Harutyunyan with wife and daughter on Apr. 14. Courtesy image.

Arayik Harutyunyan was elected president of Nagorno Karabakh in the second round of elections held on April 14. Harutyunyan received the majority of votes after his main rival Masis Mayilian decided not to contest the run-off, citing the dangers of Covid-19 epidemic.

The run-off was held two weeks after Harutyunyan and Mayilian came first and second, respectively, with 49 and 26 percent of the vote in the first round. Mayilian’s call for boycott and uncertainty about the spreading pandemic meant that less than half of eligible voters turn out to vote, compared to nearly three-quarters who turned out in the first round held on March 31.

While criticizing the government for not postponing, Mayilian and other opposition challengers recognized Harutyunyan’s victory as legitimate. Harutyunyan also received congratulations from both the current and former leaders of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan and Serzh Sargsyan.

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 Nagorno Karabakh’s self 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 local branches of Armenia’s ArmAgroBank (1997-2004), which was owned by businessman elected member of parliament Hakob Hakobyan; in 2003 Hakobyan sold the bank to ArdShinInvestBank.

In 2005, Harutyunyan was elected to the NKR National Assembly through the Free Motherland 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 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.

Concurrently with Harutyunyan’s election as president, his Free Motherland party won the parliamentary election, increasing its representation in parliament from 14 to 16 seats out of 33 total.