.”

Previously, in January 2023, the International Court of Justice of the United Nations ordered Azerbaijan to end the blockade, and reaffirmed this order in July, without result. Ghazaryan added: “If the decision of the International Court of Justice is ignored by Azerbaijan, this also pertains to the authority of the entire structure of the UN. This is a very bad precedent for the entire system of international relations.”

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Conflict Resolution through Negotiations?

When asked about the prospect of negotiations on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through direct talks between the Artsakhi and Azerbaijani delegations, Ghazaryan said that resolution of such complex conflicts necessitates first of all the genuine engagement of international stakeholders as mediators. Meaningful and constructive negotiations between Baku and Stepanakert, mediated by international actors, can only occur within the framework of an internationally agreed-upon format, thereby ensuring compliance with the norms of international law.

Such a format existed for many years by means of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and was led by French, Russian and US co-chairs. However, its attempts failed to prevent the 2020 war. In fact, Ghazaryan pointed out, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev rejected all efforts and the format of the Minsk Group itself, declaring that he solved the conflict himself by force. “This was a serious blow to the international community and the  Minsk Group co-chairs,” stated the Artsakh foreign minister.

“The Republic of Artsakh is the most interested party in negotiations that can lead to a peaceful and lasting settlement of the conflict, as the people of Artsakh know the best the value of peace,” Ghazaryan declared. “For that, we have always demonstrated a proactive and constructive stance in the negotiation processes. There have been no reasonable offers of talks that have been rejected by Artsakh. In contrast, we have consistently communicated proposals on the meetings through different international actors.”

Reports in the media periodically emerge of proposed meetings with Artsakh Armenians on Azerbaijani soil, such as, most recently in Yevlakh. When asked about this, Ghazaryan commented, “The Azerbaijani suggestion to hold a meeting in the territory of Azerbaijan, be it Baku, Yevlakh, or any other place, is questionable at best. Not only can the conditions for productive and substantial negotiations not be ensured in such a format, but also there are additional personal risks for any potential Armenian/Artsakh negotiator. It is well established that security and right to life cannot be guaranteed at all to any Armenian appearing on Azerbaijani territory. This has been evidenced by the numerous cases of individual captives who have been tortured to death just because of their ethnic identity.”

Changes in Blockade?

Since June 15, only the Red Cross has been allowed to transfer patients who need urgent medical treatment in Armenia, and during the week of August 21, with the mediation of Russian peacekeepers, an agreement was reached to allow the transfer of some students who start their first year in different universities of Armenia. However, this process was politicized by Azerbaijan. Moreover, the world witnessed the kidnapping of 4 Armenians – an elderly patient and three students – from the Red Cross vehicle and the Russian peacekeepers.

Ghazaryan stated that such actions are evidence that the purpose of the unlawful blockade is to terrorize the people of Artsakh.

He concluded: “This circumstance, and that we have hundreds or more citizens who are on the territory of the Republic of Armenia since the beginning of the blockade separated from their families and until today have not had the possibility to return to Artsakh, testifies that the goal of the Azerbaijani side is to de-Armenize Artsakh.”

Ghazaryan further illuminated the extent of the blockade with the example of a young woman named Helen Dadayan who had died in an August 14 car accident in Armenia. Despite the wishes of her family in Artsakh, up to the date of this August 25 interview, the latter had not been given permission to return her body to Artsakh for burial. Ghazaryan said, “This very step is the most expressive sign of the policy being conducted by Azerbaijan.”

Ghazaryan asserted that Artsakh still relies on the Lachin corridor as the only physical connection to Armenia and the outside world, and there is no other way via aircraft or drones to compensate. He said that not only is the humanitarian crisis connected to shortages of food, medicaments and other necessities, but it is also connected with restoring the ability to go on with regular daily life. People cannot work when the economy has been completely destroyed. Public institutions are no longer able to operate. Medical services are no longer working.

The shortages of fuel are seriously impeding agricultural work, Ghazaryan said, along with the frequent shooting from the Azerbaijani side on the line of contact on agricultural laborers.

When asked how long the populace can hold out under these conditions, especially after the first instances of death from starvation are being registered now, and the possibility of mass starvation appears on the horizon, Ghazaryan replied that this is a very difficult question to answer, but that everything is being done to make their endurance stronger. He said, “As you know, our people are very hardy, and despite various types of difficulties and issues, it has historically turned out thus that despite such matters we have found the strength to resist.”

Russian or Other Peacekeepers

Ghazaryan emphasized the role Russian peacekeepers have played in post-war Artsakh’s security, declaring, “The role of the Russian side connected to the halting of the 2020 war is very great.” The Russian peacekeepers were initially meant to serve as one of the pillars for the security of our country and our population. The latter perceived the peacekeeping mission as an additional assurance to return to Artsakh after the 2020 aggression and continue their lives with sustainable plans for the future.”

