YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Lawmakers in Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway Armenian-populated region of Azerbaijan, voted to elect a new separatist president on Saturday in a move that was strongly condemned by the Azerbaijani authorities.
Samvel Shakhramanyan’s election as the new president of Nagorno-Karabakh follows the resignation of Arayik Harutyunyan, who stepped down on Sept. 1 as president of the region — which the Armenians call Artsakh. It comes amid soaring tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry denounced the vote as a “gross violation” of the country’s constitution and a “serious blow to the efforts of normalization in the region.” The ministry emphasized that “the only way to achieve peace and stability in the region is the unconditional and complete withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces” from Nagorno-Karabakh and “the disbandment of the puppet regime.”
Since December, Azerbaijan has blockaded the only road leading from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh, severely restricting the delivery of food, medical supplies and other essentials to the region of about 120,000 people.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a region within Azerbaijan that came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian military after a six-year separatist war that ended in 1994. Armenian forces also took control of substantial territory around the region.
Azerbaijan regained control of the surrounding territory in a six-week war with Armenia in 2020. A Russia-brokered armistice that ended the war left the region’s capital, Stepanakert, connected to Armenia by just one road known as the Lachin Corridor, along which Russian peacekeeping forces were supposed to ensure free movement.
Armenia repeatedly has complained that Russian peacekeepers have done nothing to help lift the Azerbaijani blockade of the road that has led to dire food shortages in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the situation has led to an increasing estrangement between Moscow and Yerevan.
Russia has been Armenia’s main economic partner and ally since the 1991 Soviet collapse. Landlocked Armenia hosts a Russian military base and is part of the Moscow-led security alliance of ex-Soviet nations, the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
But Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has become increasingly critical of Moscow, emphasizing its failure to help lift the Azerbaijani blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh and arguing that Yerevan needs to turn to the West to help ensure its security.
To Moscow’s dismay, Armenia called a joint military exercises with the United States starting Monday, provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine amid the war and moved to ratify a treaty that created the International Criminal Court, which this year indicted Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes connected to the deportation of children from Ukraine.
On Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Armenian ambassador to lodge a formal protest over what the moves it described as “unfriendly.”