President Arayik Harutyunyan and his main election rival, foreign minister Masis Mayilian meet with their Armenia counterparts on May 22. Official photo

Arayik Harutyunyan was sworn in as president of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic – Artsakh in a ceremony held on May 21 in Shushi and attended by the leadership of Republic of Armenia.

Harutyunyan was elected in two rounds of elections held on March 31 and April 14. Additionally his party – Free Homeland – won the largest portion of seats in the National Assembly. Harutyunyan’s main election rivals, foreign minister Masis Mayilian and former defense minister Samvel Babayan have recognized his victory. Mayilian is expected to retain the post of foreign minister, while Babayan has been rumored as potential secretary of the National Security Council (NSC). (Update: Babayan was appointed to the position on May 29.)

Prior to relinquishing his duties as president, Bako Sahakyan dismissed several of the key staff that worked with him over the years, including NSC Secretary Arshavir Gharamyan and chief of staff Marat Musaelyan. The latter will be replaced by Karen Danielyan.

On May 20, Artur Tovmasyan from Harutyunyan’s party was elected speaker of the National Assembly, replacing Ashot Ghulyan. Tovmasyan was parliament’s speaker from 1996 to 1997. Gagik Bagunts from Babayan’s party was elected deputy speaker.

NKR’s fourth president

Harutyunyan arrives at his inauguration in an electric Hyundai Ioniq. Image grab from H1/Armenpress video.

Harutyunyan is the fourth president of Artsakh. From 1992 to 1994, NKR was formally a parliamentary republic but from August 1992 the parliament transferred its powers to an emergency State Defense Committee. The Committee head Robert Kocharyan was first elected president in 1994, but left early to serve as Armenia’s prime minister. Arkady Ghoukasyan served two terms from 1997 to 2007 and Bako Sahakyan – three terms from 2007 to 2020, including a 3-year transition term since 2017.

Harutyunyan was born in Stepanakert in 1973. While a student at the Yerevan Institute of Economics in the early 1990s, Harutyunyan volunteered to fight in Artsakh’s defense between 1992 and 1994. Harutyunyan’s older brother, Samvel Harutyunyan was killed in combat.

After the war, Harutyunyan graduated from the Economics Institute and Artsakh State University and worked as an assistant to NKR’s Minister of Finance Spartak Tevosyan (1994-97). Harutyunyan subsequently worked in Artsakh branches of Armenia’s ArmAgroBank (1997-2004), which was owned by businessman and parliament member Hakob Hakobyan; in 2003 Hakobyan sold the bank to ArdShinInvestBank.

In 2005, Harutyunyan was elected to the NKR National Assembly through the Free Homeland Party, which he helped co-found the previous year and that along with the Democratic Party became the second “party of power” in Artsakh. Harutyunyan chaired the parliament’s budget committee.

In 2007, after the election of Bako Sahakyan as president, Harutyunyan was appointed NKR’s prime minister. In 2017, following constitutional changes and re-election of Sahakyan to his third term, Harutyunyan was appointed state minister, a position equivalent to that of prime minister. In June 2018, following anti-government protests in Stepanakert, Sahakyan pledged not to run for another presidential term in 2020, while dismissing Harutyunyan as state minister.

Harutyunyan subsequently emerged as a frontrunner in 2020 elections, who also enjoyed the de-facto support of Armenia’s leadership.