The negative statements about the Russian peacekeepers in the Azerbaijani press, that they are there only temporarily and supposedly aid Artsakh Armenians in transporting weapons or soldiers, do not correspond to reality, Ghazaryan said. On the contrary, the Azerbaijanis attempt to undermine the significance of the peacekeeping mission. He said, “We must view all these activities in this context and understand very well that the presence of the Russian peacekeepers is an important factor in assuring our physical safety. It is for this very reason that the Azerbaijani side wishes to discredit and neutralize that factor.”

When asked about the possibility of deployment of other international peacekeepers if the Russians are limited in their ability to respond to Azerbaijani attacks due to the constraints of the Ukraine war and other factors, Ghazaryan responded, “Our official position is that the international community possesses various different tools which can be used in order to restrain the criminal policy of the Azerbaijani side. And those steps, or the use of a toolkit, is connected to the context that exists on the ground. We must at least clearly see how those international actors characterize the situation: what political and legal assessment they give and whether they will exercise the mechanisms which can suppress Azerbaijan. That is what we await.”

He said that “there are cases when because of the violation of the rights of one person, the international community uses the corresponding toolkit and carries out punitory measures. In this case, an actual genocidal policy is being carried out against 120,000 people, and this is not only our opinion but of other renowned experts like [Luis Moreno] Ocampo and [Juan Ernesto] Mendez, but no mention has yet been made about using those tools. The international community still does not put forward clear language.”

Artsakh Foreign Policy

The president of Artsakh defines the foreign policy of Artsakh, Ghazaryan said, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs carries it out, while the National Assembly of the Artsakh Republic in the framework of its jurisdiction carries out parliamentary diplomacy. This year, there have been some changes in the Artsakh government, starting with the dismissal of State Minister Ruben Vardanyan on February 23. Vardanyan continues to play an active public role even without an official government post and has criticized Harutyunyan on social media. More recently, Speaker of the National Assembly Artur Tovmasyan resigned at the end of July due to health reasons, according to Ghazaryan, and was replaced by Davit Ishkhanyan of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

Furthermore, after the Mirror-Spectator’s interview of Ghazaryan took place, Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan resigned on September 1 and State Minister Gurgen Nersesyan was replaced by Samvel Shahramanyan.

When asked about the nature of policy differences in Artsakh political circles, Ghazaryan replied, “The difficult serious situation that has been created presupposes that in making political decisions we must take into consideration different points of view because we find ourselves truly in a fateful situation, and every single political decision can have serious consequences. For this reason, all political forces and different social circles are involved in this process. Yes, there are issues on which there can be different ideas and points of view, but we understand that the responsibility [of political decision-making] first of all falls on the president and the corresponding governing bodies of Artsakh.”

Meanwhile, though no country in the world recognizes the Artsakh Republic, Ghazaryan said that there are numerous friendly groups in many countries which accept the right of the Artsakh people to live independently. For example, in the United States, a number of states and city councils have recognized Artsakh’s independence. In those countries where there is an organized Armenian diaspora, Ghazaryan said that the Artsakh Foreign Ministry’s structures also work towards recognition of Artsakh’s independence or call attention to this issue. “We in our turn, through our diplomatic representatives,” he said, “try to develop our relations with various official circles of those countries.”

Armenia’s Role

When asked about the consequences of the government of the Republic of Armenia’s statements on recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and what that government could do to help in the current situation, Ghazaryan declared that the 2020 war’s results were disastrous not only for Artsakh but for the Republic of Armenia, and that the preservation of Armenian Artsakh is a challenge of a pan-Armenian significance. He said, “There are disagreements on certain issues between the Artsakh Republic and the Republic of Armenia, even concerning the perception and the management of relations with Azerbaijan.”

He declined to go into specifics on “sensitive” issues but concluded that “despite our different points of view, we must understand that those grounds that unite us are more profound, are stronger, and it is on this understanding that we must construct our policies.”

Diaspora’s Role

Ghazaryan thanked the Armenians of the diaspora for always standing by Artsakh. When asked what they could do at this point to help the situation, he gave a detailed answer: “First of all, we find that in different countries, our diasporan structures must attract attention and form the public opinion that will bring officials and state bodies so that through them we receive a political and legal assessment of the situation on the ground in Artsakh.”

In addition to working with governmental bodies, diasporans can contact various human rights organizations. Thirdly, they can work with the mass media to place Artsakh’s situation on the agenda. He said, “The Armenian diaspora was created as a result of the Armenian Genocide. Armenians were forced to abandon their ancestral homeland, take refuge in different countries to save and then reestablish their lives. Every year, on April 24, in commemoration of the victims of the Armenian Genocide different events take place where officials in the aforementioned countries express their solidarity with Armenian people. The important message that we need to pass to all those countries is that if they do not want another day like April 24 to appear on their calendars, they must go beyond words and act now. This would be the greatest step we can expect from them.”

Specifically concerning the United States, Ghazaryan said, “What you do in the US is very important because the US is exactly that country which has the authority and the capacity to put a pressure on Azerbaijan.”

He summed up: “This is not a one-day exercise. It requires continuous and united efforts of all of us. We believe that this is possible, despite all the difficulties.”

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