The President of Nagorno-Karabakh, Samvel Shahramanyan, has signed a decree ordering the dissolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic by 1 January 2024.
A statement was published by the Nagorno-Karabakh Info Centre, an official government source, on Thursday morning, only in Russian.
The decree had two points.
The first, stated that in accordance with article 93 of the constitution of Nagorno-Karabakh the government would ‘dissolve all state institutions and organisations under their departmental authority by 1 January 2024, and the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) ceases to exist.
The second point stated that the region’s population should decide for themselves if they would stay under Azerbaijani rule.
As of Thursday morning, 65,000 of the region’s population of roughly 120,000 had already arrived in Armenia, with more continuing to flee.
‘The population, including those outside Nagorno-Karabakh, should familiarise themselves with the conditions of reintegration presented by the Republic of Azerbaijan, with the aim of making an independent and individual decision about the possibility of staying in (or returning to) Nagorno-Karabakh’, the decree stated.
In their statement, the government said the decree was issued because of the ‘complex military–political situation’ created after Azerbaijan’s attack on the region on 19 September. The violence only ended after the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh surrendered the following day.
The statement said the priority of the decree was ‘ensuring the physical safety and vital interests of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.’
It said they had also taken into account an agreement reached with Azerbaijan through the mediation of the Russian peacekeeping contingent to allow people to leave to Armenia with their property, including military personnel who laid down their arms.
Arrests of officials
Since the exodus of Nagorno-Karabsakh’s population began on Sunday, there have been widespread fears in Nagorno-Karabakh that Azerbaijani border guards could arrest some of those attempting to leave as they cross into Armenia.
Azerbaijan had earlier announced it would offer an amnesty to members of the armed forces of Nagorno-Karabakh who lay down their arms, however, the amnesty would not include those who committed crimes during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War.
But on Wednesday, former State Minister Ruben Vardanyan was detained by the Azerbaijan Border Service as he attempted to cross the Lachin checkpoint into Armenia. Vardanyan moved to Nagorno-Karabakh and entered politics only in 2022, and there have been no suggestions he was present during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War.
The Armenian government has reportedly applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) demanding that Baku provide information on Vardanyan’s location and condition. The Foreign Ministry said that it would take ‘all possible measures’ to protect his rights, and ensure his return. The ministry told Armenpress they expect support from Russia and other countries in this.
‘We record that there are arbitrary arrests by Azerbaijan at the checkpoint and before the checkpoint. This is a disturbing fact, and our state bodies must take adequate steps to protect the rights of arbitrarily arrested persons’ said Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan at the government session on Thursday. He also added, according to the analysis, there will be no more Armenians left in Nagorno-Karabakh in the coming days.
On Thursday, Davit Babayan, an advisor to the President of Nagorno-Karabakh and a former Foreign Minister, announced that he would go to Shusha (Shushi) to hand himself in.
‘You all know that I am included in Azerbaijan’s black list, and that the Azerbaijani side has demanded I go to Baku for the relevant investigation’, Babayan said. ‘If I don’t appear, or worse, if I escape, it will cause serious harm to our long-suffering people, to many people, and I, as an honest man, a worker, a patriot, and a Christian, cannot allow that’, he said
There were also reports on Wednesday that Vitaly Balasanyan, the former secretary of Nagorno-Karabakh’s National Security Council, had been detained. However, on Thursday, Balasanyan denied the reports, stating he had not attempted to cross to Armenia.
Samvel Babayan, another former secretary of the National Security Council, safely arrived to Armenia on Monday.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.